As the news is still sinking in, the news of the Madiba leaving us, I was reminded of his book, The Long Walk To Freedom (this is one book I just cannot get tired of, despite having read it twice!). There were several accounts and incidences in his book that showed his immense love for great food that started off early on in his life. These episodes kept flashing in my mind ever since I got to know of his death.
Mandela and his little friends used to roam around his village in the Eastern Cape looking for berries, fruits, wild honey and warm milk straight from the udder which they so relished. But the most endearing account was the one of his early days in Qunu, of how he and his little friends mischievously stole a squeaking little piglet, took it into the Veld and roasted it. That Mandela claimed was the tastiest pork he had ever had. I can very well imagine that feeling of excitement, which definitely added to the taste and flavour!
True and loyal to his Xhosa traditions, he loved the local delicacies like sour milk, but he was open to experimentation when it came to food. The Long Walk To Freedom talks of an incidence of his clumsiness in adapting to the use of eating chicken with a knife and fork! His grand-daughter Ndoyiya recounted a conversation on that incident that she had with Mandela - Mandela, then 14, had gone for a dinner with his childhood crush's family. He had trouble using a fork and knife, causing a chicken wing to fly off his plate. Ndoyiya is quoted to have said “When he talked about it, and he was 90 at the time, he still told that story with such intensity that the embarrassment of the moment hadn’t left him.”
As a young lawyer in Johannesburg in the 1940s, the Madiba was struggling to make ends meet, but once, he could not resist the temptation of buying a huge piece of ham from a deli - this was detailed graphically in his book! That's so much like me, I too cannot resist the temptation of juicy chunk of ham!
In Johannesburg, as Mandela got involved in the political movement, he got exposed to a cross-section of people. The book has accounts of how he relished food from various cultures ranging from peanut butter - white bread sandwiches to spicy Indian curries that a Mrs. Pillay used to make for him when the Treason Trials were on!
The day he proposed to Winnie Madikizela, it was over a spicy Indian meal. He had hoped to impress Winnie, but the spiciness of the Indian cuisine was a bit too much for her to handle! He did have a soft corner for spicy Indian food, that was a proof of his big heart and more importantly, a highly evolved appreciation for the best in food.
While at Robben Island, the quality of food was Mandela's frequent complaint to the prison authorities. He rallied the political prisoners around to demand better quality of food and they did meet with success.
Years later, the Madiba was shifted to Pollsmoor prison and Victor Verster prison. Conditions over there were much better, as far as food was concerned. At Victor Verster, before his release, Mandela was assigned an apartment, alongwith an Afrikaner butler, who was provided by the jail authorities. Mandela gave a detailed account of how he savoured his captor's superb cooking! Indeed, food can win you over, melt your heart and fill it with love!
Today, on the Net, I found an article on a Kenyan site, about the Madiba's love for food. His personal chef Xoliswa Ndoyiya said, ”One of his favourite was the Malva pudding (a baked treat topped with ice cream or custard or strawberry trifle) and Mandela would “just eat it up.” he was well versed in making traditional South African fare. Collections of Mandela’s favorite recipes have been published in a cookbook “Ukutya Kwasekhaya,” (loosely translating to home food in Xhosa language), which was authored by Ndoyiya. Another writer, Anna Trapido, chronicled Mandela’s life from a culinary standpoint in a biography called “Hunger for Freedom” - I would be immediately ordering this book from Flipkart!
Despite his global stature, the Madiba always craved for his traditional cuisine, food that he grew up on - Umphokoqo, a porridge made from maize meal and sour milk, sweet chicken among other delights.
I will always remember Madiba not only for his political stature and greatness, but also for his immense love for great food. I am pretty sure, had the Madiba been alive, he would have agreed with my statement "I Don't Want Nirvana! I Want Great Food, Always!"