A Vegetarian Culinary Journey Through Africa – South Africa & Zimbabwe
I am really excited about this story! A few months ago, Shikhant Sablania got in touch with me through a Facebook networking group. He was looking for a travel blogger to share the stories from a project he was about to embark upon. When I heard more, I knew I absolutely had to be a part of this journey (even if it was virtually).
The Great African Caravan is an art and social impact project that is taking 11 international artists on a journey through 12 African countries from Cape Town to Cairo, for 200 days, with the aim of connecting people, building global citizenship and tackling social issues through the medium of art. The artists are collaborating with over 100 artists in Africa to create wall art, graffiti, comics, musical pieces, theater and poetry. HOW FANTASTIC! This felt especially close to heart, because I work in the social impact space myself (and have been for the past 3 years), and while I can’t claim to be an artist, I am definitely creatively-inclined (despite what my engineering degree will say about me, haha).
The GAC is traveling through these countries and using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as a guiding tool to bring together non-profits, youth organizations and artists to explore struggles and issues, express themselves, and build a strong, sustainable and international network. Travel and art are allowing these groups to expand their horizons, to connect and communicate emotions, and to build common ground. These 11 artists (including theater artists, filmmakers, illustrators, poets, musicians and photographers) come from across the globe – from India to Argentina and Kosovo to Germany. Follow me on this multi-part series, as Shikhant shares illustrations of the best vegetarian food in each of these African countries, breaking the myth that you can’t find great vegetarian food in Africa, as well as a behind-the-scenes of what GAC is up to! In this post, it’s South Africa and Zimbabwe.
In South Africa, GAC worked with over 100 artists and 250 youth to engage on the topic of gender-based violence. To amplify female voices and provide them with a safe space to express themselves, several art projects and collaborations were worked upon, including street theatre, wall art, and musical and poetry performances.
Moving on to vegetarian South African food – bunny chow!
Bunny chow is basically a piece of bread, hollowed out, and filled with a variety of curries and beans. It’s been around since the 1940s and while there’s a lot of mystery around its origin, most people agree that it was created in Durban by the Indian settlers. The word “bunny” comes from “bania” – the Indian businessmen who sold the dish. One of the stories around how this dish came to be suggests that during the period of the apartheid, when people of color weren’t allowed in restaurants, they would order cheap food to-go from the back entrances of the restaurants. But since roti (Indian bread) was too thin to hold the beans or curry, they replaced it with loaves of bread, scooping out the center to make a convenient utensil to hold the vegetables. There are many other stories as to how the bunny chow came to be, but regardless, it’s now a classic Durban dish!
A classic Zimbabwean dish – Sadza!
Sadza is the staple food of this lovely country, although you can find it (with a different name) in several other African countries. Think of it like polenta. It’s basically a thick porridge made from a grain – usually maize/corn. It is most often accompanied with vegetables, though it can also be served with meat. The best way to enjoy an authentic sadza is to dine at a Zimbabwean family’s home. Like other African food, sadza is eaten by hand and shared by many people, eating from the same plate. It is served with milk, soup or stewed vegetables such as cabbage, okra or pumpkin. Shikhant was telling me how every single person he met in Zimbabwe had eaten sadza for at least one meal in the day!
In Zimbabwe, GAC worked with 450 youth and over 60 artists to focus on the themes of peace and global citizenship. The group’s time in Zimbabwe coincided well with International Peace Day, which it used to spark meaningful and inclusive conversations around the topic. The goal of the Zimbabwe leg of the trip was to engage youth on issues of global peace, create access to the language of the Sustainable Development Goals through art, and to exchange knowledge and skills to promote art as a medium for cultural inclusion. With that in mind, they worked on a music collaboration – bringing local musicians together to express what peace means to them.
One of the really interesting projects they worked on was a photography exhibit. The group walked around the city asking sellers, vendors, students and passersby – “When do you feel at peace?”. Some said they felt peaceful at church, others when they were with their family, and some linked it to the nation as a whole. These stories and their accompanying photographs were weaved together to build a powerful narrative for peace.
Follow the Great African Caravan along their journey on Facebook and Instagram, and watch this space for more vegetarian food as Shikhant travels to Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.