As a former travel reporter, I believe in cultural baptism. When I've immersed myself in my host country--experiencing its food, its music, its art, and especially its people, wonderful things have happened.
Don and Elena
Our first night in Mozambique, Fawn and I had dinner at the Hotel Flamingo, where we stayed during our journalism training sessions for Oram, the rural development organization with whom we were working. There were two gentleman at the table next to ours who were listening to music on a laptop. The melody sounded familiar. "Is that Baaba Maal?" I asked. I had discovered African music years ago and Maal, a Senegalese singer and guitarist, had become one of my favorites. "Yes, it is," one replied. "You know Baaba Maal? You must come and join us." We did and learned their backgrounds. Don, a musician, plays the djembe (African drum) and is a vocalist. Luis, a Portuguese vehicle inspector, had recently moved from Portugal to Mozambique.
The conversation expanded as more friends joined the table--Elena, Don's significant other; Norma, a German grad student researching sustainable fish farming; Xavier, an HIV-AIDS trainer; his friend Nyllon, a copy editor at a Maputo advertising agency, and others. The discussion about music led to talk about politics, religion, and all those topics you're NOT supposed to discuss. We met Elena's son and the couple's new baby, Bianca.
Don & Elena's children
From left, Luis, Norma, Don, Fawn, and me
Each night we'd meet our friends for food and conversation. They were exceedingly generous. On Wednesday, when Fawn's luggage finally arrived, for example, Xavier drove us to the airport to meet an 11pm flight; unfortunately it was late and it was well after 1am when she finally collected her bag. Friday night, our last night in Quelimane, Don and Elena invited us to their apartment for a home-cooked dinner. "We'll serve only local Mozambican food," Don told us. Xavier, Norma, Luis, and Nyllon were also invited.
When we arrived, Luis and Don carried the family's heavy wooden table (that sat ten) and chairs down a flight of stairs so that we could dine outside on the patio. Elena covered the table with a handmade tablecloth that her family had carried with them from Portugal. Xavier brought his acoustic guitar and played Brazilian sambas and traditional Mozambican folk songs.
Plates of food began to arrive. Elena, who had been in the kitchen for hours, had prepared a nine-course meal for us! Dried and salted fish, then fresh cod fish. The food just kept coming...Sweet potatoes, then a pureed tomato dish with onion, garlic, and pepper, roasted plantain.
Don explained the cultural significance of each dish while Elena shared the recipes and cooking tips.
Mmmm Cod fish
Okra in coconut milk (Elena says the key to cooking with coconut milk is to leave the lid off during cooking)
This is cassava, made with onions and garlic, I think. Wow! Really flavorful. Elena also prepared nshima, a traditional dish made with maize. It was snow white and had the consistency of mashed potatoes.
The traditional dish of Zambezia, the Mozambican province in which Quelimane is situated, is Galina Zambeziana, chicken basted with coconut milk and then grilled. Everyone we spoke to en route to Quelimane told us to be sure to try this dish. They were right. It was unforgettable.
The cuisine of Mozambique is amazing! Organic, sustainably grown food, flavored with robust Mediterranean spices. The Portuguese influence is evident in many of the dishes, especially Galina Zambeziana.
Is there anything better than good food and good conversation with good friends? This was a really magical night. I'd love to have the opportunity to host our new Mozambican friends here in Madison...let's see, I could serve venison, wild rice, walleye, berries, corn on the cob....