Nelson Mandela’s Favourite Foods: A Culinary Tribute

During his 27-year incarceration Nelson Mandela wrote to his then wife, Winnie, “How I long for amasi, thick and sour! You know darling there is one respect in which I dwarf all my contemporaries or at least about which I can confidently claim to be second to none – healthy appetite”.

Strictly speaking, Amasi is fermented, sour milk. Umphokoqo is crumbly pap, a type of thick maize porridge (also known as ‘miliepap’). When amasi is poured over umphoko it is known as umvubo. Sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. Regardless of word preference, umvubo fans claim it is the ideal meal to consume on a warm day as the cold sour milk poured over the crumbly pap is said to cool down the body.

Mandela’s appreciation for local African food

While famous, Mandela’s palate was simple. When released from prison in 1992, he set about looking for someone who could prepare the traditional home cooked, hearty meals he craved. Xoliswa Ndoyiya, or “Xoli” as he affectionately referred to her became his personal chef from 1992 until his death in 2013. Once, when out of the country on presidential business, Mandela missed Xoliswa’s cooking so much that he had her prepare umphokogo and have it shipped to London.

What is African food?

In 2011 Xoliswa published Ukutya Kwasekhaya: Tastes from Nelson Mandela’s Kitchen. In her book she says, she talks about how she came to be Mandela’s chef. He said to her, “I believe that you are a great cook, but can you cook our food?” She replied that she could cook ukutya kwasekhaya and in her words, “that was that”. In isiXhosa, Mandela’s first language, ukutya kwasekhaya means “home food”. It is traditional Xhosa food, the food he was always happiest eating.

Mandela’s best-loved local dishes

In Mandela’s household food was more than sustenance. It was about tradition, family, home, sharing and enjoying meals with those he loved. Some of his best-loved mains included <i”>usu or tripe (usually cow or sheep stomach lining and offal) and umsila wenkomo or oxtail stew. Favourite side dishes included umqushu (samp made from corn with beans).

While warning his grandchildren about the pitfalls of too much sugar and nudging them away from sweet treats he was known for some dessert indulgences of his own. These included malva pudding, a sweet baked dessert served with either ice cream or custard, and strawberry trifle, which is a layered cake, cream and fruit dessert.

Showing appreciation with food

For Xoliswa cooking for Mandela and his family for more than 20 years was her way of giving back to the man who had selflessly sacrificed so much. While not adverse to trying different foods particularly when globe trotting as a statesman, he preferred the simple tastes of the traditional food he ate as boy. In prison, he yearned for the dishes of his childhood and he always paid tribute to his mother’s cooking, happily sharing memories of her cooking for him with love.

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