This month’s end-of-the-month guest post is from Pash. Re-discovering Africa on her own terms as an adult… sounds great!
Since I moved back to Uganda after seven years of living in the UK, I have wanted to explore Uganda and my neighbourhood in particular. I lived here earlier, from the age of 12 to 18; however, this time around the goal was to truly discover the Pearl of Africa, on my terms.
So, when I came to know that there is a bustling street market in my neighbourhood town of Kitoro in Entebbe, one Tuesday I sneaked out of work early, grabbed my camera and off I went. Food has always been my passion, and I am always on the lookout for new flavours and culinary inspiration.
On a regular day of the week, Kitoro town operates like any other small town, but on Market Tuesday, it comes alive.
Vendors just pitch up their stalls wherever they find a spot and start selling their goods. Before you enter the market, expect the regular prices to be marked up by at least 50%; so better bring along your bargaining skills. All the products they sell in this market are grown by independent small scale rural farmers, meaning they are 100% organic and pesticide free.
Scotch Bonnet peppers are one of the hottest peppers in the world. Uganda produces and exports a lot of Scotch Bonnet peppers. The powders here are the Scotch Bonnet peppers which have been dried and ground. The difference in the colours come from the various types of peppers used.
Most people tend to buy a blend of the different powders to suit their taste which this lovely lady mixes up in small sachets according to your preference.
Spinach galore!!! The green spinach is used to make a classic simple Ugandan stew with sesame seeds. This leafy spinach is slightly different with a rougher texture and a slightly bitter aftertaste but delicious none the less.
Mounds of dried small fish locally known as Mukene can be found throughout the market. It has a particularly strong scent which can be overpowering at times. Mukene or silver cyrprinid is a species of ray finned fish that can only be found in Lake Victoria, the second biggest lake in the world. Uganda shares the shores of Lake Victoria with Kenya and Tanzania. Kitoro being less than 10 minutes away from the lake is the best place to pick up some Mukene.
Pure white aubergines which I have never seen before. Turned out to be extremely flavourful when cooked, possibly even better than the regular purple ones I normally buy.
All that walking around started to get me quite peckish, so my attention quickly turned from the fresh produce to the ready to eat variety. First stop, freshly grilled corn on the cob over a charcoal stove giving it a nice smoky flavour.
My all time favourite Ugandan street food – the ROLEX!! The phrase ‘simplicity is key’ comes to mind. All this is a chapatti or tortilla coated in a mix of egg beaten with fresh cabbage, tomatoes and onions, and pan fried. PERFECTION! I always find myself craving one of these after a long day of work.
My rolex in the making. 🙂
Grilled plantains or Gonja as it is locally called, is a simple treat. The trick to making a good gonja is of course, a charcoal stove and a banana that is slightly ripe so that it still holds its own over the intense heat. It is safe to say that I will be heading back out to the market again. Better brush up on my bargaining skills.
30 May 2014
When we talk about birds, the Abyssinian Ground Hornbill is one bird that has fascinated me ever since I first saw one at Murchison Falls National Park, many years ago. Since then, I have seen these beautiful birds a number of times on subsequent trips to Murchison and they always make me smile.
Hornbills are generally sedentary and live within a defended territory. The Abyssinian Ground Hornbill is a large turkey like bird that is normally found in the sub-Saharan African savannah, north of the equator. An adult bird can grow to around one metre tall and weighs about 4 kg. It has a large bill topped with a casque, a helmet like structure. Despite their wingspans these birds very rarely fly and are adapted to ground dwelling, hence the name Ground hornbill. Abyssinian Ground Hornbills also have wattles (a fleshy pouch hanging from the throat, similar to a turkey or chicken). From these pouches, one can distinguish between a male and female bird as males have a bright red pouch hanging from their throats whilst those of females are blue. These birds always seem to me like they are dressed up for a fancy party not only because of their dark , shiny feathers and brightly coloured pouches, but also their long eyelashes, which are actually modified feathers designed to protect their eyes from dirt and debris.
