Pearl of Africa

The cheapest Rolex in the world can be acquired in Uganda, costing just about 50p. But if you are looking for wrist watches, you will be disappointed. A rolex is a rolled chapathi (unleavened flatbread from the Indian subcontinent, brought to Uganda by Indian migrants) filled with an omelette. It was invented about 15 years ago as an affordable street food to appease the craving and budget of the university student. The eggs are supplemented with vegetables or mincemeat for an added price. If you are quite hungry, upgrade to a Rolex Titanic, a double carbo-blanket of two chapathis.

Uganda_1But rolex was not going to be on the menu today, as I was scouring the sites for something more traditional. The search ended with Mugoyo. Described fondly by local writers, the dish is an amalgamated mash of nambale beans (red kidney beans come closest) and sweet potato. But this is no ordinary pulp. A duo of two superfoods, mugoyo is a powerhouse of fibre, protein, vitamins and VIPs from the periodic table. For added nutritional rectitude, it is served with a side of a cooked green. I chose Simsim Spinach (simsim is Swahili for Sesame).

Uganda_2The one or two Ugandan shops I found were no longer operational, but my persistence was rewarded with a partial match. Owino Mini Market in Mitcham was an African supplier with a good selection of Ugandan products and I didn’t really need that much, so I set forth. It was an ambiguous day, sun and rain constantly jousting and unhorsing each other. I took the train to one of the Mitcham stations, walked through a few unspectacular residential roads, reached the town centre and found the shop. I got a packet of the nambale beans, two sweet potatoes and one of the made-this-morning-still-warm Uganda_4chapathis. After some till-side chit-chat with the Ugandan owner, I walked along the main road to the tram station on the other side of town. Large parts of the road were under construction as part of a “Rediscover Mitcham” project. The rediscovery is long overdue; Mitcham last had its heyday over two centuries ago as a major producer of perfumes and toiletries from its abundant lavender fields. Scattered nice-looking buildings were lingering ghosts from this period, but some looked unused and some others unmistakably boarded up. There was nothing more to see here. I left Mitcham to its rediscovery and just as I boarded my tram, the rain came pouring down.

Uganda_3The only things the mugoyo needed were fire, water and time. I boiled the pre-soaked beans and sweet potatoes separately, until they reached mashing consistency. The beans took 2-3 hours and potatoes 20 minutes. I set to work with the masher and got a light brown result bespeckled with coarser beans. For the Simsim Spinach, I boiled a scoop of sesame seeds in water for about 15 minutes until they softened, added the spinach leaves and cooked for a few minutes until most of the water had evaporated. I finished it off with a knob of butter.

Devoid of any added flavours except salt, the mugoyo’s taste was a sum of its parts and no more. I thought it was on the drier side, and tried it mixed with some of the spinach. The combined mouthful tasted much better, the buttery spinach rounding off the mugoyo’s starchiness. Astonishingly, I found a Bantu proverb that said exactly what I had just done. “What one won’t eat by itself, one will eat when mixed with other food.”

Krishnan

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