Food the way it really should taste.

I initially was worried about the food and water in Uganda because I’d been told to avoid so many things. I felt the warnings were overstated; however, they turned out to be necessary because one person with our organization actually got Malaria and parasites. It was pretty serious but she got over it. But back to this post. I didn’t have to worry about the food because I lived at the Invisible Children Intern House. Doreen, a spectacular Ugandan cook, made western style dishes for our group almost every morning and every night.( On Sundays we had to eat out and the schools provided lunch every day during the week.) For breakfast we generally had Mandazi’s, a donut like pastry popular in Kenya and Uganda, hot African tea, omelets and eggs of some sort, mango, banana, pancakes, and on occasion bacon and sausage. Dinner was mostly vegetarian with chicken and beef thrown in for variety. Doreen made what seemed like stir frys of different vegetables she purchased from the market such as string beans, carrots, onions, tomatoes, green peppers etc. She usually had some sort of curry or other sauce that she put on the vegetables that made them absolutely scrumptious! Her Mexican night was to die for and her chips (french fries) were excellent. In some ways I felt as if I hadn’t left the United States.

So that was the food we ate at “home”. What about at restaurants and the houses of our friends? What did we eat there? Well, there are many westerners in Gulu, and there are many restaurants that cater to western tastes. Also, there is a sizable Indian population in Uganda so the food reflects this fact. At Kope Cafe, we could get pizza (cheese is rare in Gulu and I believe they have one choice, a kind of goat cheese), curried chicken, chapati, talapia, chips, cassava, coke, mountain dew, fanta, and local brand sodas. There was more on the menu, but this is what I remember. I also went to more “indigenous” restaurants. There I had stewed beef, goat, or chicken, millet, and posho and beans. What is posho and beans?

Posho is a Maize (corn) flour mixture that looks and tastes sort of like grits to me. It has a coarser, grainier texture. We ate this every single day in the schools without fail-ok sometimes we got rice and beans instead. Sometimes the beans were mixed in Sim Sim (sesame seed paste), usually on Fridays. We’d also have some greens that tasted like spinach mixed in sim sim sauce on occasion. For some, this menu became boring. Not for me! I love Posho and beans and I am going to see if anyone makes it in New York. I”ll keep you posted.


Ummm! Posho and Beans!

Posho and Beans
Posho, beans, the greens with sim sim, and I think either sweet potato or cassava.

The name of this post is Food the way it really should taste.  I chose this title because the food in Uganda, especially Gulu has lots of flavor. The potatoes are the best I’ve ever tasted and I don’t usually eat potatoes (the chips are slammin’!). Mangoes, bananas and other fruits are mouth watering. I think the reason for this is that the soil in Uganda is fertile and has not been tainted with pesticides and killed from over-planting.  Also, most people in Gulu cultivate their own vegetables and raise their own chickens and goats so most of the food you eat is fresh, usually picked or killed that very day. I am praying that as they grow, Gulu won’t lose this aspect of their culture. There’s got to be some place on earth where you can get unadulterated food that’s not grown in a petri dish.



OK, OK. I  know you want to know. Did I eat anything “weird” while abroad? I am going to attempt to handle this question delicately because this sort of  question usually supports vicious stereotypes and I hope by including this topic here and writing the title the way I am not perpetuating any stereotypes. But I feel that this was a cultural exchange and to not include all the details will not do justice to my experience. I will approach this subject how I approached and approach it in both my US  and Ugandan classrooms.

Uganda, 2009

I am teaching Home Economics and my three students, Bibian, Mercy and Irene are listening intently. I don’t remember what we were talking about but I am flipping through a textbook and they see a picture of a lobster and go Eew! I tell them that this food is very popular in some parts of the States.  They stare at me in disbelief. I tell them that there are things they eat that don’t sound appetizing to me and that  would make many Americans go Eew! I told them many of us would not eat the flying white ant or the small grasshoppers that they eat. I explained to the girls that people everywhere eat things others think of as unappetizing. I tell them that I eat chitterlings (chitlins) and they ask me what it is. I tell them pig intestines and  they laugh, give me a major EEEW!, and scrunch up their faces. I ask them would they be willing to try the lobster or the chitlins and they aren’t sure. I tell them that I was willing to try the white flying ant and the grasshopper if it were in season. The white flying ant was in season but there was very little rain. When it rains there are swarms of the ants flying around. There are so many you literally can’t see. The night it rained a lot this happened and I couldn’ believe it! I could not sit in the living room. We had some high school and undergrad students from the States visiting and they caught some and try to burn them alive with matches. I told them I was sure that is not how you cooked them. I told them I would ask my teachers how to prepare them and let them know. I was told that you pull the wings off and then fry them in some oil with salt and pepper. Unfortunately for me and the students, there wasn’t another rainy night so we were unable to try the recipe. Two of my colleagues did try some. One ate them raw and the other went to a dinner where they were served cooked. They both said they had a nutty taste to them. When I go back, I will try them if they are available.