I learnt many interesting things about these birds from a Uganda Wildlife Authority guide who had accompanied us on our game drive in Murchison Falls National Park. He told us that the Abyssinian ground hornbill mated for life, which is interesting but one hears that about a lot of birds. What was most fascinating (for me at least, not sure about the others with me!) was finding out about how these birds lay eggs and look after their young. In the case of a regular hornbill, the female lays eggs in the cavities of tree trunks or any other caves or crevices of a tree. The male hornbill then builds a cover over the cavity with mud and twigs and the female does not leave the nest until the eggs are hatched. Naturally, it is the duty of the male bird to bring food for his partner during this time. So if something were to happen to him while he was out fetching his bird wife food and he gets killed, the female will also die of starvation. But Abyssinian Ground Hornbills do this in a slightly different way. They do not seal their nests at all, and they are left open during incubation so the female can come out for preening and excretion. Not for anything else though, the male still has to bring food back to the nest. Once the eggs are hatched, the female remains in the nest with the chicks for a week and then joins the male in finding food for the young. If there are two chicks the younger one is usually ignored or starved. Chicks are ready to leave the nest after 3 months. These nests are normally permanent under favourable environmental conditions.
The Abyssinian ground hornbill is listed as a species of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to its large population. So I don’t have to worry about them disappearing anytime soon. 🙂
20 Mar 2014
It’s the end of the month and time for a guest post. (How time flies!) We have the honour to present Gaia’s first post.
It is six pm in Kampala and traffic flow is at its peak. Ten hours earlier, at eight am, the situation was the same. The slow movement of cars, mini-vans and even large trucks on the congested roads has become more than a slight irritation. As the long lines forming across the city become longer and longer, with what seem like each passing day, more and more are anguished by this sudden increase in the number of vehicles on the road.
The major roads in Kampala were constructed in the 1980s and the population at the time was 480,000. There is still little difference in the roads and road networking but the population has increased by more than 300%. Almost 1.5 million people now reside in Kampala central, with many more commuting daily into the city from Greater Kampala. So is it any wonder that there is a traffic surge when the width and number of our roads have stayed the same?
The despondent motorists sit, clutching the steering wheel and inhaling the thick black smoke that is spit out by the vehicles ahead of them and watch with more than a little envy as those on motorcycles (commonly known as boda bodas) whiz past with smug looks on their faces. Of course, these boda bodas must stop at the front of the line. They swarm around the first car, waiting for a gap in the traffic to zoom off to the front of the next queue of cars. Adding to this horde of people and metal are salesmen who take advantage of the standstill and try to sell various goods to the motorists.
During these peak times of traffic flow, some motorists seem to toss away the idea of civility and begin to behave in an almost belligerent manner. Creating three lanes, all going in the same direction, on a road that can capacitate only one lane in each direction would be a fine example of this. The major culprits of this crime are the matatu (a 14-seater van) drivers. One of the most upsetting things about this loutish behaviour is when an emergency vehicle, especially an ambulance, is unable to get through the masses of cars and simply has to wait like the others while the life of another person is in jeopardy.
Many new cars and motorcycles are registered everyday and if expansion of roads does not take place soon, could the traffic flow in Kampala come to a complete standstill? Perhaps the government will suggest implementing high tolls for motorists, but is this the right solution? A better way to approach it could be through improving the city’s public transport system or through expanding the roads. Making public transport safer would encourage more people to use the provided services and therefore reduce the number of vehicles on the road. Expansion would lead to smooth flow of traffic and reduce bottlenecks.
It’s not all bad news though! The Uganda National Roads Authority is definitely on the right track to improving the situation. The expansion of the Northern Bypass in Kampala is one such example and there are many other projects in the pipeline for the UNRA: But for now: sit tight, put on that radio and imagine that the car horns bleeping around you are an accompaniment to the music!
28 Feb 2014
Dance has always been a passion for me. However, my first encounter with dance did not go well. 🙂 When I was just three years, I was put in a dance class run by my school as an after class activity. To my surprise I still have a vague memory of that class packed with 25–30 children of different age groups, trying to copy what the instructor was doing. I got so disillusioned after the first class that I adamantly refused to go to the class any more. Then at the age of eight I had the opportunity to join a professionally run dance school (apparently my parents recognised the interest I I have in dance) and from then onwards dance has always been a part of my life. Never miss a chance to perform or watch various dance genres.
Dance has always been an important part of celebrations, ceremony and entertainment. It’s difficult to say when dance has become a part of human culture. The Egyptian tomb paintings depicting dancing figures from 3300 BCE and 9000 year old Bhimbekta rock shelters paintings in India indicate the prevalence of dance even in prehistoric times. Dance figurines were a permanent feature of ancient temple architecture.
Dances are usually performed as a mode of expression, as part of healing rituals or as an offering to God. Dance forms are also used as a tool to communicate with people about social evils, prohibiting the progress of the society. Ballet, bharatnatyam, hip hop, rumba belly dance, calypso, gigue, lap dance… there are sooo many varieties of dance we enjoy today.
