June 2, 2005
The other morning Dan had an early morning meeting in Limbe and had to pick up another Abusa. He asked if I would cook him an egg while he got ready to leave. I said, “why don’t you and Greyson just stop at McDonalds on the way to the meeting and grab a couple of sausage biscuits?” He just glared at me. At home he treats himself to the carb and fat laden breakfast sandwiches once a week, and washes his meal down with a Diet Pepsi. Here in Malawi, there are no fast food restaurants. I made him a boiled egg and toast and he drank fresh guava juice.
Although we do not have golden arches or Taco Bell or Wendy’s here, I do not want to give you the impression that Malawians do not eat on the go. Actually, “take away” (take out) food is a big business here. Stalls are set up everywhere people congregate that sell a variety of foods to hungry people who are on the move.
The most popular snack food is “chips” or French fries. Vendors peel potatoes by hand and use a built-in metal bowl filled with oil to fry the potatoes. Charcoal is used to heat the oil. The chips are served in a paper cone or a small plastic bag with a relish made of finely sliced cabbage and tomatoes on top. Salt is added to taste. One serving costs 20 Kwacha (less than 20 cents) and at lunch or “tea” time, you will see lines of people waiting for the hot treat. We have never bought any of these on the street, because cooking oil is expensive here, and sometimes unscrupulous vendors steal oil that is laden with PCBs from transformers or use other harmful oil.
Other entrepreneurs carry baskets of baked goods on their heads. A round fried piece of dough, similar to a donut is sold for just a few cents. The seller can move his or her business to a good location very easily. A woman selling samosas, which are triangular shaped, meat filled pastries makes rounds at the Synod offices each morning. Her warm, savory fried treats are 10 Kwacha each, much cheaper than the 40 Kwacha that the grocery stores charge. She does a very brisk business at break time.
Other snack items that children often sell on the streets are small bags of salted, roasted peanuts. These nuts are grown here in Malawi and for 5 Kwacha you can grab a pile of them to munch as you walk to your destination.
Women sell bananas and mangoes that they grow in their yards. Apples are imported from South Africa and sold by roaming vendors at gas and mini-bus stations. These snacks seem a bit healthier than a Double Whopper with cheese.
We do have one take-away pizza place in Blantyre. There is no home delivery, and the girls think that the pizzas are OK, “chabwino,” but could use more sauce and cheese. There is a new pizza place in Mulanje that is operated by an Italian that is supposed to be good, so we will have to check it out the next time we are out that way.
We have also heard that there is a place that sells “Southern Fried Chicken” in a neighboring town, but the service is anything but fast.
Drinks are also sold on the side of the roads. It is not unusual to see a man sitting behind a cooler from which he is selling Fanta (soft drinks such as pineapple, orange, cherry plum and pinacola soda). You have to drink the soda there, though because all the bottles are glass and are reused.
Sometimes women sell homemade millet brew (alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties) from large plastic buckets. They dip a cup into the liquid and serve it to the customer who is taking a break on their journey.
By far the most popular food that you will see people snacking on as they walk along the roads of Malawi is sugar cane. A stick of the plant that is about 2.5 feet long sells for 5 Kwacha. You see it everywhere. People riding in the back of trucks, school children on their way home, business men walking to work will all be tearing the stick apart with their teeth. They break off a piece to get to the sweet juice in the fibrous center. They chew it until all the sweetness is extracted and then spit out the pulp onto the ground. Malawian streets and paths are littered with this organic refuse.
Malawians love candy, but it is expensive so vendors sell hard candy by the piece for one Kwacha each. I don’t remember the last time you could really buy “penny” candy in the states.
We have also seen ice cream vendors that literally pedal their wares. Specially designed bikes with insulated boxes on the front carry frozen treats to communities like Chileka. These are very pricey treats.
So, it seems that even though Coke is marketing its wares vigorously here, some of the other food giants from the west have not made inroads yet. I can’t say that I miss them, although my family occasionally does. Heather has learned to make incredible chicken fajitas this year, a tasty white pizza from scratch and a red pizza sauce using fresh tomatoes that I think is better than any we have gotten at a pizza joint in the USA. (Although Dan sometimes yearns for the greasy, cheesy NY style pizza.)
Wherever people are on the move, they will want food that they can grab quickly and eat as they continue their travels. Here in Malawi, it has been interesting to see the creative ways that this is accomplished.