Nsima is a bland tasting porridge made from a flour. It is a staple dish made in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia and among Zambians in Southern Africa,
Nsima can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Being able to have it for all three meals is seen as a sign of food abundance.
The flour used can be cassava, corn, sorghum, millet or another starch, but commonly used are the two corn flours known as ufa woyera or ufa ngaiwa.
The porridge sticks easily to the pot, so you must stir constantly. It is stirred with a cooking stick called a “Mthiko.”
Males are prohibited from touching the stick -. it’s believed it will compromise their masculinity. A woman is judged on how well she handles the stick.
The porridge needs to be very thick and smooth. When it’s fully cooked, it should be too hot to stick your finger very far into it. When cooked, it is covered, let stand for a few minutes to fully congeal, then served. It is best hot.
The white Nsima is, the more desirable it is.
Nsima is never eaten on its own. It is served with a vegetable, bean, fish or meat dish, as people in the West serve mashed potatoes, grits or polenta. But rather than being seen as the side, Nsima is seen as the main dish with the other items being the accompaniment. This accompaniment is called the “dende”, “ndiyo”, “ndiwo” or “umunani”, all roughly translated “relish.” This is rather like the Chinese viewing rice as the main dish, and other things as the sides.
There is generally just one relish. The urban rich may have two or three, but the rural poor see that as wasteful.
Even though it’s served very hot, Nsima is eaten in Zambia by hand (the right hand, or left, if the person is left-handed.)
Scoops of it are put on people’s plates. You pull or cut off chunks, and in your hand, you form it into a ball, then dip it into the relish. You can press a dimple in it to make it hold more relish, or to have it scoop better.
Nsima is made softer in Malawi; there, they say the Zimbabwe version is like concrete. The Zimbabweans think the Malawi version is too soft, like a gruel. The Zambian style is somewhere in between.
- Nsima yopola: Nsima that has gone cold. Will turn somewhat hard;
- Nsima ya cimbala: Leftover from the previous day. Given to children, men won’t eat it;
- Nsima yibisi: Undercooked;
- Nsima ya mgayiwa: Dark, coarse Nsima made from a grain that hasn’t been finely ground enough. Eaten only in times of hardship;
- Nsima ya kambandila: Made from corn that was harvested somewhat early because of food emergencies;
- Nsima yosoza: Nsima eaten by itself. Seen as odd or an emergency. In fact, when eating the Nsima and the relish, you are supposed to take just enough of each at a time, so that you don’t end up with just Nsima at the end.
4 cups (32 oz / 1 litre) water
2 cups (10 oz / 300g) plain corn meal
Heat the water until luke-warm. Sprinkle half the corn meal slowly (a tablespoon at a time) into the water while stirring continuously.) When all the corn meal is in, keep on stirring until the mixture begins to boil and thicken. Lower the heat to a low medium, cover the pot, allow to simmer 3 to 5 minutes.
Remove the top (watching out for any hot gloops that might pop out and burn you), and slowly sprinkle in the remaining corn meal. If you want it thicker, you can add more corn meal: if you want it softer, you don’t have to put it all in. Stir very well, then remove from the heat, cover, and stand 2 to 3 minutes, then serve.
Baldwin, Jamie. A chef makes some Nsima. From the BBC “Our Man in Zambia” series. February 2004. Retrieved March 2004 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/nottingham/features/2004/03/our_man_in_zambia_08.shtml.