Tag Archives: Cuisine

Cookies, coffee, and a wee bit of History…

Saturday morning we ran a few errands (including booking a night at Mvuu game lodge for when Meghan and Kate are here!) and decided to go to Mandala House for coffee.  Mandala House was built in 1882 and is the oldest European building in Malawi.  It was built for John and Frederick Moir, Scottish brothers who had been involved in Livingstone’s missionary trip in 1875.  The brothers founded the Livingstonia Central African Mission Company that later became the African Lakes Corporation.  This building, the headquarters for the company, became known as Mandala, after John Moir’s local name.  Mandala loosely means “pools of water”, a reference to Moir’s spectacles.

Mandala House

The building is classically British colonial and looks like it could have been built in the West Indies, East Indies, or outside of Charleston, South Carolina.  It has broad verandas, wide planked hardwood floors, and large airy windows.

Side of Mandala House

The top floor hosts the Society of Malawi archives, a conference room and a small library.  Downstairs is home to a gallery displaying carvings, paintings, and other works of art by some of Malawi’s leading artists.

And then there is La Caverna, the Italian-run cafe.  Here, you can sit on the brick patio, under the trees (or under the porch if it’s raining) and sip your French press coffee, latte, or cappuccino. 

French Press

You could also have lunch and enjoy one of the daily specials, like mushroom risotto.  And if you really want to spoil yourself you could order from the daily selection of cookies, cake, or gelato.

Daily Specials

 Personally, I can recommend the peanut butter and the chocolate chunk cookies. 

Freshly Baked Cookies

The staff here is warm and welcoming and doesn’t seem to mind that we camped out for multiple cups of coffee and multiple orders of cookies.

Really happy about the cookies

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Chombo! and New Friends!

Sunday, one of Sandy’s Malawian colleagues, Lloyd, his wife, Hope, and their sons, King (2) and Victor (10), came over for lunch. We had been planning it for awhile; Hope was going to teach me to make Malawian style Chombo (a popular local fish) and I would show her how to bake banana bread (or cake, as they more aptly call it). She and I immediately set to work in the kitchen – or, she started working and I watched. She expertly cleaned the whole fish, scales flying with the quick movement of the knife. The fish were cut in half and sat ready for the frying pan, staring at me.

Meanwhile, Sandy and the boys played Bao (not sure how to spell it, but it’s an African game like mancala.) King and Victor shared a Fanta, which turns out, has a lot of sugar in it for a two year old.

King and I bonded. He helped me add ingredients for the banana cake, and when that Fanta sugar kicked in, he was wired. He got his hands on a golf ball and we played soccer/catch/hit-kate-in-the-shin-with-a-golf-ball/bowling in our long hallway.

Back in the tiny, hot kitchen, Hope made nsima to go with our chombo. I’d seen the process once before, but it definitely requires finesse and a muscular arm. You really have to beat the maize flour paste to get just the right, firm consistency.

The fish halves sizzled and fried in the pan, under Hope’s watchful eye. She knew exactly when to flip them so that they were evenly and thoroughly cooked, which took longer than I would have thought. She was patient with my impatience.

After his sugar induced mania, King promptly (and I mean promptly!) passed out. He was awake one minute, giggling at my Chichewa pronunciation and the next minute, his head was drooping heavily on my shoulder. He spent lunch sound asleep on the sofa. I tried to argue that they should just leave him here with me – but they seem attached to him and at the end of the day, decided to take him home.

So the five of us sat down with our chombo, nsima, and a sauce she made from oil, tomatoes, and onions. It. was. delicious. I’m Southern, so frying everything is ok with me… I’d eat anything that had been fried… but this chombo was exceptionally good. It was served whole and we attacked the tender flesh with gusto, carefully avoiding bones and eyeballs. Lloyd’s family were experts – they ate everything except the bones. As I have had a large fishbone lodged in my throat before (not an experience I plan to repeat) I was more tentative and left more on my plate. All in all, a combined bite of fish, sauce, and nsima was excellent – flavorful and filling.

After lunch, despite my insistence to the contrary, Hope did all the dishes, and I was left with nothing to do but dry them. This is definitely the way to host a lunch party – your guests bring food, prepare an excellent meal, and then do the dishes!

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Jungle Pepper and Beyond

I love pizza so much.  If I were stranded on a deserted island and could only eat one food, I would pick pizza.  I love it so much that before we left, my friend Liz googled “pizza in Blantyre” to be sure  I would have it in Malawi.  She found Jungle Pepper Pizza’s website and we were able to peruse the menu.  Thus, while I was faced with many uncertainties in moving to Malawi, I was completely confident that I would be trying a jungle pepper pizza with mango and curried chicken.
Since arriving, I have had pizza from several different locations.  Kips has a good, standard cheese pizza.  Good crust thickness and lots of flavorful cheese.  Ali Baba, however, I found disappointing.  I had heard that it was the standard around here, but there was too much sauce and not enough cheese. They also gave me looks when I ordered the large and ate the whole thing.

Then there’s Jungle Pepper Pizza.  It is excellent.   The pizza we had, with mango and curried chicken, had so much flavor and just the right amount of crust and sauce.  And it’s take out so they can’t judge how much I’m eating.

We spent Friday night in the little town of Mulanje and Sandy took me to the Italian restaurant there that he had frequented four years ago.  Called Pizzeria Basilico, it is a romantic little place with a porch, a woodfire grill, and a view of the mountain.  We each ordered our own pizza and had a view of the preparation and the oven.  We watched them pick fresh basil leaves, used freshly baked dough, and shredded mozzarella cheese from a huge block.  It was an amazing, Italian style pizza, with thin crust, light and sweet sauce, and the freshest ingredients.   It wins as best pizza in Malawi – but the competition continues…

As a side note, I should mention that Sandy’s pizza is exceptional.  It probably wins best pizza in Malawi but I won’t count it because it already won best pizza in Washington DC by my count.  He makes his own dough and knows me well enough to use the right amount of sauce and only put onions on his side.

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Nsima – like grits…

When Sandy returned from Malawi back in 2005, he often mentioned eating Nsima.  It is the Malawian staple eaten at almost every meal.  Having heard about nsima and its importance to Malawians for years, I was eager to try it.

Friday night, an American lady working with the CCAP invited us to her home for dinner.  One of her adopted Malawian sons was there with his wife and their two-year-old daughter.  Kay, our hostess, had prepared roast beef and vegetables.  When we got on the subject of nsima and they heard that I had never had it before, Kay’s daughter-in-law jumped up and offered to make it.  I got to stay in the kitchen with her and watch her make it.  It’s fairly simple but definitely takes finesse.  You boil a pot of water with a little bit of corn flour in it.  Once it is boiling, you gradually add more flour, beating it constantly until it is a thick, doughy paste.  You then use a special wide wooden spoon to make it the shape of a madeleine.   I think I will attempt to make it sometime soon, but since I am notorious for screwing up instant oatmeal, don’t hold your breath. 

The finished product looks a lot like grits if they are left to cool and clump together.  Nsima, similar to grits, takes on the flavor of whatever it is accompanying.  We had ours with tomatoes and eggs and ate it the traditional way, with our hands, mashing everything together into one compact bite.

It is really good and really filling.  We also had homemade custard with fresh pineapple.  Kay said she would teach me to make the custard the next time we see her. 

Please note the two-year-old’s face as I eat the nsima in the picture above.

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