Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Ugali

This is ugali (say “ooo-golly”). It’s a staple here in Tanzania. They grind corn into a fine powder, then boil it and stir it until it hardens into the texture of Play-Do. It is usually served with a vegetable like cabbage (shown here) or skuma (similar to collard greens). Sometimes a few small chunks of meat will be served as well.
Ugali is eaten with the fingers. We’ve had ugali for lunch every day. The first day when they handed me a plate like the one above, I said, “Where’s a fork?” Eric said, “There are no forks--and I consider it like blasphemy to eat ugali with anything other than your fingers!” So I broke off a lump of ugali and kneaded it in my right hand until it was the shape of a football or an egg (That’s what I saw everyone else do.) I dipped it into the skuma, trying to use it like a spoon to scoop up the vegetable. And it broke. That’s when I realized that ugali cannot be eaten without making a complete mess of your hand.
So what did it taste like? Very dry. Very bland. But as long as every bite that goes in your mouth is accompanied by something else, it’s not bad. And I will tell you that on the days we had meat, which was about every third day, ugali was actually very good. It soaks up the juices from the meat and becomes sort of like polenta.

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