Food is one of the first, most obvious elements you get in touch with in a new country. Traditional recipies, eating habits, even the way markets and supermarkets are outlined and designed – these components of culture are relatively effortless to observe and grasp, hard to overlook and often particularly easy to remember…(“Beijing…oh yeah, that’s where we had that enormous tray of wonderfully greasy prawns in that unimposing backyard inn”).
So what about food in Mozambique? Let me introduce you to some of the eating habits that I have developed in the past few weeks.
The backbone of my diet definitely consists of fruit. With summer just around the corner, new sorts appear on the markets in abundance on a weekly basis. Apples, oranges, bananas, papaya, pineapple, various types of melons, and the objects of my current addictions: mangos (in all shapes and shades) and lychees (yes, they are of Asian origin, but also cultivated in Mozambique, namely in the province of Manica). Addiction is the right term, given that I regularly stray around shortly before dusk, desperately on the lookout for someone to sell me some lychees, and the sudden relief when I finally find an old lady by the side of the road or two young guys in a Chupela to purchase two quarter-kilo-bags of fresh, round, rosy delicacies from – for 50 Meticais.
There are some foods that are specifically Mozambican. Introducing all of them would be quite a task, and unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to try them all – but an entertaining overview by another Mozambique-Blogger can be found here.
It appears obvious that seafood plays an important role on the stoves and BBQs of Mozambique, considering the country’s 2000 km coastline. The amount and quality of prawn and shrimp that is available everywhere, fresh from the Indian Ocean, easily compensates for the lack of other types of meat. And prawns are so universal – they taste great in curries, or simply fried with garlic and lime juice, with my home-made mango chutney (recipe see below) and couscous, or as Shrimp Mozambique, a recipe particularly popular in Portugal, that has potential to be prommoted to this year’s Christmas dinner.
One of the main export goods of Mozambique are Cashews (Funfact: Biologically speaking, they are seed, not nuts). I am sure there are a lot of brilliant recipes of what to make of Cashews. So far, I didn’t feel the need for any of them – because cashews as they are, as you can buy them everywhere on the streets here, are fantastic as they are. And apart from their looks they have barely anything in common with the small, tasteless, overpriced and over-salted cashews I know from European supermarkets. Cashews, baby!
Another product you might know without knowing its connection with Mozambique is Piri Piri – a red hot chili pepper, also known as African bird’s eye chili, that comes in the shape of powder or sauce. Piri Piri is not exclusively Mozambican, but also produced and enjoyed in many other African countries, and Piri-Piri Chicken is claimed to be one of Mozambique’s national dishes. On a sidenote: It gained world-wide fame thanks to the South African, Mozambique-themed restaurant chain Nando’s (that does not have any outlets in Mozambique, by the way).
Vienna has spoilt me. Having lived in 4th, 5th and 6th district for years, I am used to having at least one Thai snack bar, two Vietnamese Pho restaurants, three juice- and smoothie bars, four Indian diners, five coffee-take-aways and countless pizzerias in a radius of 300 metres from my place.
I don’t have that here. But what I have rediscovered is the fact that food and drinks are made from basic ingredients – which means, they are not so difficult to replicate. If I want pizza, I buy flour, yeast and some garnishes at Melhor supermarket and make my own at home, following recipe for pizza dough and pizza sauce (the dough is nothing special, but the tomato sauce in the recipe is simply fantastic).
If I miss Fruchtikus, the fruit snack to be found in every Austrian supermarket, I analyse what a Fruchtikus actually is: Fruit in a glass, easy to transport and to eat in the office as a delicious energy snack. Cutting some of my lovely mangos and stuffing them into an empty baby food container really is not a big deal – and tastes times more natural and healthier than the original Fruchtikus. And Vanilla Custard (that is, naturally, available at the South African supermarket Shoprite) tastes great with fresh mangos, too. Remember? I mentioned that fruit are the backbone of my nutrition plan.
Drinking tap-water is a no-go. At some point, I got a bit tired of carrying three litres of water back home from the supermarket every day, so I had another idea of how to stock up on refreshing, clean and healthy drinks: Using boiled tap-water to brew tea, letting it cool down and filling it in empty plastic bottles guarantees a calorie-free variety of refreshments, and tea can be seasoned – with lemon, with ginger, with cinnamon, vanillia, orange juice…you name it, there are countless combinations, even based on a rather restricted selection of available teas (in my case, mainly Rooibos, Lime Tree and some fruity blends).
One of my favourites: A pineapple-mint-flavoured tea with ginger and cinnamon.
And yet, there is something that no do-it-yourself-strategy, and not even the most savoury mango-prawn-cashew-piri-piri-curry in the world could compensate for. I am suffering from the possibly most common disease among Austrian expats worldwide: A severe Lattella-withdrawal. The refreshing whey drink sometimes even stars in my dreams at night, and I spend so much time thinking about it that I already created two new sorts in my mind: a winter special “Plum flavour” and an Abricot-Elderberry-Blend.
What would a food blog post be without at least one recipe? When I ended up unexpectedly with 33 mangos a few weeks ago, I searched for the perfect recipe to process them into chutney, and ended up creating my own variation, strongly inspired by this recipe by Alton Brown. What I really like about it is the extreme contrast – while the very ripe mangos and the pineapple juice are almost sinfully sweet, it allows me to be really, really generous with the Piri Piri and the curry powder.
Ingredients (for a reasonable amout to be deep-freezed and kept for less fruity times:
12 – 15 small, sweet, yellow mangos (peeled and chopped)
2-3 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon Piri Piri powder
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3-4 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely chopped
250 ml pineapple juice
120 ml white vinegar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup cashews (roasted or plain, unsalted)
1.5 tablespoons curry powder
Heat the oil in a pan, add the Piri Piri powder and shortly after the onions and sweat until soft. Add the ginger and bell pepper (both finely chopped) and finally the mangos and the cashews and cook for 2-3 minutes.
In a separate bowl, combine the pineapple juice, vinegar, sugar, and curry powder and add the mix to the pan. Bring the mixture briefly to cook and then let it simmer for about 30 minutes.
The chutney is delicious with almost anything – I tried it with prawns, chicken, on plain rice, couscous and pasta so far – it all worked well.