I have always had a phobia of walk-in refrigerators. So my eye twitched when Londolozi’s Executive Chef, Anna Ridgewell, asked me to “nip in” and grab an ingredient for her. I had never been into the Londolozi fridge before, and I was sure that Anna was going to slam the door shut as soon as I was in and then chortle (in an evil kind of way) before forgetting about me as the pastry chef’s latest creation swanned past.
Admittedly, I really am horrified at that prospect and so my intention was to get in and out as quickly as possible. After wedging an old mop against the door (as a precautionary measure), I entered.
And immediately breathed a sigh of relief.
I was not alone in here. Sous Chef, Thoko Ngobeni, was hauling a 20 kilogram bag of mielie meal off of one of the sturdy shelves. I know Thoko because we share a love of hummus, and on the day of our first meeting, we spent at least fifteen minutes talking about Mediterranean-inspired cuisine. Also, Thoko is a talented chef, and there is no way that Anna would lock her in the fridge. So I was safe.
“Do you eat Pap every day Thoko?” I asked, pointing to the bag of Maize Meal on Thoko’s shoulder? Thoko is one of those people who allows you to pluck any question out of the air unannounced and pose it, without any risk of being misunderstood.
“Yes I do,” said Thoko, “most Africans do – we love it”.
Pap is almost like polenta or grits, and is made from ground up mielies (maize). It is a staple food in most sub-Saharan countries and can be served “dry” (almost like mashed potato) or “wet” (more like creamy porridge). Maize is an American crop introduced to Africa by the Portuguese in the eighteenth century. It yielded much heavier crops than African sorghum, and so was quickly adopted as the crop of choice.
“Is it healthy?” I asked.
“First, it is practical” replied Thoko, matter-of-factly. “People don’t always have time to eat big meals during the day. Instead they eat a lot of Pap at night. It fills us up and provides a good night sleep. It keeps you feeling full for a long time. I suppose where some people have bread or potatoes, we have Pap. It is our starch. Second, there are vitamins in maize. Vitamins that make you strong. Of course, if you eat too much, it is not healthy – just like anything. Remember, Pap is part of our culture. Even when someone passes away, you bury that person with a blanket for warmth and a bowl of Pap to keep them nourished.”
“And what do you eat pap with?” came my next question.
“Anything you want” smiled Thoko. “Shangaan people like fresh-water fish. We also like fresh chicken. A whole, live chicken can be bought for R40. But the secret to pap is the tomato and onion gravy that goes with it. It is often called Sheeba.”
I was just about to ask Thoko if she would show me how to make Pap, when Anna’s voice blasted into the cold: “Why is there a mop stuck in the door, and where are my macadamia nuts?”
Luckily, after explaining to Anna why she had been waiting for so long, she was more than happy to allow Thoko to give me a lesson in African cuisine. And she even helped with the Sheeba recipe.
As a final word, on a scorching hot summer’s day at Londolozi, might I suggest Anna’s fridge as a great place to catch up with friends. No need to be afraid – you never know what you might learn (and the macadamia nuts are delicious!).
- In a large saucepan (with a thick base), bring three cups of slightly salted water to boil and add one cup of Maize Meal. Cover with a lid, bring the heat down and leave for 10 minutes. Do not stir
- Remove the lid and stir for about one minute. Fluff the Pap up and make sure you expose all dry bits to the moisture
- Gradually add another cup of Maize Meal, and stir, repeating step 2
- Reduce the heat to the lowest setting, replace the lid and let the Pap steam for 30 to 40 minutes
- Remove the lid and stir, adding a little more water if the Pap seems too dry
- Serve warm
- 5 Large Tomatoes, chopped
- 2 Large Onions, chopped
- 2 Cloves Garlic, chopped
- 2 Tbsp Tomato Paste
- 410g Tomato Puree
- 2 Tbsp Brown Sugar
- Salt & Pepper
- Saute onions and garlic until soft
- Add the chopped tomatoes and mix together
- Add the tomato paste and puree and stir until all mixed
- Season with the sugar and salt and pepper
- Reduce for 15 minutes until thick and flavoursome
- Served best with Thoko’s Pap