When some large chain restaurants or even family members can’t always accommodate certain dietary requirements, I was a bit apprehensive about how I would cope in Zimbabwe. Maybe you are a vegetarian, vegan, lactose intolerant or maybe you’re just a fussy eater (that’s ok!).
I am volunteering in Gweru, in the centre of Zimbabwe. Where I am living is urban so things may vary if you stay in a rural setting. I am a vegetarian but I will try to provide information for vegans, gluten or dairy intolerances also.
Sadza, covo, peanut butter and maize are staple foods in Zimbabwe. Maize is a bit like corn on the cob and it is used as a base for a lot of food. Sadza is made from maize and this is served a lot! Imagine a bit of a cross between rice and mashed potato. Also use your hands to eat this or you will look weird! Maize is also used to make a water-based porridge, I like to add a heaped table spoon of peanut butter with this. Peanuts are grown here, the peanut butter has no additives and is amazing, I’m definitely bringing some back. Maize is also in some drinks, crisps and popcorn. Covo is a type of kale and is served with sadza, normally meat and sauce are served with these also.
Get ready for a lot of carbs! I have never eaten so much and so often! Sadza, rice or pasta is served in a huge portion with vegetables like pumpkin, green beans or coleslaw and a soup style sauce. I have three meals per day and two tea breaks. In the first tea break everyone helps themselves to bread and margarine. By week five you will be stacking up your bread! I think due to the amount of carbs and bread eaten, having a gluten intolerance could bring some difficulties. Being lactose intolerant would not be difficult as I haven’t drank milk since I have been here. It is the long lasting or powdered milk that is used, cheese is not really eaten here and soya milk is available. You will miss out on an ice-cream from the ice-cream shop but you can get a delicious cake from the bakery instead!
People will be genuinely interested in hearing more about you and might not have met someone who chooses not to eat meat. Mention to your host family early on about what you don’t eat. I was taken to a local supermarket in my first week so I could point out foods I enjoy. Meat is quite expensive, so it’s not a big issue if you do not eat it. I have eaten soya chunks with my host family in a bolognaise style sauce. In my experience people are accommodating by giving me an alternative option to meat, even if that is baked beans! Fruit and vegetables are quite cheap, you can go to the markets or street vendors. Avocados, oranges and watermelons are in season and are incredible!
I would recommend bringing snacks with you whilst you find alternatives to foods you have at home. Step into the unknown (sorry cheesy) and get ready for an unbelievable experience, oh and get ready to eat a lot!
Kunaka, kumnandi, delicious!
Written by ICS volunteer Hayley Goldsborough