OTHER THAN MAKING AND HAVING INDIGENOUS FOOD I am also interested in exploring when a “foreign cuisine” and multinational food industries’ menu items are introduced internationally, how they are often evolved and glocalized to appeal and adapt to local palate preferences while being limited by the availability of cuisine-speciﬁc ingredients.
Wherever there are restaurants, there are Chinese. In the Chinese diaspora, the style of food has been adapted and modiﬁed for the local taste. General Tso’s Chicken, Chop Suey, and Fortune Cookies were invented in America by Asian Americans. Not found in China, yet they can be found in most Chinese eateries around America, and to some extend worldwide.
Plenty of Japanese restaurants here in the San Francisco Bay Area are owned by the Chinese, which offer the standard fare of Sushi, Teriyaki, and Tempura. Most of them taste great, albeit unauthentic. In reality, Tempura was introduced to Japan by Portuguese Jesuit missionaries in the 16th century. Teppanyaki is a Western-inﬂuenced cuisine started in 1945, as time progresses it became more popular with foreigners than with the Japanese. California Roll is born in Los Angeles back in the late 1960’s early 70’s. Invented by a Japanese sushi chef and modiﬁed for the American taste it can be found on the menu of Japanese restaurants everywhere.
Instead of getting coleslaw at a KFC in China, in springtime customers may order bamboo shoots to go with their signature fried chicken. It also offers a traditional breakfast of rice porridge served with fried Youtiao for dipping.
When I visited France—in Paris and in other towns—the “Asian” restaurants I saw there serve a hodgepodge of Pan-Asian fare: Chinese-Japanese-Thai, Thai-Laos-Vietnamese, or Vietnamese-Korean-Chinese. I could not found any restaurant which serves a single/speciﬁc Asian cuisine for a tasting sample, perhaps I looked in the wrong places.
In Paris, craving for a burrito (I almost never crave for Chinese food, there or anywhere, wondering why…), I did manage to ﬁnd a Latino+American+Colombian+Mexican restaurant called El Sol y La Luna and ordered an extra spicy beef burrito from the menu. When the dish ﬁnally arrived, it looked like a ﬁve-inch long enchilada with a good dose of red sauce and melted Mozzarella (!) cheese on top, salsa served in a small dish on the side. The only ﬁlling was shredded beef. Highly amused and a little indignant I checked with the server that I had actually ordered a burrito, not an enchilada. Conﬁrmed by her that it was indeed a burrito being served, besides, she said she does not know what an enchilada is. The taste was not bad, salsa was not spicy at all. Yet it was NO BURRITO! Wondering what Burrito Justice’s opinion is… well I am sure our Zambia team member Insansa—AKA Romina—can handle the non-spiciness just ﬁne. 😀
Every time we drove to Zimba we passed by a billboard for Lucky Chinese Restaurant. Curious about the place, we asked our host Adam about it. For Adam unluckily the food served there was the worse Chinese food he has ever tasted and he would not recommend it to anyone. Since we were on-the-move—luck was on Adam’s side—we did not stop at the Lucky Restaurant.
I recognized the female drawing on the billboard instantaneously for it is of Chang’e—the moon goddess of Chinese folklore. Part of the lore is associated with the Chinese Mid-Autumn or simply Moon Festival, coincidentally happening this Saturday, September 8. Adam’s non-recommendation, combined with the Moon Festival association have pegged my interest further, I must drop by Lucky for an experimental experience when I have the opportunity next time I am there. I want to go not necessary for the food, but primarily to hear the stories of the restaurant perpetrators—Why Zambia? What brought them there? What are their cultural exchange challenges?
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Although our host Adam did not take us to Lucky, on the Saturday—our off-weekend from the service activities—he took us to a place called Mint Café for lunch and an Indian-Nepali place for dinner.
The Mint Café is located in a strip mall near a town called Ndola. As soon as I entered and read the menu, I had a surreal sensation that I was actually in a restaurant located in a typical Bay Area Asian strip mall because of the close resemblance of its decor and menu design. The differences were the wait staff was Zambian, and friendly with a cute sense of humor.
Our team and hosts ordered various meat and sandwish wraps from the menu. Since I never had Hallaumi cheese before plus I needed a balanced diet, I ordered the Haloumi Salad. The salad tasted as good as it looked—a large portion of bell peppers, tomatoes, local avocados, greens, and grilled Hallaumi arranged artfully on a bowl, with honey-mustard dressing on the side. Hallaumi is similar to a ﬁrm dry Feta and Mozzarella or even tofu, with a unique savory bite and a slightly creamy texture. Hallaumi is one of the many surprising things I have discovered in Zambia and would love to ﬁnd it here at home.
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After lunch at The Mint Café we went to a gelateria—another surprise!— called Gigibontà located in the same strip mall. It is an initiative by Association Comunità Papa Giovanni XXIII helping disadvantaged youth through enterprise, not charity. Gigibontà also sells homemade mufﬁns, cake and Italian coffee.
Although Gigibontà does not have any gelati using any indigenous fruits like Morojwa, Masuku, Mabungo, Masau, and Mupundu (note to self: need to ﬁnd out more if the name of other native fruit trees also start with the letter M)—all of them I want to taste—we brought several different ﬂavors to sample and share. I am happy to report Gigibontà’s gelati is compatible to those I had in the Veneto Region of Italy.
Gigibontà’s marketing tagline is “I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream!” which has contributed to our team’s—particularly Ichimwemwe’s—amusement. Delightful to discover the tagline is actually a title of a 1920’s Jazz standard. Extra points for Gigibontà! 😀
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The team and our host had dinner at an Indian-Nepali restaurant in Kitwe, we were the only diners at the time. The combination of the amazing authentic food and the enlightening conversation around the dinner table made the occasion a nice cap of the R&R day.
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On August 20th, on our way back from the Zimba Village, our minibus passed by a couple of highway construction workers —still in uniform—each holding up a large furry animals by the hindlegs. Jerry the driver stopped beside them, which made the workers presented the animals next to where Ichimwemwe and I sat. Upon closer inspection the animals were slaughtered (freshly slit throats) groundhogs about three-foot long weighting 15 pounds. Our driver Jerry haggled with the workers, brought the animal for about 20 USD, and placed it in an empty box originally for chocolate bang. Jerry said the locals usually cook the groundhogs either over a charcoal barbecue or in stew, tastes like chicken. I believe Jerry, it must tastes like chicken, not like chocolate. 😉 I wish I can try it in the future.
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I am pleased to know there is no McDonalds’ in Zambia and I wish it’d stay this way for the near future. There was a Tex-Mex restaurant called ¡Revolución! in the Zambian capital Lusaka but it was closed since 2012, I am wondering if there is any Latino eatery left in Zambia, if so, how the food is.
Sometimes, even the natives in their native land do not want native foods. With the rapid spread of Globalization and cross-cultural exchanges, I think it will take an extra effort to ﬁnd a truly authentic cuisine, both at home or even at the countries of origin. Not everything can be truly completely exported due to the air, water, climate, and geography of its destination. Perhaps it is a positive thing, another good reason to experience multiple cultures and customs by traveling.
I love to hear what you think, feel free to post your thoughts and/or tips to point me to the right direction on ﬁnding authentic/non-compromised cuisine.
Header image: Hand written sign in Chinese, posted on the wall of the Indian-Nepali restaurant. “For honored guests’ attention: All food, beverages, and ice cream purchased from the outside are NOT allowed to be consumed in this restaurant. Thank you for your coöperation. Management.” Some business policies are practiced worldwide.
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