Sunday, 30 September 2012

Bumpy ride with a smooth landing

A good 2½ years ago we posted our first blog with noble intentions of producing a cookbook filled with not only African recipes but to take a fresh look at the African eating experience. The journey since has been incredible- not without its risks and obstacles, but outnumbered by inspiring counter- moments.
As if the journey itself wasn’t enough- last we Friday eve we found ourselves on a small podium in Amsterdam with our publisher Hilde Vinken from Kosmos- pulses racing and palms sweaty with nerves, as Hilde handed us a beautiful, beautiful cookbook Het nieuw Afrikaans kookboek. We are so proud!

A thousand thankyous to all those that helped us make this happen. The book will be available in the Netherlands in Dutch from the end of October; our next challenge will be to find a publisher willing to take the plunge for the English edition.
But don’t go away- there were a whole lot of recipes that didn’t make the book( there were only so many pages we were allowed to fill..) and they deserve to be shared, so we’ll be back-
And while you wait -here is a short “making of” documentary by Sean which will transport to where it all happened. 

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Bonjour Vaza, Salamo Vaza

A week has come and gone on this “island of clouds”, as Sean calls it.
Vaza is the name Malagasy’s call us foreigners- it comes from Wasa (cracker- crispy and pale? - except they don’t have a W in the Malagasy alphabet so it’s become vasa…).
We’ve taken a knock on the side of the head. We didn’t know what to expect upon arriving in Madagascar and now that we’re leaving we still haven’t quite got to grips- is it Asian, African, French? A little of all of those..we think…
"Tana" view from our apartment window

A few impressions- 
Nothing insipid about the skies here- azure big blue with great bulbous cloudscapes.
And the highland landscape could be the rolling hills of Provence

Sounds and smell of rural morning life -crow of a cock and the smell of the burning wood fire wake me up, in an apartment in the city centre of Antananarivo, the capital.

In a small country village where farmers live without running water there is a thriving foie gras industry..?

Hotelys- small, extremely basic but homely street food restaurants- with small window boxes display their wares- fried noodles; Mofo gasy- rice cakes; little pots of yoghurt; freshly squeezed juices; bottles of THB (local beer)

After a day in “Tana” as it’s called we take a 4 hour trip to Bakobako gite, in a small village about 20 km’s outside Antsiribe. We are lodging with Madame Honorine and her partner Gustave, who have been running the gite for 10 years.  They show us real country cooking- its all done on an open fire using what is harvested from the garden. Even the spicy duck we have for dinner is from their own back yard. The food is wholesome and delicious and served classic French style, in the evenings we start with an aperitif and a small snack, then onto a first, second course and a dessert. Some of the dishes are so unusual and tasty we whip them straight from the table to under the camera.
Sean shows our pics to the team

 Our guide and finder Tsito had never seen anything like it-“ treating plates as if they were top models-“ Here in Madagascar we were taught to eat, not to play with our food.”            

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

La machinerie du livre de cuisine

Do you remember this quote in Lord of the Rings ? ' This task was appointed to you and if you do not find a way, no one will' Well, lately, I sort of thought that it was addressed to me. My name is not Frodo though, it is Tsito, I am from Madagascar, the big island at the foot of Africa. When I accepted to embark into the new african cook book venture and assist Ingmar and Sean during their trip in Madagascar, I didn't thought that the mystical arts of food stylism would be revealed to me…At the airport, when I saw the equipment they were carrying, I told myself, gosh this story is getting serious so I hold my breath and tried to show my brightest Malagasy smile...

As I found myself immersed into the creative process (a fancy way to say that I was watching Ingmar and Sean working) I felt like I was a food aesthete. No seriously, seeing one country with the eyes of a foreigner is probably an ability many of us want to have, and I suppose that I caught a glimpse of that experience…My eyes and my palate were delighted and I can definitely say that playing with food is so enjoyable and should not be forbidden (mum if you read this post)

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Nairobi Sunrise

5:52 am and I’m rushing again. Slept six good hours but now paying the penalty for stealing five extra minutes in bed recovering from the GBH (Grievous Bodily Harm) inflicted by my alarm. I know Boniface our driver will be waiting downstairs with his battered Toyota. He’s never been late. Respect forces me on and I speedily pack and recheck the four suitcases once again. This is the last time I’ll do this in Nairobi, for today we leave Kenya and fly onwards.

Its still pitch black as Boni squeezes the Toyota into the traffic on Uhuru Highway. We crawl eastwards towards the airport, but there is no sign of the rising sun. Uhuru means peace in Kiswahili. It is also the name of the communications officer on board the Starship Enterprise, Star Trek’s first vessel from the 70’s TV show. “Lt. Uhuru, get me the Admirality quick” I hear Captain Kirk’s authoritative voice in my head. Back on Nairobi’s streets thousands of people walk to work in the dark. Do they wish for a starship or some other miraculous technology to lift them out of the acidic diesel fumes, the noise, the dust, I wonder? We pass a huge open space, waste ground between the factories. Amidst outcrops of rocks, bare trees and litter scattered across these acres, bonfires burn. Their eerie glow throws the people milling around these fires into silhouette. I see a lady dishing up a cooked breakfast for those late for work. Others just need warmth and strong, milky tea. I suppose the smallest comfort is invaluable in these dark hours. Personally I cant keep images of Dante’s Inferno from invading my mind.

