Wednesday, March 20, 2013

MasterChef: Lesotho

One of the many challenges of living in a rural mountain community in Lesotho is cooking. Unlike the United States, there isn’t a supermarket or Walmart around every corner. Produce isn’t shipped from halfway around the world to fill the shelves with every vegetable known to man, regardless of the season. The food I can buy, for the most part, is produced and sold in Lesotho, with the exception of a few South African brands. The food chain is much shorter and I really appreciate that fact.

A sheep kept to feed the Hospital patients
The Basotho diet is a rather simple one. It’s very high in starches and animal protein, and fresh vegetables are eaten during season. A staple food is a dish called Pap. Pap is made from cornmeal cooked into a thick brick. It would be like if you left your grits on the stove for just a few minutes too long and they became solid. A typical meal would be pap with meat, usually mutton, goat, chicken, or beef. It’s simple and really filling.

A bull being fattened for the Hospital's 50th Anniversary

People in the Mantsonyane area are typically subsistence farmers. Pretty much all the land around the hospital is farmland. It looks to be a continuous crop, but the land is separated and different sections are allocated to certain people. This separation isn’t noticeable so you have to be “in the know.” The chief of a village is in charge of allocating the farmland to his/her villagers. Typical crops grown are corn, wheat, carrots, onions, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, and most other things you’d find in an American garden.

Can you tell where the land is
separated? I know I can't

I should and could devote this entire blog post to bread, but I won’t. Basotho love bread and are fantastic at making it. Baked bread, fried bread, sweet bread, scones, biscuits, muffins, and many more delicious concoctions. It’s surprising to me that I haven’t gained 20lbs just from the bread alone!

The Hospital tuck shop
As I said, there isn’t a supermarket right around the corner. It’s takes 45 minutes of walking to get to the store in town and back, but luckily the hospital has a small store with essentials so I can limit my trips to Mantsonyane to once a week. The shop I usually go to in town is called Frasers and it has a little bit of everything, but it's mostly dry goods. There’s one vegetable stand that I like to stop at and pick up some produce. It’s a limited selection, but its always quality! In season right now are peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, and onions. It’s not a lot of variety, but you can cook a lot with those ingredients.

The road to town

Meat is a lot harder to come by. Most people own their own animals that they’re keeping for slaughter, so there’s not really any place to buy meat in town. Frasers sells industrial size bags of various frozen meats, but I don’t have a refrigerator to keep it fresh. So I’ve been eating mostly vegetarian since I moved up here. Any one that knows me well will balk at that statement! With such a limited ingredient selection, I’ve cooked those ingredients in more ways than you can shake a stick at to keep the illusion of variety. One dish that has been quite tasty is a vegetable curry, complete with homemade flatbread. Is it a traditional curry? Not even close. Is it delicious? Absolutely.

South African Margarine + Lesotho Flour + South
African Milk = Delicious flatbread
Don't have a rolling pin? Use a Nalgene!
Curry powder
The finished product

In other news, you might have noticed that I’ve added a fundraising section on the blog to help raise the money I need to go to Rome next year. I’ve set up a Paypal account so that people can make a quick and easy online donation. Make sure to visit the fundraising section to find out how you can help!

In other, other news, I’m headed to Kenya next week for a little vacation time! I’ll be staying with the YASCer in Kenya, Jenny Korwan. I could not be more excited! I’ll be sure to post photos when I get back! Sala hantle!

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