Project  Uganda: Blood Tears of Acholi Land

Ugandan food offers both strange, familiar

by Travis Curtice

Western fare like Heinz ketchup and french fries are  available to tourists and workers.
Not all food in Uganda is as strange as fried white ants.
Western fare like Heinz ketchup and french fries are
available to tourists and workers.

Fried chicken is no longer the meal your grandmother makes when you visit for Sunday dinner. It is the luxury meal of Gulu, Uganda, and paired with an ice cold Coca-Cola, it becomes a reflection of Western culture. More than the shock of eating such Ugandan foods as fresh avocados, goat meat, or fried white ants, was the shock of the Western world’s influence on cities like Gulu.

Visit any upscale hotel’s restaurant and you will find a variety of cuisine: pizza; pork ribs; French fries or “Chips”; boneless fried chicken; even a beef burger now and then, with banana pancakes for dessert. The West has even made its way into the world of condiments, with such toppings as tomato “Top Up” or Chili “Top Up” in substitute of ketchup. Ask for the traditional meals of rice, beans, cabbage, and matoke (or sweet mashed bananas) and you will receive a look of confusion and dismay, implying such thoughts as, “You are an American. Why don’t you eat what the Americans eat?”

In terms of food service, the restaurant industry does not yet, and shouldn’t be expected to, run on “Western time”. Meals can take anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours to be served. The time, of course, is minimal compared to the three to four hour wait in the villages as the women work over burning coals of a three stone fire with smoking hot pots and pans.

Even our Western need for oven mitts is absurd in this simple culture. These women pick up the pots with their bare hands, and their calluses prove their bravery. This culture’s cuisine essentials usually consist of rice, beans, cabbage, tomatoes, posho (maize flower and water mixed into a formed dough), maize, cassava root, and dodo, or mixed greens. Despite the long wait, the meals are more than enough to calm your hunger and fill your belly for a good night’s rest, and if you don’t pile your plate to the correctly-sized mountain, the women will kindly intervene, throw on more rice, and send you on your way.

Travel out of the village, however, and the choices explode around you. Even Gulu, a city which has just recently become commercialized again, has numerous restaurants on every street. On our trip, Travis and I visited such places as the Bomah Health Club, known for its pizza that was never available due to loss of electricity. Another favorite was Kope Kafe, which was started by a helper of Invisible Children. Kope is stocked with Western treats like steak sandwiches and banana pancakes; pizza is also popular at this NGO hot spot. Restaurants like these show that there is an increasing presence of international workers, causing an increase in production of “Western” food; they also prove that even Gulu, a community once destroyed by war, can once again become a flourishing community.

Due to colonization, Uganda is a strong tea-drinking community. Another sign of growth and American focus can be found in the coffee shop located right down the road from our hotel, JoJo’s Palace. Run by a married couple from Texas, Justin and Rita opened Café Larem to target the Westerners who flow in and out of Gulu throughout the year. Justin states: “At first we were really excited to have a place for people from other parts of the world to come to, and now that we can cater to them, we are excited to usher in people who are Ugandans, natives of the area. We know that coffee isn’t big here, so we want to get other things — sodas, ice cream — to bring them in as well.”

Although it may seem backward to target the minority of the community, Justin and Rita have a booming business, with a constant flow of people from the day they opened in early May 2009.