WE have a vernacular reference that goes something like ‘ssi mmere’ (“It’s not food”), indicating that the matter being referred to should not be treated simply.
My girth will tell you that I do not subscribe to the use of that phrase or the spirit behind it. I am of the persuasion that food is a serious matter, to be taken seriously, and all else be damned.
Living in Uganda has helped firm up that position, because of the tastiness of the foods over here – from the boiled cassava my grandmother wrapped in banana leaves, to the spicy matooke and meat balls designed by my brother’s kitchen at his Ntinda bar, and my recent discovery linked to smoked meat and sim sim (more on that later).
It is because of this tastiness that I have eaten my way happily through life at every turn and opportunity presented to me in bufunda and hotels with varying star classifications across the country, and why I am very excited by the increasing number of food festivals and events taking place here.
It is also why I get confounded up to this day we still have concepts such as ‘Mongolian Dinner Night’ happening in our towns. Finding one such night in progress at a top-notch hotel this week reminded me of a cooking competition I entered into a few years ago, where our team came second in a competition against hotels.
We were pleased to perform so well because we had been pitched against professional hotel chefs, but our greatest pleasure came from seeing one of those ‘professionals’ scoring very, very, very poorly because the chef had done ‘Mongolian’ food.
I recently asked the internet about the big deal we here call “Mongolian night”.
It turns out that the “Mongolian night” we know, that involves involves stir frying strips of meats and vegetables on hot pans as people queue up with their plates and watch, is a concept that began in Taipei in 1951 – and Taipei is not in Mongolia.
Why are we doing this?
Where is Mongolia, even? Or is it Mongol?
Mongolian food is a whole different story, just as you would be hard pressed to do Ugandan night and focus on one or two styles of cooking or individual foods.
We’ve got luwombo and muchomo; foods like Pilao, Biringannya, entula, nsenene, malakwang, angarra, boo, firindi, eshabwe, akaro; different stews and sauces; foods with an Indian and Swahili influence but of Ugandan origin, like the Chapati (yes – it IS Ugandan!), modern creations like the Rolex and the Ekicommando…
The list is endless and could easily keep an army of food enthusiasts occupied for a weekend just eating.
Hence my excitement these last couple of months at finding more and more food-related events taking place in towns around me, allowing me to join the army of food enthusiasts.
One was the Kampala Muchomo Festival, and the other the Tokosa Food Festival. The third, coming in a few day’s time, is the Kampala Food Network ‘Twist & Cut’ Cook-off, with a focus on beef, and the fourth is the Kampala Restaurant Week when we will sample food from a long string of high end eateries.
The events typically involve cooking competitions between amateur chefs, and attract sponsorship from wise corporates promoting food-related or domestic items.
As all this happens, my hope is that we are heading for the ultimate food festival in Uganda, involving thousands of stalls of street food served in small amounts, at very low charges, and available all day from breakfast to breakfast.
The events we are attending now are fun, family-oriented, small events that made me think of one word echoing all through like the thud of a persistent toothache (which I also developed, from all the meat eating). That word was: Potential.
If our Export, Investment, Tourism and Commerce promotion bodies woke up to the opportunities these events represent then we could translate this industry into benefits for a whole range of other sectors:
– agriculture, processing, tourism, to name but three.
It should all be pretty obvious: everybody in the world eats something, and people must eat regardless of how broke they might be – so tourists will alway spend money on food even if they carry tents on their backs to sleep in instead of taking up a hotel room.
Plus, food events attract people in families, therefore increasing participation numbers. And food draws in very many sectors in many ways and creates jobs for various reasons – designers get involved in packaging and branding, chefs cook, waiters and waitresses serve, energy (gas and kerosene) is spent preparing food, petrol and diesel are spent transporting it…
I am double convinced, diets be damned, that food is not a simple matter and should not be treated simply.
I am available to attend the first proper food festival arranged to the scale of the Uganda Manufacturer’s Association International Trade Fair. ANY day!