The entertaining performance of traditional Ugandan dance and music by Ndere Troupe is what initiated these thoughts on various dance forms. I’d watched traditional Ugandan dances many a time. But getting to enjoy the playing of musical instruments, singing and dancing in a serene ambience in the amphitheatre at the Ndere Centre was an entirely unique experience. To quote from Ndere Troupe’s website, “In Africa written words didn’t exist, thus Africa’s cultural history, literature, knowledge and wisdom were recorded and passed on to succeeding generations through the medium of performing arts music, dance, storytelling and poetry.”
The programme started with playing of various instruments and singing.
Kiganda dance from Buganda was originally only to be performed by the people of Obutiko clan and only in the palace.
Dance of Bunyoro tribe. Bunyoro tribe belongs to the Toro region in Western Uganda. This is a courtship dance. Men and women sit around a fire reciting poems. Then men start dancing in front of each girl and the luckiest one gets chosen.
Banyankole are the people who belong to the Ankole tribe, one of the four traditional tribes of Uganda. They are from South Western Uganda. This region is also famous for the Ankole cows with their distinctive curved horns.
Dancers of Alur tribe hail from north western Uganda. One of the main instruments they play is called an Adungu.
These are the dancers of the Acholi tribe. They belong to the Luo Nilotic ethnic group from northern Uganda.
The percussion ensemble from Burundi , another east African country, was quite amazing. They came in balancing the heavy log drums on their heads drumming and singing. These drums are made from the trunks of a tree which grows only in Burundi.
Intore (the dance of heroes) is the most famous traditional dance form of Rwanda, another east African country.
It was a visual treat indeed. This post will not be complete unless I mention the tasty Ugandan meal which we all enjoyed after the performance.
10 Feb 2014
Kibimba is a unique location in Uganda for its fantastic bird life.
Birds Galore @ Kibimba Rice Farm……
The national bird of Uganda
I‘ve been visiting and spending a considerable amount of time at various times of the year at a rice farm in Eastern Uganda. To be more precise this fully mechanised rice farm is in Kibimba and covers an area that is 13 kilometres long and 3.5 kilometres wide. I’ve been a visitor of this farm since the year 2000 and I have always enjoyed all aspects of farm life especially the drives along the fields and the morning walks. Walks in the evenings are far less enjoyable unless you set out early enough as the insects that appear after sunset are a real menace.
Yellow Billed Storks
During our morning walks and drives along the fields I come across many birds (especially water birds) and these are constantly identified by my companions. I always try to identify these birds by name, but to my dismay I am never very successful. This Christmas, when I was taking a guest around the fields I was appalled that I couldn’t name even an egret or an ibis correctly. The only ones I could name were whistling ducks!
Then the realisation dawned on me that it’s high time I take some interest in the birdlife of Kibimba. Kibimba has the IBA (Important Bird Area) status and it’s a unique location for its birdlife.
Great White Egrets in the company of Storks
So I decided to look up the birds I see regularly when I go for my walks in the early mornings and find out a little bit more about them. The discussions with the staff of Kibimba Rice Farm and Collins Book of Birds were my source. This exercise also helped me in identifying many birds this time when we were at Murchison Falls National Park.
So watch this space to know about birdlife at Kibimba.
24 Jan 2014
Ugandan Pineapples are the best….
This time when I put my baker’s hat on, pineapple upside down cake – the glistening, sticky sweet top of pineapple slices on top of a simple white cake, came into my vision. This sweet top lifts the simple white cake up a notch.
In the US, pineapple upside down cakes became popular in the 1920s when canned pineapples were easily available for reasonable prices while fresh ones were difficult to find and if they were available, they were very expensive. The widespread availability of canned pineapples owes to Jim Dole of Hawaiian Pineapple Company who canned a major chunk of pineapples available. Traditionally pineapple upside down cakes were made in cast iron skillets on top of the stove.
When you bake a pineapple upside down cake in Kampala, it’s criminal to use canned pineapple since pineapples grow in plenty in Uganda and are currently in season. Not only the quantity but the quality is also topnotch. The pineapples are sweet, succulent and big. The skin/crust of Ugandan pineapples are hard and hence has a longer shelf life. Read what Ms. Salima Njeri, a Kenyan trader says about Ugandan pineapples.
