Restoring dignity to African cuisine – cooking in Swaziland

For Swazi chef Dolores Godeffroy cooking is an act of love and politics. This grand dame of Swazi cuisine is as much a determined food activist as she is an artist by the stove.

“I want to make people in the world aware of the fact that Africa does have food, contrary to the media image of Africa as a place of violent hunger. Relating better food to a white skin has made people look down on the African food as primitive and for the poor.”

“Obviously, it is common sense that people must have been eating before colonialism, but we never think of that. That’s why my restaurant is called eDladleni, which means ‘in the kitchen’ in siSwati. There was a kitchen here before the kitchen came.”

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The eDladleni restaurant sits among the characteristic Swazi hills just south of capital Mbabane with a stunning view of the surrounds from the shaded veranda. The menu offers traditional dishes, often with an innovative twist. The most popular dish is chicken in peanut sauce.

“Swazi cuisine is a lot about greens, a lot of beans and of course meat. It is organic, healthy stuff that grows here. What grows around you is also what is fit for you to eat.”

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Chicken in peanut sauce, with rice or pap and local vegetables.

For Dolores cooking is all about ingredients. In the foreword to her cook book eDladleni – Traditional African Cooking, first published in 1988, she states her mission very clearly:

“The book, the restaurant and all other activities related to eDladleni, whether commercial or charitable, are dedicated to the promotion of African crops as a weapon against hunger and food insecurity. This approach returns dignity to African crops and allows the victims of hunger to take control of their lives using the indigenous knowledge they possess.”

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Traditional sweet potato and aubergine casserole.

The chapters of the cook book each focus on different local ingredients; tindlubo (jugo beans), tinhlumaya (cow beans), sorghum, mealies (corn), lubisi (milk), tibhidvo (green leafy vegetables), mandwandwa (okra), bitter greens, lijoti (African melon), litsanga (pumpkin), emaselwa (calabash), likotapheni (avocado), emakhowe (mushrooms), potatoes, and inyama (meat).

“Meat was never very frequent, but a luxury. In Swazi culture cattle is your wealth, and you wouldn’t go slaughter your bank would you? Of course that’s changed, because people equate eating meat to richness. So now we have diseases of the affluent, all food related, because people have left their own foods.”

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The most important ingredient, however, she says is love.

“If you don’t love cooking, please don’t. When I am not in a good mood, I don’t touch a pot. When I feel nice I even talk to my food.”

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Corn bread.

Her dishes certainly carry the mark of a caring chef. Swazi cuisine is not spicy at all, salt being the main taste enhancer. eDladleni’s chicken stew in peanut and paprika sauce is therefore a mild and creamy long-distant cousin to the West African ditto. The popular corn bread is light and fluffy, and perfect for scooping up the jugo bean soup for starter. The traditional eggplant and sweet potato casserole is surprisingly rich in taste, and the sautéed green leafy vegetables are just slightly bitter. Most surprising is the shredded version of pap, the heavy maize porridge that is a staple in southern and central Africa. Dolores’ version is airy and subtly flavorsome.

“I have five different ways of cooking pap, but I won’t give you the recipe,” she says with a mischievous smile.

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Dolores Godeffroy

Dolores is currently working on her second cook book, focused even more on the nutritional value of African ingredients and influenced by slow food ideology. I can’t wait to read it.

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Ezulwini, the royal valley.

To learn more about Dolores’ cooking or to book a table at eDladleni for the next time you’re in Swaziland, please visit the website.

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