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Real taste of Zimbabwe is surprisingly familiar

I must tell you that Zimbabweans eat South Indian food in there, writes Aditya Iyer.

Written by Aditya Iyer | Harare |
Updated: July 11, 2015 2:28:12 am
Zimbabwe cricket, India tour of Zimbabwe, India vs Zimbabwe, Ind vs Zim, Zim Ind, India Zimbabwe, Ind Zim, Cricket News, Cricket Sadza with chicken. Sadza looks like idli and tastes like idli. (Source: Express Photo by Aditya Iyer)

Wilbert Mhomwa is a Ska-loving, Reggae-thumping, on-the-sly-marijuana-smoking, Jamaica-adoring mini-bus driver in Harare. There’s even a Jamaica flag-bearing reefer above his seat. But not long after an Indian (yours truly) boards his domain at the City Centre, the wannabe Bob Marley drops his act and decides to give the ‘outsider’ a taste of the ‘real Zimbabwe’.

“The ceety is foe deh woyeking class, reech boys,” Wilbert says, craning his neck to speak to me even as the excuse for a vehicle takes low-speed, perpendicular turns. “If you want to see Harare, I show you Harare. The Harare where Marley performed in 1980.”

I’ve seen Harare before. But I want to see Marley’s Harare. Or, Harrarrre, like Wilbert says it. So we drop off the last passenger and race off towards the high-density suburbs.

“When we go to deh ’berbs, you stick weet me,” Wilbert warns. “Ova deyr, people not used to seeing Injian people. But you steeck weet me, so no problem?” No problem, I assure him. “Okay, good man. Come, we go to real Zimbabwean party.”

We get to a suburb called Strathaven. Past the centrally located Epworth. Past the distant Goromonzi. Past the furthest I’d ever been in Harare in my previous visit. Strathaven is a shanty town known for two things. Its notoriety and its bar called Londoners.

Just to give you an idea of the place, I found a blog post on Londoners by someone called ‘Three Men On A Boat’ as I started writing this. Here’s an excerpt of what I found.

“I was in Londonders for 15 minutes and there were three fights and the atmosphere was really aggressive… It came to a head when just outside, someone smashed a bottle on someone’s shoulder. I was like…I don’t care how cheap the alcohol is here, I am out.”

Anyway, I knew none of that during my visit last night and to be completely honest, it turned out nothing like what the above gentlemen experienced. Just to give you an idea of just how at home I really was, I must tell you that Zimbabweans eat South Indian food in there. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves now.

What makes a Zimbabwean bar a Zimbabwean bar and not an ‘Eeenglish pub’ are any or all of the following factors. One, the place is devoid of furniture. Lots of rooms, no sitting place. Two, alcohol is served to you by mobile bartenders, who somehow manage to meander their bodies and a tray full of bottles/plastic cups through thick dancing crowds with agile ease. Three, there has to be local music. Four, it’s got to have a Brai (barbeque) on the outside.

As Wilbert and I arrive, shortly past 9:30pm, the space is exploding with Mbira music. There’s a man sitting on a Dzavadzimu, a wooden board with wrought iron keys, quite like a rustic piano, and there are two men on the drums. The three of them have this place raging.

Everyone’s having a gala time. But as I walk in, I get stared at. A lot. “Arabia?” says one drunk, in my general direction. “India,” I say. “Injiiia! I like Zee TV, Sony TV,” he replies.

Wilbert signals me to buy the first round of drinks. So I do — two bottles of Zambezi, the national beer. It lasts a few seconds. So he buys the next round — two bottles of a nameless, label-less local brew. It tastes just like a nameless, label-less bottle should taste — demonic!

The demons in my stomach have made me hungry, so I leave Wilbert behind and head outside to the Brai. The choices are slabs of freshly cut chicken, lamb and fish. I choose two chunks of chicken, one of lamb and the Brai-man chucks them on an open grill.

Twenty minutes later, just as I’m about to sink in my teeth, Wilbert smells the roast and joins me outside. He looks miffed. “You kent eat Brai without Sadza. Wait, I’ll get eet.” So off he goes to get Sadza and returns with a plate of, I kid you not, Idlis. Idlis more authentic than the ones you have at Udipi restaurants in Bombay and Delhi anyway.

“How do you eat this?” I ask, not immediately seeing the irony in a South Indian asking a Zimbabwean the techniques to tackle an Idli. And this is what happens next.

Wilbert breaks off a piece of the Sadza. Then he places it in his right palm and shuts his fingers over it to a squash. Now he’s squeezing it into a paste like the hardcore down south in India treat their rice. Then, following one final mash of his palm, he gobbles the paste and chases it down with a juicy slab of chicken.

I look up at the stars, shed a silent tear of love and tuck right in to taste the real Zimbabwe.

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