Ugandan Rolex, not its not a watch

Uganda does not have quite the street food scene that flourishes in Senegal and Mali where every corner has someone selling fried dough balls, bananas,  or bad bread. But here, there is chapati and with chapati there is ‘Rolex’. Took me a minute to realize but ‘rolex’ aka ‘rolled eggs’, is essentially an omelette rolled in a chapati to be eaten like a burrito. Stands withIMG_1508.jpg a man preparing and selling this 30 cent, very filling meal.

First, what is chapati? Probably derived from the Indian influence, chapati is flour dough they make and leave over night in small piles to be rolled out with a small wooden rolling pin and then lightly fried on the stove/pan featured below. Chapati alone is also sold everywhere, cheap, filling and efficient. Also bland when eaten alone but I cant complain.

The following is an explanation of the rolex making process. First they make the dough, flour, water, salt the typical that they leave in these little piles over night and until they need to make more chapati.

IMG_3889Next, they roll out the dough with a pin as shown by this gentlemen who is a typical, rolex stand guy.

He then puts oil on the pan to his right, flattens it with his hands and fries it up. Voila!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So the omlette is made right there too. Cut tomoto, onion and if you are lucky some cabbage into a cup.

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Pour it on the same pan as the chapati is made on…

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Fry it up real good and flip it with your hands or a proper tool…IMG_3147

Next, and the most important. you add the chapati on top of the omlette so it also heats up and gets some extra oily juices. IMG_3149

Roll it all up nice and tight- aka rolled eggs- and back it in a plastic bag to go!!! The cheapest and most filling brunch you can imagine. I will miss it dearly! IMG_1302IMG_3915

Matoke

From my experience in West Africa the main carb, or food in general,  is either rice or some sort of boiled corn. In Southern Uganda it is matoke, a small banana like tuber. It is has more flavor than rice and really fills you up. It can be grilled, boiled, fried…. Eaten with peanut sauce, cooked with meat, served plain, served with rice… It is eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The possibilities are endless.  I am currently in the North of the country where there is not matoke and the agriculture and plants are more similar to West Africa but with much more variety in food and easier to farm as there is more rain and 2 harvest seasons in the ‘dry north’. But, as you can see it is plentiful.

Above is a market in the South,  close to the trees which are everywhere, meaning matoke is easy to grow. One of those stalks is sold for less than 15,000 shillings here, or about 5 USD.

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Most of that is matoke trees 

So from there they are sold to a middle man who brings them to places like Kampala where they are sold for about double the price.

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Overall, the produce here is slightly cheaper than in West Africa, especially the bananas and pineapples. One kilo of bananas in Senegal was over a dollar at a banana plantation. Here I got all the fruit featured below for about 3 dollars USD.

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Yes, that is 3 DELICIOUS pineapples, the fruit on the bottom left is passionfruit- my new love, and an avocado, bunch of onions and more than 12 bananas.

 

Why is Ben&Jerry’s ice cream so good? Ugandan Vanilla.

I think that it is time that I elaborate on the work I have been doing while

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The foothills of the Rhezori mountains, where I traveled to find the fields.

here, so as to make you all less jealous of my travels and prove that it was worth Oxfam and Cornell’s money to send me here. Essentially my job here is to document programs that can be ‘scaled up’ and fully transformed into effective Climate Smart Agriculture programs.

I recently visited a partner organization of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), in Kasese Uganda. This organization, Rhezori Farmers Cooperative Union (RFCU) is a cooperative of over 2,500 farmers in four Districts of Uganda all of who farmer one or more of the following cash crops- vanilla, cocoa and coffee. I was there to look into the vanilla project.  Prior to arrival, I had never seen a vanilla vine (yes they grow on a vine) and quickly became fascinated by them and amazed with the fact that more people here do not grow vanilla as it is HIGHLY profitable. The market has fluctuated greatly, one of the reasons for its bad reputation as a crop and part of what the CRS project aims to improve. But at its high it can bring in about 40 dollars for one kilo. That is at least 8 times more than other cash crops. Since I learned this I have been half joking/half serious about starting a vanilla plantation here.

