Feast of cul­ture

In­ter­na­tional stu­dents serve up taste of home, writes Louise Lieben­berg

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY -

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.

PHOTOGRAPHS: LIESL VAN NIEKERK

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

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