As people attempt to make conversation with me, a hot topic I find them gravitating toward is food! (Pun is so intended). Maybe it is because I did Food Science in Campus, or maybe they just sense that I love food. Whichever the case, food is something I can talk about comfortably. Especially if the question I am answering is what my favorite food is, and the venue; a fancy hotel.
I remain loyal to the good old ugali-sukuma meal (Maize meal served with kales) with its tried and tested formula of thwarted hope and dreadful disappointment. The perfectly made ugali-sukuma remains the supreme home food experience, but getting the recipe right remains an oh so elusive attempt!
The ugali has to be served hot, but not too hot. The texture has to be uniform, not punctuated with tiny lumps of flour (the flour must be maize flour). It has to be neither too soft, nor too hard. It must not have margarine or anything else other than salt. It must be a perfect circle at the bottom, and form a dome-shaped top (use a set of mathematical drafting instruments if you must!). The most serious cooks do not make ugali in other shapes, but it would be a good idea to specify ‘Traditional ugali please’ (with your index finger pointed up and a stern look on your face) lest it come in some funny shapes as I have been seeing around. If that’s the case, then you reserve the right (with that index finger pointed up again) to reject it on the grounds that it is not the ugali handed over from generation to generation, but ugali with a bad shape!
This does not address the larger problem; that ugali is not often ugali but ‘ugali nuggets’ or other such fancy names. The distinction is in danger of dissolving under the hegemony of the Ugali Nuggets! I sometimes think that I’d be better off giving up ugali altogether. I know there are great ones to be devoured in hotels and food joints but Ugali should come with sukuma in a proper sized plastic plate that is round and not too big. That is how it was first served to me! That is how I first fell in love with it! (*breaks down in protestant tears).
The sukuma should be crisp. It shouln’t be cooked till it turns jungle green, that is food abuse, completely ignoring the plight of the taste buds! If you decide to put tomatoes, let them cook, but not for so long that they cannot be seen. I need to know that I am taking some vitamin A. (We all know that this is not true, but just ride with it, mum said it!)
Ideally, if it was not so inconvenient, any time I wanted ugali I would go home and look for Mutheu (she used to cook ugali for us when we were little) but the journey is so time-consuming, plus she is now a married woman, that it is not really a viable plot. She can never cook bad ugali. Right now, after many teething problems and way too many luhya jokes, I am yet to find the perfect ugali. One day as I cooked, I came close: a white lump with the perfect shape and right amount of salt. When I served them, the meal was more like a well presented idea of. . . ugali-ness!
Anyway enough banter about food. In my defense, I did mention that I can talk about food comfortably. This is December, and the times for festivities edges closer by the day. I can already smell the different foods that will be cooked on 25th from today. I plan to enjoy them to acceptable limits (I did say I love food! And the word acceptable is, well, relative). My only challenge and exhortation is that as we shop and get broke towards Christmas, we mustn’t forget that feeding our souls is of paramount importance. A well fed body counts for little when you stand, or rather, kneel before the King of kings at the end of time. . .
I wanna say, Thursday???