My relationship with Rwandan and Ugandan food is best described as an emotional rollercoaster. From the honeymoon phase where I fell in love with the delicious fried bananas, fresh from the earth tomatoes, and the ever present mystery vegetable sauces to the fall out that occurred somewhere around my fifteenth serving of boiled cassava leaves.
In addition there is also a kind of sauce, or soup as it is called, which is eaten with whatever starchy staple you have. In Rwanda there is rarely meat, in my experience. In Gulu, Uganda there is more of an abundance of livestock so meat is more common. There is more livestock because there is more space to keep it in a rural setting than in the crowded city of Kigali.
In Uganda, meat provided a whole new challenge. At one restaurant I ordered the fish and received an ENTIRE FISH. I thought I could rise to the great challenge of picking the meat off the bones while the fish looked me sadly in the eyes but it then it came at me with its gills and bones and guts and fins and it was just not going to happen. Luckily the bus driver traded me and I ate beans and posho for lunch. I have since conquered this whole fish dish, though never with the head still attached. I also had liver (“In Acholi culture we don’t refuse food”, said my host uncle), and fresh pork. This pork was absolutely delicious but as soon as I noticed the skin and bristly hair was attached I was just done. I could practically hear Babe squealing in the background.
As a study abroad group we had countless conversations about food. From burgers to Raising Cane’s, to a simple caesar salad we covered every base available back in America. I think food is the easiest form of homesickness. This was the hardest thing for me to deal with, as my bouts of homesickness have been few and far between, but being hungry for an ordinary bowl of cereal was frequent.
But not all of the food was a test. As a lot of my favorite American foods are fried and full of calories and fats that are bad for you, there were a few things that have come to be favorites. One is the samosa. I could probably eat these things for every meal. The typical samosa consists of beef, onions and cabbage and is fried in a chewy or crunchy triangular pastry. Sort of like a fried version of a Nebraska Runza but ten times tastier and twenty times more oily. Another is chapati, which is a circular chewy fried bread that, again, I could eat with every meal. My favorite chapati experience was at the source of the Nile in Jinja, Uganda where I was given a fresh chapati rolled in a newspaper (sanitary, right?) for 1000 Ugandan Shillings or roughly 40 cents. Fried cassava root was another favorite.
Through all the ups and downs, the stomachaches, and the heartaches of the burgers never tasting quite right, I am now firmly back in love with the food here. Here’s to 10 more days of bananas, beans, and rice!