In NYC, I teach a similar lesson and I usually go for the gross factor. However, my goal is always to share food culture and to dispel negative views and beliefs about who eats “strange” foods. Generally speaking, these negative attitudes are directed at third world countries and ethnic minorities. My students in the US are from these groups and they say they eat things like grasshoppers, frog legs, snakes, snails, blood sausages, goat, deer and the like. I debunk the negatives by telling them about chitlins, which grosses them out. I also talk about eating roast duck, drinking carrot and spinach juice, and eating escagot and caviar. The reaction is the same, eew! I tell that I’m willing to try every food once (maybe not completely raw meat) and if I don’t like it, so be it. I explain that every culture eats things others may not like, but they should not judge people negatively because of their food. It’s just what they eat.

 So, What do you eat that I might not like?

The White flying ant

The White flying ant

Mac and Cheese, Sim Sim Balls and Mandazis

That’s not all we did in Home Economics. We could cook too! We had a day where we exchanged recipes. I taught the students (Bibian, Irene and Mercy) how to make Macaroni and Cheese and they taught me how to Make Mandazis and Sim Sim Balls/Squares. We would have made Sweet Potato Pie but sweet potatoes were out of season. Also, if they ever make a sweet potato pie it would be white instead of orange. White sweet potato? Yes. The orange variety is rare in Uganda. The grow a white version and it is sweetest during November/December. Lydia, my Home Ec partner teacher said she would make it then. I sure hope so and I wish I was there to taste it. These two American recipes are expensive to make in Uganda because of the scarcity of cheese and potatoes. I felt bad that these were the only recipes I knew and loved that we make in my family. I know they couldn’t make collard greens because they don’t exist there. OK let me start from the beginning. When I met Lydia, she asked me to give her recipes for some foods that we ate in my family. I told her that I am really not a cook but that I liked dishes like collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and sweet potato pie. I also told her about the mean 3-4 layer chocolate cake my Mom makes. Lydia was excited. We narrowed it down to the Mac and Cheese and sweet potato pie because those ingredients were simple and available (but not readily as I stated previously). The issue with this is that whereas, I may be able to make the recipes they shared with me without a problem-generally things are more readily available in the States-they may not be able to make my recipes as often. I decided not to fret over it; Lydia wanted to make them. Anyway, without further delay, I give you the Food Exchange Recipes.

Ugandan Recipes


Sim Sim Balls(or squares for the thin-skinned, faint of heart cook)

 1.  2-4 cups of Sim Sim (sesame seeds)

2.  Brown or raw sugar

 Roast the sim sim. Melt sugar (put in a dry pan over heat-just the sugar). When melted pour in sim sim. Mix well. Little by little it will take shape. Careful! The mixture is hot, have cold water nearby to dip hands into before attempting the roll the balls. If unable to make the balls, then take a rolling pin and flatten the mixture out. Then cut it into squares.

 This next recipe actually can be found on-line. I included two recipes, one from a student and the other from Lydia, my partner teacher.

 Mandazi Recipe # 1 (student)

 You need:

  • Flour
  • Baking Powder
  • Sugar
  • Warm water
  • Cinnamon or mixed spices


  • Put 250 grams of Flour (wheat, maize or sweet potato) in a bowl.
  • 1 Tbsp of Baking Powder. Mix
  • 100 grams or less of sugar. Mix
  • Blend in water (warm water)

 Make your batter as thick or thin as you like.  Drop the batter into the hot pan.


Mandazi Recipe # 2 (Lydia)

 Need same ingredients as previous recipe. You may substitute milk, eggs and milk, or eggs and water for the water you put in the other recipe. As state before you can also put in different spices. Cinnamon , nutmeg, allspice, and ginger work well.


  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • A pinch of salt (optional)
  • Margarine, butter or oil. 50  grams of Margarine or butter. 3 tablespoons of oil.


