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Monday, 17 July 2017

Tasting Botswana

I know food has become fashionable these days and many people would actually plan their journeys around the culinary experiences a country or destination have to offer. I have never gone that far, at least not yet, but I have always enjoyed learning about new foods and having new food experiences on my travels. It is therefore only fitting that I should share some of these with you.

Learning to make Brawn in Botswana

Perhaps I should start with the negatives and work my way through the to positives. I was astounded to arrive in Botswana and find that there were absolutely no potatoes to be found in the country. Botswana relies on South Africa for imports of many fresh products, among which is potatoes. Sadly, at the time of my visit there was an embargo on the importation of many food products from South Africa as the country's produce had become infected and Botswana was taking strict measures to keep the infestation outside its own borders. A word to the wise: check at the border control points to see what foods can or can not enter the country. Many a visitor had to leave their fresh produce at the gate and I can only imagine that this did not make for happy visitors!

Cottage Cheese from the dairy farm

Let's rather move on to the more positive taste experiences. As is so often the case in life, we can be surprised by very unlikely experiences if we open ourselves up to new adventures.  During my visit, a local couple returned from their honeymoon on the Western Cape. They had brought along a number of excellent South African wines and other interesting food stuffs. Among these were a bottle of Pumpkin Jam! I was a little skeptical at first, but very willing to give it a go. I can honestly tell you that it is among the best tasting jams I've ever had. Here is what I imagine one would do to make the jam. The pumpkin is peeled and cut into squares. It is then boiled in syrup (sugar and water) with cinnamon added. Perhaps it would be best to add a cinnamon stick as this would add the flavour without causing discoloration of the syrup. It is then bottled as any other jam. I fully intend to try this at some stage, and when I do, I will blog about it on A Pretty Talent where I've shared other recipes for making jams.

Homemade Butter

Another first for me was the introduction to abalone, which they had also brought along from their honeymoon. I was pleasantly surprised once more. Looking at it, I would have expected the abalone to be chewy, but it was not. Instead it was melt-in-the-mouth tender and juicy. I reminded very much of ocean fish, with a slight difference in texture. I will jump at the opportunity to have these again!

Traditional Magwinya

As the friends I were staying with, run a dairy farm, there was no shortage of milk, cream and other dairy products. But the farm also gave opportunity for other fresh produce. They had a lovely vegetable garden with fresh herbs and veggies to delight my heart. They had also butchered a cow that wasn't producing any milk and we had tender meat to feast on. Add to this, the sheep that Louise kept as a source of meat, our carnivorous needs were certainly met.

Homemade Drinking Yogurt

The added bonus to this, was that we stayed right across the street from the local butcher, Fred. Fred saw to it that the cow and sheep was slaughtered and then cut it into beautiful cuts, neatly vacuum-packed and labelled. I was impressed! But not half as impressed as I was, when nearing the end of my stay, he arrived with the biltong and dry wors he had made. Most impressive of all, and by far the best in my opinion, was the salami's Fred had made. I have yet to taste any better. Who could have known that a small settlement like Pitsane could deliver such quality? This was when I learned that Fred supplied cold meats and cuts to a number of local restaurants and butchers. I can understand why.

Labneh made from yogurt

But let me get back to the dairy products. Louise had taken to life on a dairy farm like an old hand. She had gone on a number of cheese making courses, learned to make yogurt and butter and was busy setting up a small side business to produce fresh dairy products. She was kind enough to allow me to photograph a number of the steps required to make some of these products and I have shared these with my readers in my blog called A Pretty Talent. I will provide links to these blogs, for those of you who might be interested in trying your own hand at making these:
Making Butter;
Making Cottage Cheese;
Making Yogurt;
Making Labneh;
Aside from the dairy products, Louise also showed me how to make old-fashioned brawn.

Louise also made us some lovely fudge

Now it is time I told you about a traditional Botswana food that is as common as bread. These are called Magwinya. The best way to describe a Magwinya is to compare it to vetkoek, except that it is sweeter to the taste, and as round as a ball. When I was first introduced to the Magwinya, I was immediately intrigued and expressed a wish to learn to make them. Sadly, nobody seemed to know. That is until I expressed my frustration to Blessing, who was cleaning the house. She was very surprised that I did not know how to make them. It turns out that when Blessing was around 13 years of age, she had gotten up very early every morning to make soup and magwinyas which she would sell on the building sites, before setting off for school. This is how she managed to pay for her books and stationery! Blessing was thrilled that she could teach me how to make something. Until that moment, she had not realized that she too possessed knowledge and skills that others craved for. Follow this link to see the lesson Louise and I got from Blessing in making Magwinyas.

Louise baked us some fine rusks and Blikkies, the dog, made sure to pitch up for his share every morning.

Food is truly another of those things which bring people together and when I travel, it is often my need to eat that will bring me in contact with some of the most interesting people one could hope to encounter. This is why I love to travel!

Little Miekie and I had great fun making Chocolate Cracklings

Marietjie Uys (Miekie) is a published author. You can buy my books here:
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