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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Eating U-Smileys (Sheep head) in Fort Jackson - Different Cultures, Different Dishes

Today's article was written by the young volunteer Jonas Krombach and describes his culinary journey through the world of traditional Xhosa food. Here we go!
One of my reasons to do a voluntary year in another country was, that I wanted to get in contact with other cultures. Cultures I did not know before, such as the Xhosa-culture.
When I got the confirmation, that I would be going to Mdantsane for a year as a volunteer for a German Development organization to work with an environmental youth club at a local High School, I started to read about the Xhosa People on the Internet.
I learned quickly, that food plays a big role in the Xhosa culture, but also in general in South Africa.

Jonas Favourite Fat Cake With Liver Filling!!!

Well, I tried to find more information about typical Xhosa-dishes, but all I could find out was that the South Africans love to braai( barbecue) that they adore biltong( dried meat) and that there is Indian food as well, such as the Bunny Chow. 
But I found nothing about traditional Xhosa dishes such as Samp and Beans (Umngqusho), African Salad and Umfino - dishes that I know so well by now.

Theresa and Joans eating Umngusho, a traditional Xhosa Dish

Arriving in Mdantsane I settled down in my guest family’s home. 
When Nolubabalo, one of my guest mothers, said that she was going to cook something for dinner, I was excited and curious at the same time. I can still remember our first dinner. The whole family sat down together at the table and we ate pap with cabbage, butternut and everybody got some chicken as well. What a warm welcome!

The Open Air U-Smileys Restaurant in Fort Jackson An Industrial Area Close To Mdantsane

And as time went by I had the chance to taste the full variety of Xhosa dishes. My favourite dish is Umngusho. It reminds me somehow of the German traditional "lentil soup“. For those who do not know lentil soup I have made a photographic comparison between the two.

Lentil Soup versus Samp and Beans

Never Short of a celebration especially when food is involved

There is another dish I really fell in love with. Or I should better say got addicted to it. 
The Fat-Cake!!! ( Jonas, Jonas, Jonas......how come you did not pick up any weight?)

The Mamas at Inkwenkwezi High School (my former workplace) always sold it during the lunch break. There is a special relationship between the Fat Cake and me. I cannot describe it. But I just adore the Fat Cake! 
Especially the Fat Cake filled with liver. Mhhhhh!

Cutting U-Smileys - Sheep Heads are called like this because when cooked in hot water for a long time they shrink and their face or what is left of it takes on a smiling expression! So it is said!

All the African/Xhosa dishes I have mentioned in this article so far are "nice dishes". 
But there are a couple of dishes I did not manage to become accustomed to. I rather prefer to stay away from them.
Well there is The African Salad.  My guest family always screamed with laughter when they saw how I grimaced my face while I ate the dish. The taste was just always to sour for me!

The Last smile, served on a black trash bag..........Sheep head is a popular dish in the Xhosa culture

I want to end the article with the words of my project coordinator, Melikaya. 
On one of our last days in Mdantsane he said: "How can you leave South Africa without having tasted the Smiley!“ 
And he was right! How could we! And that is why we went with all the staff members to one of Mdantsane´s street kitchens and tasted uSmiley!!!
All I can say is that it was a unique experience I will never forget!

U Smiley

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