 Rub in oil with the flour. Put sugar. Mix your liquid of choice (see introduction above) and pour it in the middle of your flour and oil rubbing. Knead-add the liquid in gradually. Let stand. Dip hand in hot water when you are ready to put it in the pan to avoid sticking batter.

Ingredients: Chapati
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon cooking oil
1 teaspoon salt
warm water, as needed
1. If the ingredients have been in the refrigerator, allow them to come to room temperature.
2. In a bowl, mix the flour with the salt.
3. Slowly add enough water to make a thick dough.
4. Mix in one spoonful of oil.
5. Knead the dough for a few minutes on a cool surface, adding a few spoonfuls of dry flour.
6. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a clean cloth and let it rest for about 30 minutes.
7. Lightly grease a griddle or skillet with cooking oil and preheat.
8. Divide the dough into 6 orange-sized balls and flatten them into six-inch circles. Fry them in the griddle or skillet until each side is golden brown and spotted, turning once.
9. Serve them with butter and any soup, stew or curry dish.

Servings: 6

Excerpted from:

How to make Posho/Ugali/Kawunga/Busiima/Nshima


  • 400 g white maize flour
  • 750 ml water
  • 1⁄2 t salt


You will need a strong wooden or plastic utensil suitable for mingling
a very stiff mixture.

  • Bring the water with the salt to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium.
  • Carefully and slowly pour the flour into the pan while vigorously mixing to avoid any lumps forming, to form a smooth mixture. You will note that it very rapidly thickens to a very stiff consistency. You may need to hold the pan down with one hand.
  • Keep mixing and turning for 5 – 10 minutes. Look at the middle picture to see what it should roughly look like. The heat should be such that you can mingle for that length of time without the layer at the bottom getting burnt.

Serve hot.

If you have no way of measuring the ingredients, this is what has worked for me: 1 measure of flour requires a little less than twice the volume of water. So 1 cup of flour needs about 2 cups of water. You may need to experiment a bit …

Excerpted from:

American Recipes

Mac and Cheese

2 quarts of water

1 ¾  teaspoons of salt

2  ½  cups of macaroni (elbow)

1 tablespoon of butter or margarine

1 egg

1 pint of milk

Salt and pepper

2 ½ cups of Mild Cheddar Cheese


Bring salt and water to a rolling boil. Add Macaroni (10 ounces) and cook for about 10 minutes or until firm but not soft. Remove from heat and drain in a colander. Place macaroni in a casserole. Stir butter into hot macaroni. Break egg into bowl and beat with a wire whip or fork. Blend in milk, salt and pepper to taste. Pour mix over the macaroni and blend in 1 ¼  cups of grated cheese. Allow mix to stand approximately 15 minutes. Top with 1 ¼ cups of grated cheese. Bake in oven for ten to fifteen minutes at about 350 degrees.

From Morrison’s Imperial House



 Sweet Potato Pie

Orange sweet potatoes are rare in Uganda, Therefore, to make this pie, they would most likely use the white variety. Didn’t know they existed? Me either. Lydia said she could probably try this around November or December when the white sweet potatoes are the sweetest. I’d sure like to be there to try it.


3 small sweet potatoes

¼ pounds of butter

1 cup of milk

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1 ¼ cups of sugar

½ teaspoons of allspice

1 unbaked pie shell


Grate raw sweet potato. Melt butter and add other ingredients. Stir in grated potatoes and pour in shell. Bake 10 minutes at 425 degrees F. Then 50 minutes at  325 degrees F or until custard is set in middle. Cool on rack to prevent soggy crust. For a variation sprinkle the top thinly with a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon and melted butter before baking. Also generally, the sweet potatoes are cooked before they are put into the pie shell. This recipe says the raw sweet potatoes make for a different flavor and texture than the more traditional way of making it.

Mrs. A.M. Crowell, Jr

Hey, I know these are not my Mom’s recipes. You’ll have to talk to her about that. I tried to get her to share and this is what she had my cousin send me! Hey but the Ugandan Mac and Cheese was the bomb!

Bon Appetit!

The girls measuring for the Mandazis, Lydia supervising.

The girls measuring for the Mandazis, Lydia supervising.

Published in: on August 14, 2009 at 2:23 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. wow love the chapati recipe

  2. Our son is from Uganda and we had so many food issues… he STILL HATES mac n cheese… really any cheese… but the first night i tried to make him UG beans and rice or posho he was all smiles! It was a delight. He is opening up his food options and likes to more western items now.

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