Feast of culture
International students serve up taste of home, writes Louise Liebenberg
THE best events in my book are the ones you drag yourself off to, expecting very little, only to be completely charmed by their quality and exuberance. This was the case at last weekend’s International Culture Fest, linked to the rebranding of the Nelson Mandela University. More than 1 000 visitors came to enjoy the vibrant, four-hour programme which also featured lively traditional music and dance.
It was the first time the annual event (previously known as the Multicultural Extravaganza and only open to NMU students and staff) was held off-campus, in order to reach a broader audience – and what a brain-wave that was.
The Tramways Building proved to be the perfect spot for a loud, proud and massively fun event that saw students from the university’s international community sharing the unique flavours, rhythms, sounds and colours of their home countries.
With the mellow tinkling of marimbas in my ears I feasted on mopane worms at the Zimbabwe stall, finding them really tasty, particularly with a warming hit of spice to boost what can actually be a rather bland foodstuff. The kapenta – tiny fish usually reserved as a feline treat here in South Africa – were also surprisingly delicious.
Countries like Tanzania, Uganda and Malawi had stalls, manned by students dressed in traditional attire and eager to share a tantalising taste of home, all free of charge. “You have to try the sweet-potato at the East African stall,” festival-goer Barbara Barker urged.
I enjoyed the Swazi take on sheep’s head which, as Mbabane student Sikhanyiso Mabuza explained, is traditionally boiled in a three-legged pot over the fire. My other favourite was the rich, coconut-infused chapatis served at the Tanzanian stall. Both vibe and eats at the Malawi stall were amazing, though this was the case at virtually all of the stalls visited, making one feel connected to the continent and its people.
Several stalls had ingredients typically associated with Africa, such as cassava root, plantain and putu-pap, but prepared in each country’s own style. I found it inspiring that such humble ingredients could be transformed into dishes I ended up craving afterwards!
Another delightful discovery was the homegrown Waragi gin at the Ugandan end of the East African stall. “Back home we have it for celebrations, usually with Sprite, and a lot stronger than a double tot, too,” chuckled third-year pharmacy student Isaac Baguma.
“Where can I get some,” I inquired. “Come to Uganda!” was his response.
Countries like the Netherlands, France and Germany were also represented and I was not the only one who made a beeline for stroopwafels, madeleines and glühwein.
The aim of the festival was to celebrate the rich cultural diversity within the university as well as in the city, said organiser Janine Wagenaar, of the Office for International Education.
NMU has some 1 500 international students from 84 countries, and 14 of these countries were represented by stalls. These were judged on creativity, effectiveness in portraying the country in question, food and effort, with prizes for first, second and third place going to Swaziland, Tanzania and Botswana respectively.
MADELEINE MOMENT: A festival-goer tries some moreish madeleines at the French stall
PROUD HERITAGE: Swazi students, from left, Ayanda Seth Dlamini, Temnotfo Dlamini and Sikhanyiso Mabuza share aspects of their culture
TRADITIONAL TREAT: Mouth-watering offerings from Tanzania