The project itself is largely funded by Ben and Jerry’s (who gets there vanilla from here) and supported by ‘Fair Trade’ as it is a fair trade crop- although to be quite frank it is not produced any differently than other crops here so the only difference is in price. Which, is the biggest challenge for the project.

IMG_2893.jpgI visited 3 farms that were thriving, intercropping vanilla with matoke/banana trees. I was impressed by the knowledge of the farmers, although I should not be surprised as the first farm I visited was the first vanilla farmer in the country. The second had been growing for over 20 years. They had both been using the skills and new knowledge that they had learned at union trainings and seemed to be very grateful to learn new techniques. The last farm I visited was the most impressive as a group of 30 farmers were all together, digging water catch irrigation systems, using natural fertilizer and planting trees within the field to improve the soil. This group rotates working on a person’s field daily, so as to cut down on the work hours and ensure that they all properly implement new techniques. This collective effort shocked me- but also would not work everywhere. In this region the culture is very community and hard work oriented, and they get enough rainfall that they do not need to water. This system would not work if you needed to water your own crops daily.

What did all of these people say was the biggest problem? Theft. Because vanilla is so expensive and small, therefore easy to steal, each farmer said their biggest problem was not finding a buyer or even growing, just that people come to their farms and by taking just two batches, they can get 40$. Ways to stop theft varies. Some farmers sleep in their fields. Turn a radio on very loud. Buy dogs. Put thorns around the plants. But clearly this is a big issue without an easy solution. Made me wonder if the high value is worth it or would it be better to stick to coffee where you know the gain.

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Some of the group members. The woman in the front with the blue flowered shirt was so outspoken, passionate and funny. She is putting her son through University with her vanilla money and I am certain he will be a big success with a mom like that. 

 

Have money to make money

I am living in the gated and guarded compound of a widow, Lydia. She speaks excellent English as she spent five years working in Boston as a nurse and is a highly successful business woman in Kampala. When rented out, she receives a large chunk of money from the apartment that has previously been occupied by other foreigners like me whose organizations are willing to pay the steep price for the Western accommodations- it is 800$ a month. You are paying for the appliances that other places would not have, an electric stove, a microwave, a fridge and even a washing machine. She also offered to lend me a stationary bicycle for my spare room. But rent from the apartment hardly registers for her as a necessity as her real money maker is an impressive catering business.

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I am on the bottom floor, the view of the rest of the compound commonly blocked by 6 vehicles

Known in Kampala as ‘good sauce’, she commonly caters for weddings, funerals and events at large organizations like Oxfam (how we found the apartment). A large wedding in the states is attended by 200 people, but here that would be small and exclude key individuals like forth cousins, neighbors, long lost friends and friends of those friends. So Lydia ‘good sauce’ often cooks for 600 people.

The staple of these meals, and most meals here in Uganda, is matoke- the green bananas cut and steamed into a paste, served with meat, a thick and tasty peanut sauce, vegetables and rice. To prepare for 600 she hires about 6 people, who I have watched work from 8 am until past by bed time at 11 pm the day before.  It depends on the order but for one of these events I observed two goats being killed, over 30 chickens grilled on a banana peal fire, 50 kilos of rice and a massive sack of cassava cooked to perfect. From what I could tell, the biggest task is peeling all the bananas, which amounted to over 1,200 and economically come from her own fields, land purchased outside of Kampala. Thus, rather than buying most of the input, she is able to get it from her own production.

IMG_1323.jpgFor the morning of the event the sou-chefs are back at it by 6am as only the meat and matoke can be prepared the day before, the cooking happens at night in 4 massive broilers. Making rice, frying up final additions and getting the food warmers and dishes ready are early morning tasks, loaded into 2 square, basic vans that live in our compound. I am constantly impressed the work of the food prepares and scared to ask how much they are earning.

