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!