As I was little apprehensive about using fresh slices of pineapple instead of canned as it can make the batter watery. So I tried my hand at canning the pineapple slices which I did the day before baking.Peace, my house help helped me in peeling and slicing the pineapple. If you are not skilled at peeling whole pineapple, I suggest cutting it into rings after cutting the crown and stem off. And then cut the skin off holding each slice . The core can then be removed using a cookie cutter or any sharp cylinder of right size.
Sugar syrup is made using sugar and water in a ratio of 1:2 as these pineapples are really sweet and will be used up in a day. If the slices have to be kept for long use a syrup of 1:1 ratio.
For any upside down cake the fruit and brownsugar are placed on the bottom of the pan before batter is poured in. But here caramelised sugar is used instead of brown sugar. Oil and yoghurt are used instead of butter in my cake recipe.
In pineapple upside down cakes a glazed cherry each is placed in the middle of each slice where the core of the pineapple was. Since there were no cherries in stock in my pantry I’ve decided to bake mine without it as cherries wouldn’t add on in any way to the taste of the cake. But later once the cake was turned upside down,I realised that it was not very appealing to look at.
Voila! here’s the final product. Red Plum jam came to my rescue.
For Canning ( read Cooking J ) the fresh pineapple slices
Sugar – 1 cup
Water – 2
Orange peel – 1-2 pieces (optional)
For the base
Granulated sugar – ¼ cup
Water -1 tablespoon
Pineapple rings – 6
For the cake
All purpose flour – 2 cups
Baking powder – 1 ¼ teaspoons
Baking soda – ½ teaspoon
Granulated sugar – 1 ¼ cup ( can change it according to the sweetness – of the sugar available)
Vegetable oil – 2/3 cup
Yoghurt – 1 ¼ cup
Eggs (large) – 2
Vanilla essence – 1 teaspoon
Syrup from the cooked pineapple – ¼ cup
Cooked pineapple (minced) – ½ cup
- Skin the pineapple, cut into 1 cm thick slices and remove the centre core.
- Heat sugar and water ( add orange skin as well if it’s used ) together till it starts simmering.
- Transfer the prepared slices into the syrup and keep it in a waterbath and cook for 45 minutes with a lid on.
- Remove from the waterbath and cool. Cooking of the pineapples can be done in advance.
- Prepare a 10 inch / 25 cm tin by buttering the base and the sides. But flour only the sides.
- Heat the sugar for the base till it caramelises.
- Add 1 tablespoon warm water and heat it again to get pourable consistency without any solid bits.
- Pour into the prepared tin and spread it on the base of the tin by tilting it.
- Arrange the pineapple slices in a circular manner with one in the middle.
- Sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda together twice.
- Beat sugar, oil and yoghurt together till till creamy and mixed well.
- Add eggs one at a time and beat well.
- Now add one third sifted flour, mix well.
- Add half of the syrup, followed by half of the remaining flour. Beat till the flour is just mixed.
- Add the remaining syrup and flour and mix again.
- Once all the flour is incorporated mix the batter well for 4 minutes using a wooden spoon. If an electric hand mixer is used, attach the whipping attachment and beat for 3 minutes in medium speed.
- Transfer the batter to the prepared tin and bake for 35 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
20 Jan 2014
Fruits and Vegetables here in Kampala, Uganda, really excite me. They are so fresh and good and come straight from the farms. I do prefer to shop at the vegetable market in Nakassero mainly frequented by expats. However, it is a bit of a pain going to Nakassero market unless one is chauffeured around as getting hold of a parking space in that area is as difficult as getting hold of an ostrich egg.
On my visits to Nakassero market I always came across a man who sits on the floor by the corner of a shop with a small heap of pawpaws/ papayas in front of him, calling out to customers. To his disappointment my response was always negative as the smell of papaya was one of the few things I couldn’t stand. Every time I go to the market he’ll be there trying to sell pawpaws to me. Then finally one day I was so amazed to see how determined and good he was in his marketing skills, I budged. Marketing managers take note, there are a few lessons you can learn from him.
He was so happy to sell a huge pawpaw to me that he gave me another one as a ‘bonus’. 🙂 (Bonus in Ugandan parlance is a giveaway, a free gift!)
Once I got home I tried a few pieces of the pawpaw on the insistence of my house help, Rose. Though I can’t say I became an ardent fan of the pawpaw, I don’t mind some but not to the extent of using a papaya face pack. I’m happy that I’m a convert when you consider the health benefits of Papaya. Thank you, my Pawpaw Man… “Weebale Ssebo!”
13 Jan 2014