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Lydia also cooks Western dishes for the smaller wedding party upon request. For one event making lasagna, chocolate cake, a watermelon salad, avocado salad and apple pie. I was thrilled to be invited to a feasts at home when her ‘brother’ came to visit from Colorado. She made a spectacular Ugandan meal, taking all the typical dishes and making them with non-traditional spices like basil from her garden for the the fried rice and meat, chives and curry powder in chipati bread and mint in a watermelon smoothie. Previously, I have disliked the matoke, but hers changed my opinion as a perfect balance of sweet with the richness of the peanut sauce, steamed greens and delicious chicken cooked in banana leaves to add flavor. I did not need to eat for 24 hours following.

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Like anywhere in the world, with successful parents children are more likely to be a success. All of her children have been or studied abroad. Her son, who is currently living in the apartment above mine, studied engineering in the UK and worked there for many years until his father passed away. His two elementary aged children still in there with his wife. In Kampala he has a cleaning business that works at the airport and government offices- once again, with connections and the initial capital, there is big money to be made.

I have had extensive conversations with Lydia about work in Uganda- it is clear she has been very successful and she insists that anyone can do it, there is money to be made here. Like other upper class Africans I have met, all of who have at least one maid, a guard and other employees, they complain about their ‘help’ who come from the bush and do not know how to cook properly, fall asleep during their 18 hour shift or never works hard enough for their liking. She claimed one of her helpers recently ruined one of her microwaves. I defended them saying that they probably did not know how to use it, she said of course not, but they need to ask. Which is easier said then done as they are all terrified of her, tip toeing around the compound and whispering greetings to me when she is there, but smiling, shaking my hand and asking me questions when she is not present.

She claims any of these people can become successful like her. While,  I certainly agree, the business potential here is massive: Land is extremely fertile, the population is growing by the minute and investment is pouring in, the connections and the initial finances are essential. She would not have the ability to cook as such if she had not been to the states. She would not get these jobs had her husband not been in government and she would not have had the funds to purchase all of the necessary equipment had it not been for her family wealth.

 

Ugandan Lunch

Everyone always asks about the food so here goes. These are from my lunches at Oxfam, where a woman makes lunch everyday for the staff to come and purchase for 5,000 Uganda Shillings a plate, approximately $1.30. The lunch time lasts about 45 minutes and most of the staff sit and talk politics, football, relationships, etc… A few workers get a plate and bring it back to their desk to eat and keep working. I have teased them about being ‘American’ but am truly amazed by their hard work- very different from Mali where we had a 2 hour lunch, tea and nap break.

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Monday.

The standard matoke (steamed and mashed green bananas is a staple for all meals here. It is slightly sour but not too flavorful). Accompanied by peas, steamed pumpkin (delicious), rice and goat meat.

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Tuesday

Starting from the top right going clockwise- posho/ugali (maize that is flavorless and pretty unappetizing), sweet potato and ground nut sauce (delicious and thicker than the West African equivalent), more matoke, and chicken. The avocado was separately cut by a coworker who shared it to add flavor to the meal and wanted it pictured as she said “Now it looks healthier”.

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Wednesday

Beans, rice, meat, pumpkin and greens. There was matoke of course but I said no…

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Thursday-

More Posho and matoke with sweet potato, groundnut sauce and chicken. I had to add some spice this time as it was getting pretty old.

There are many differences with West African cuisine, one of the largest being that there is no spicy food here. I was told that it is because when food is spicy it is fried and Ugandans are very health conscious so they dont like fried food. While people here are incredibly health conscious (there are gyms, saunas, health clubs all over) I dont think that is necessarily the reason although the food here not typically fried- more often it is boiled or steamed. Overall, there are more elements to the dishes here, even in villages, and there are far more options for foreign restaurants and food styles. A topic for another blog…