Another Zambia piece. I will eventually do other things.

I only managed to take a couple of pictures of food while I was in Zambia. One was of Christmas lunch at our host home, a spread of potatoes, pasta, chicken, salad, and cake. The other was… well, see for yourself.

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Killing a xenomorph isn’t nearly as hard as all those Alien films make it out to be[1]. Predators are just a bunch of posing hipsters, to be entirely honest. You don’t need head lasers or stealth fields or anything to hunt down one of the slimy buggers, and then, once you’ve tracked it to its lair and given a decent clonk on the head, the eggs make for pretty decent eating. Not a great omelette, but add an interesting tang to a carbonara.

Nah, that entire paragraph was nonsense. The hideously spiked monstrosity illustrated above isn’t some sort of extraterrestrial spawn; it’s called a jackfruit, something that grows on trees in tropical climates, and per some cursory Wikipedia searching that I just did right there, the largest tree borne fruit in the world. Indeed, it’s the national fruit of Bangladesh.

Alas, it would appear that the UK has no national fruit. England seems to have unofficially adopted the apple, along with a few other European countries, while Scotland-

/bursts into uncontrollable laughter at the thought of Scotland having a national fruit.

Don’t you love jokes based on stereotypes? Anyway, here’s another picture of a jackfruit beside a mysterious hand, to provide a sense of scale.

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Yeah, they’re pretty big. Crack one open and you get the fleshy tangles of meaty fruit substance clinging desperately to massive seeds that’s the featured image for this article. It tastes oddly reminiscent of banana.

The reason for bringing all this up is because, realistically speaking, Zambia is not the place for food instagramming. We did have one restaurant meal that could have had a decent filter slapped on it to garner a few likes, if you don’t hate people who do that with a burning passion, but for the most part there was no need.

Sadly, people who thought we’d go to a developing country and spend three months detoxing on the freshest, healthiest fruits and wholegrains and natural goodness were gravely mistaken. And probably a touch ignorant of the realities of poverty.

An illustration of what our daily diet was like can be summed up far more easily by just saying nshima. Nshima. Nshima, rice, nshima, nshima, rice, nshima, bread, rice, nshima, pasta, rice. Rinse and repeat.

Actually, don’t rinse your bread, it’ll get soggy and ruined. Regardless, the point stands. Plain carbohydrates, filler, are of course the cheapest things to buy, and so are the things most Zambians subsist on. Us honorary Zambians included, while we were there.

Nshima is probably the real national food of Zambia. It is, in concept, rather similar to polenta, being boiled maize flour, albeit of a particularly white and processed variety. Even the restaurant meal I mentioned above was nshima, just with a bevy of vegetables and sauces and gussied up a bit. A recipe for nshima could be the following steps:

  1. Boil water.
  2. Add maize flour to water.
  3. Stir and leave to boil.
  4. Add more maize flour once mixture has thickened.
  5. Stir and leave to boil.
  6. Add more maize flour once mixture has thickened.
  7. Stir and leave to boil.
  8. Once mixture has reached approximate consistency of cement, add more maize flour.
  9. Stir.
  10. Stir more.
  11. Keep stirring.
  12. Retrieve exhausted arm from floor, reattach it to torso, continue to stir.
  13. Divide paste into lumps using a spoon dipped in water.
  14. Serve.

These lumps are eaten with meat, vegetables, and sauces by using your right hand. You pinch off a smaller lump of nshima, roll it into a ball in your palm, poke a small indent in the ball with your thumb, and use the resulting oval thing to scoop. Two lumps of nshima per meal were considered the norm in our household, while the accompaniments generally consisted of one small saucepan of each shared between however many people sat down at the table.

One of the reasons I took a picture of the jackfruit was of course that it looked terrifyingly weird to someone who’d never seen one before. One of the other reasons, though, was that it was a relatively unusual event. Fruit in our host home was a rare thing, and when it was there, it was a novelty or a treat for the children. Small, incredibly succulent and sweet mangoes; contrastingly massive, meltingly soft avocadoes; and sweet, plump little bananas were all readily available while we were there, but those descriptions are almost entirely self-funded.

Lunch at work was generally when you could sort out who was staying in a well-to-do host home and whose host parents were stretched a little thinner. Everyone cracking out boxes of rice or pasta or potatoes, with sausages and eggs and chicken alongside, neatly encapsulated socio-economic status. A whole sausage with lunch was the ultimate prize.

But no-one was ever given any fruit. And yet, when we went tree planting, everyone we met was desperate to have a fruit tree in their garden. Avocadoes were particularly sought after.

In fact, the avocado I planted at our workplace got stolen within a weekend.

[1] As a stylistic aside, does one capitalise Xenomorph? Not that I can be arsed looking it up.

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