Zulu Cuisine and Food

Since the Zulu people originally relied on the land for sustenance, their diet was made up mainly of the grain and vegetables and the meat that their own animals provided.

South African Food and CuisineZulu Cuisine of South Africa

The Zulu nation has a long and fascinating history. They have the largest representation in South Africa, and their culture has remained strong through the many generations. Zulu is part of the Bantu languages, along with Xhosa and a few lesser known tongues.

For centuries, tribes occupied the south-east of South Africa. There was already a fair amount of discord amongst these Zulu-speaking clans as they fought for the ownership of land.

Then, in the late 18th century, the famous warrior and king, Shaka, was born. He was the illegitimate son of a chief, kicked out of the village with his mother. This fostered in him a fierce determination to prove himself. Once the colonial Europeans arrived and vied with the tribes and, more importantly, with King Shaka Zulu, they experienced the true wrath (and indiscriminate slaughter) for which he became notorious.

However, the Zulu culture extends far beyond the battles fought for land and settling rights. Theirs is a culture that is centred on tradition and ritual. Most major life events (weddings, funerals, coming of age, etc...) are marked by the slaughter of an animal, feasting, drinking and socialising with friends and family. Of course, the traditional cuisine is a major part of this culture.

Since the Zulu people originally relied on the land for sustenance, their diet was made up mainly of the grain and vegetables that they farmed and the meat that their own animals provided. Today, sorghum and maize starches remain the staple food of the Zulu folk. These are eaten as stiff porridges, softer porridges, or in the liquid form as beer.

The alcoholic version of this beer is known as utywala and the non-alcoholic version as amahewu. Isibhede is the porridge in its fermented state, which is known for the tingling sensation that it creates on the tongue. The making of beer is the job of the Zulu women. It takes about three days to ferment and must be consumed on the third day, after being strained through a sieve. Traditional Zulu beer is nutritious and filling.

Amazi is another important part of the Zulu cuisine. This is a curdled milk drink that is reserved only for the family members of the person making it. It is allowed to curdle in a gourd and the whey proteins are removed. The gourd is never cleaned, but is constantly refilled.

Common vegetables comprise those that are easily grown in what is today the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Maize, pumpkins and potatoes are popular; while tomatoes and onions are added when they are available. Amandumbe are also extremely important to the Zulu cuisine. These are root vegetables that can be likened to sweet potatoes, but are more fibrous in texture.

Beef is often part of the Zulu menu, as this nation is known to love their meat. Usually, a family or tribe distributes the meat according to age and gender. The coveted parts of the animal, consumed by the men of the group, include the liver, front right leg and the head. The women usually get the tripe and the ribs.

The Zulu culture is known for its hospitality and its focus on sharing in terms of resources and food. Thus, visitors to South Africa will, no doubt, be invited to share in this intriguing part of the local culture.

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