Diverse and indigenous cuisine brought by the many ethnic people to St. Maarten from all over the world piques our interest. To this end, we are on a quest to find where it comes from, if it is used for celebrations, if it is exotic to some but everyday food to others. Anything to do with keeping the body and soul nourished with that which is produced from good old terra firma, is what makes the world go around.
Africa, widely recognized as the birthplace of us humans, is home to many ethnic tribes, some of whom most Westerners would not have had the privilege to meet.
Archaeological evidence indicates that the African continent has been inhabited for at least 4,000,000 by humans. Humans, as we know today, are believed to have “appeared” as early as 200,000 years ago in the eastern region of sub-Saharan Africa.
I like the “appeared” part of my research, because we all know there are some who believe humans came from fish, gorillas, and of course Adam and Eve. No matter, science says that the human form, much as we know it today, made an appearance in Africa all those years ago. Many years later, the humans, in search of utopia, spread into northern Africa, the Middle East and eventually across the globe.
It is interesting that people today are all colours with many cultures and physical variations reflecting the adaptation to all climates – hot, dry, wet, cold! However, dark skin is the dominant characteristic of indigenous African peoples. This dark skin, in fact, covers various shades of dark from very pale to ebony black – skin colour in Africa is not uniform at all.
Around the northern edges of the continent (Mediterranean climate), one finds many ethnic olive-skin colour people. The very dark skin is found in certain Sudanic regions in western and eastern Africa – here the sun exposure is at its greatest. One also finds a huge variation in African populations regarding the physical form. In Africa, one finds some of the tallest ethnic groups in Kenya, the Masai. One also finds the shortest tribe, as in the pygmies, in central Africa. Of course, one also finds many of the ethnic groups have vastly differing facial features.
Most of the ethnic groups, though, do have the same shaped extremities including the digits on hands and feet. However, not all are quite the same.
There is a tribe of people living in a remote, lion infested region in Zimbabwe where many of the tribe are born with fused toes. They are sometimes referred to as the ostrich people, as their feet are similar in shape. These people are the vaDoma. Because this tribe is in such remote regions, there has been little integration with other people whose regular-shaped toes may lessen the likelihood of the condition at birth. These people are not handicapped at all, as one may think.
The lions are a problem, not only taking their livestock, but often one of their tribe.
There are a few problems having feet with splayed, fused toes – shoes are difficult to come by! Where we lived as youngsters, we had a problem with hookworm – soil transmitted parasitical worms. Hookworm infection is mainly acquired by walking barefoot on contaminated soil. (This hookworm problem is also found in the USA, however, it is controlled in these modern times.)
Where we lived, it was imperative to wear shoes or wellington/gumboots in the rainy season. For a short time, we had a vaDoma nanny. Her feet were not of particular interest to us youngsters. She was kind, spoke funny and always allowed us to walk down the dirt driveway to splash muddily in all the puddles after it rained (tropical downpour usually). Why she was in that part of the country, I have no idea. Why one day she was not there to take us “puddling” was a bit traumatic, as I remember. Years later, after remembering about her, I did ask and was told she had a problem wearing shoes and had gotten hookworm! She was pregnant and hookworm causes blood-loss and anaemia.
According to vaDoma mythology, their ancestors emerged from the baobab trees via the stars, coming down to mix with earthly people. Upon descending from the trees, they walked upright to hunt and gather the fruits of the land. The people who live in the region of the Zambezi believe there is a semi-mythical, magical people who are hard to find and living in the trees. They call these mythical creatures the vaDoma, but they could be referring to the Khoisan who migrated into the region before the Bantu did. Rumours to this day still persist that the vaDoma are capable of disappearing into the forests and performing magic!
The vaDoma generally lived a nomadic lifestyle in the mountains. They are hunters/gatherers hunting, fishing (the Zambezi is known for its fish) trapping, honey-hunting, gathering wild fruits and roots. In the more recent years, these people have become less nomadic as they had run-ins because they were thought of as being poachers. I have not been in the remote region where they live, so can only guess at the agriculture and cuisine they have, but imagine it is much the same as in the rest of the country.
Sour milk, mealies stamped in the hollowed out, tall, tree trunks, fish and meat cooked over a fire. The cuisine will be a simple one possibly spiced up with the addition of spicy peppers found in the nearby Mozambique region.
As I have often given recipes of ethnic African food; today, I will give you a cross-section of easy, quick and simply dishes from around the globe.
Xima – In Africa, we called it “putu”. This recipe from Mozambique is porridge-like and made with cornmeal. It makes a great accompaniment to vegetable stews or meat dishes. It is very good with a homemade tomato and onion sauce.
4 cups water
4 cups white cornmeal – grits
Chicken stock cube
Boil three cups of water in a large pot.
Mix one cup water with the cornmeal to make a thin paste.
Slowly pour the cornmeal mixture into the boiling water, stirring all the while with a wooden spoon.
Continue stirring for at least 5 minutes as it begins to thicken.
When the mixture starts to come loose from the pan, transfer to a platter or bowl.
Spoon onto plate or (to be fancy) shape into ovals with wet hands and arrange on plate.
Serve with meat or fish stew.
BBQ Spatchcock Chicken – a quick recipe using bought hot sauce.
1 (or more) cleaned whole chicken
Fresh lemon juice from 3 or more lemons
Hot sauce from a bottle – Nandos brand is a suggestion
Cut off the backbone of the chicken(s).
Flatten and rub salt to taste all over.
Put into a dish with a cover or use a zip-lock baggie.
Cover with the lemon juice.
Set aside in the fridge overnight (or freeze for a few days).
Defrost if necessary, and pour off the lemon juice.
Pour hot sauce over the chicken; rub in well and pop back into the fridge until an hour before cooking should commence.
Place chicken on a board and pat a layer of cornflour all over the chicken, shake to get rid of excess.
Place uncovered in the fridge.
Half an hour before cooking, remove from fridge.
BBQ on indirect heat for about 45 minutes, test as one usually does when cooking chicken.
This can be roasted in the oven at 350° F for about the same length of time.
Variation: Instead of hot sauce, rub with fresh garlic or sprinkle on herbs – imagination is good here!
Welsh Rarebit – a comfort food, great for lunch, brunch or a light dinner. Think deluxe toasted cheese. This has mustard – our fav is Colman’s English powder mixed with a little water, but use less than the recipe says according to taste.
8 slices bread – white artisan bread is preferred
200g Strong cheddar cheese – grated
2 TBL Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp mustard, usually Dijon
2 TBL milk
Preheat oven broiler.
Combine 200g cheese, egg, milk, mustard and Worcestershire sauce in a bowl.
Toast the bread lightly on both sides.
Divide cheese mixture between slices of toast and spread.
Grill until the cheese has melted and is browned.
(Beating the egg white and gently folding into the mix makes a more soufflé-like topping)
Lemon Basil Ice Cream – No churn, means no hassle
¾ cup basil leaves
1 cup full fat milk
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
300ml heavy cream
1 tsp lemon zest
Heat milk and basil leaves in a saucepan until it comes to a rolling boil.
Turn off heat, cover and rest 30 mins.
Pour into blend and blend altogether.
Add condensed milk and blend well.
Add lemon zest.
Whip cream until stiff peaks form.
Fold blended mixture with whipped cream.
Transfer to freezer-safe container.
Freeze 4 hours or more (overnight best) until the ice-cream is set.
It is now ready to serve.