Zulu cuisine offers marvellous menus for travelling taste buds. From the comfort of isibhede and phutu porridge to the intoxication of utywala beer and the fiery perfection of chakalaka relish, Zulu dishes are seasoned with history, infused with culture and full of fine flavours.
The foundations of Zulu cuisine are sorghum and maize starches, which are generally eaten as polenta-like porridges or drunk in the form of beer.
Isibhede is a fermented porridge, which tingles on the tongue,while phutu is an unfermented, crumbly porridge. Amahewu is a non-intoxicating grain beer while utywala is a highly alcoholic brew. Of secondary starch status in Zulu food are amandumbe, fibrous root vegetables similar to the sweet potato.
Historically the Zulus were a rich and powerful nation with large cattle herds. Zulu cooking reflects this history with high levels of beef and dairy in the traditional diet. Milk is consumed in a soured form known as amasi while meat is stewed or grilled over an open fire.
Traditionally meat is portioned according to gender and age with adult men eating high status portions such as the head, liver and right-front leg. Boys are allocated the feet, lower leg portions and lungs. Tripe and ribs are considered suitable for women. The liver is perceived to be the site of human bravery much as the heart symbolically stores this character trait in Eurocentric food culture.
Meat is commonly eaten with a spicy vegetable relish known as chakalaka, providing evidence of the cultural and culinary fusion legacy of Zulus living and working closely with the large number of South Africans of Indian origin who also live in the KwaZulu-Natal province.
DID YOU KNOW?
Zulus traditionally sprinkle dried pelargonium leaves on dishes as an indigenous spice.