As with all places along the equator, sunrise happens at a hellava lick. Suddenly we’re driving in broad daylight and the hellish imagery begins to fade. At the airport terminal we get a generous hug from Boniface and laugh and chat with the ever happy Kenyans. An hour later, flying high above the land with Mt Kilimanjaro slowly slipping by on our right hand side, I look out at the fluffy clouds below. The Blue Planet this is, when seen from outer space. At this altitude, the minute detail on the surface can not be seen. No more laughter, no more pain. No hunger, no enjoyment, no Sparletta Gingerbeer nor hot chapati’s. No more exquisite English and beautiful smiles. Silently I say goodbye to Kenya and wish this remarkable land ‘Uhuru’. As new elections loom and the fires from the vicious unrest that flared during the previous elections still smoulder, this may be an important wish to want to come true.

Two hours later I see the coastline of Madagascar creep into view. We plan to shoot the remaining 20 recipes on the Red Island during the coming week. Neither Ingmar nor myself have been here before and we don’t know what to expect. Madagascar is part of the African continent and travelling in Africa is something we do know well by now. So we are by no means apprehensive. But with stories of spirits appearing after dark to prey on children and babies named after various kinds of garbage, I cant help feeling we’re in for a bit of a surprise. 

Swahili’s do it sitting down

Our next stop, Mombasa was a mere 40-minute flight from Nairobi.
Once we had cleared, not only customs but also the melting wall of heat and humidity- we were ready for lots of good cooking here.
Sean and Carole ready for take off
Swahili food is delicious- it has a strong Arabic influence but is also distinctly African- loads of spices are used, in food as well as in drinks- spicy chais and coffees are commonplace.  We were served a simple cup of hot black tea with grating of fresh ginger- so good in the sweltering heat.

The rice pilau’s here are a real specialty and are cooked on a small coal stove called a “jiko”.
For our first stop we were guests of Mensa and Nina, and their four lovely children, in a small village just north of Mombasa called Mtwapa.

Mensa is the local life -guard on the beach, but also know as the Coco-Master for his memorable dishes with coconut milk. A jolly gentle fellow- who cooked with passion. “Isn’t cooking a woman’s job?” was our question.
“ I learnt to cook from my father- he simply decided to break with tradition and learnt to cook. Except pilau , ‘he didn’t like it, so he didn’t cook it”.

Next, we met with Aysha, a pretty young newlywed,  she didn’t speak much English and was alittle shy (although she was quite have to have us photographed with and without het veil, a different relaxed interpretation to the Islamic faith).
A portrait of Aysha
Aysha cooks as if she was born with a wooden spoon in the hand- completely instinctively, and showed us how to grind coconuts on the mbuzi (she grinds about 30 a day..just for use in her daily cooking- they love the stuff here!) Aysha fist made mahambri- coconut and cardamom spiked fritters- mmmm!
When she started cooking her pilau- she moved her work station from the kitchen counter to the verandah floor- she fired up the Jiko, surrounded herself with pots, bowls of ingredients and tools, perched on a very low stool and proceeded to cook the whole meal on the floor- apparently very typical of Swahili cooking.

Swahili style 

Sunday, 18 March 2012

“I can make perfect chapatis from any direction”

“I can make perfect chapatis from any direction”

Yesterday we visited Mumbi Muturi- Muli an eclectic, gregarious and fun lady- a real lady, in fact she carries herself like a first lady.
Mumbi has her portrait, assistants-son Olaitan
& our multitasking driver Boniface. 
When asked about her take on Kenyan cooking her answer “ I’m a real Mzungu cook. “ roughly translated ‘ I don’t do much traditional cooking” that aside, she's an amazing cook- the ease at which she pops her spicy orange chicken in the oven and on the spot transforms the recipe to chocolate -spicy chicken- shows she has a knack for it.
 She is passionate about the precision of baking, quite the antithesis to her wacky persona - cakes, tarts, biscuits- difficult ones with exotic and fine ingredients- what we were tasting was delicious and looked wonderful.

During our travels we are finding ourselves not only looking for interesting food stories.. but we're now also on a mission to find the perfect chapati. You instantly think Indian when you hear the word “chapati” but it’s as Kenyan as it is Indian. Every one in Kenya has an opinion about them, a tale to tell or knows a god recipe and eats them..  we thought- lets find Kenya’s finest..

Today we spent the day with the day with Sumat a delightful Massai gentleman, who showed us his take on chapatis- really good. When asked to change positions for a better camera angle during our session- he answered ” I can make perfect chapatis from any direction..”

Sumat in the act of chapati making

Tomorrow we have to say our  goodbyes to Nairobi, all the kind people who have helped us, also our wonderful hostess Shiku who has put up with madness in her house and remained ever kind and caring.. Thank you! And then off to Mombasa- who knows what chapati talent we will encounter there. 
Working in the park-sized gardens of Shiku's
lovely home

Friday, 16 March 2012

“I’m a Maggi cube person"

Today our first visit was to Rwandan born, Nina Bola, film production assistant living in the leafy Nairobi suburb Kilimani. Nina cooked two of her specialties for us -a fish dish DRC style- her father is Kikongo;

 and a plantain and bean dish called Ibitoki ni bi Harage from her mother’s homeland Rwanda.

Styling ninas beans for the camera
 Nina introduced us to a pungent thing smelling amavuta y’inga. It is a type of fermented butter from fresh cows milk we hadn’t gotten to the bottom of it yet- so any Rwandese out there that know more please comment. It is a dish favoured by the Tutsis of Rwanda. Whilst cooking, Nina explained to us that Maggi stock cubes were definitely a favorite ingredient- way superior to any other brands on sale!
Our afternoon stop took us to Nairobi’s colourful Ngara market, where I was offered all sorts of colourful wares including a Kenyan husband!
Ngara market

We ended the evening with our whole team, eating  traditional Kenyan food. Good!