The Zulu people, who comprise the largest ethnic group in South Africa, have a wide variety of foods particular to their area of the world. Among them are fruits and vegetables not found elsewhere. Although colonization has influenced their diets by adding crops like maize (corn) and tomatoes, the Zulu people still have many traditional foods that they incorporate into their modern diets. Outside of Africa, few of these indigenous Zulu foods and dishes are available.
Basics of Zulu Cooking
The Zulu people tend to eat communally with several families cooking together. Using large three-legged pots, most meals are cooked over an open fire. The repeated use of the cooking pot is said to add special flavors to every meal cooked in them. Although many Zulu people eat farmed produce like pumpkins and tomatoes, they have a history of foraging native foods such as umfino (wild spinach), amadumbe, cassava and Jew's mallow.
Zulu Staple Dishes
Porridge is regularly served out of three-legged community cooking pots in Zulu villages. Three favorite Zulu porridge dishes include butter bean-based iphalishi, sour milk-based iphalishi elimuncu and pumpkin-based isijeza. Other favorites are a crumbly corn porridge called phutu and curries borrowed from Indian colonial influences. These porridge dishes are typically served with vegetable relishes made from tomato and onion along with dumplings and chunks of roasted meat. Common spices include curry, cumin, salt and pepper.
Side Dishes in Zulu Cuisine
Sweet potato chips flavored with cumin are often found at large Zulu community meals. Other popular vegetables added to porridge, stir-fries or served alone include leeks, onions, cabbage, spinach and sunflower seeds. Native vegetables found at meals are amadumbe, cassava, blackjack, cleome, morogo and umfino.
Amazi Milk Curdling Tradition
Within Zulu culture, there is a special food called amazi that is created by each individual family. Milk is added to a basket or gourd and set aside to curdle. Like cottage cheese, the curds are separated from the whey and consumed. The amazi gourd is never cleaned, and is refilled immediately when it is emptied. The fact that it is not cleaned lends to the distinct taste of the amazi.
Zulu Fruit and Grain Beers
Zulu culture's distinct beer-making traditions include using the native mobola plum, sorghum and maize. Women brew the beer by steeping the fruit or grains for a whole day over an open fire in a special beer-making semi-thatched hut. The mash mixture cools for another day until it is ready to be strained and served.
Zulu Native Fruits
Fruit grows plentifully in Zulu territories, and is eaten fresh as a part of daily meals. Some of the fruits have seeds that are used as nuts or for oil, including the marula and mobola plum. The mobola plum has seeds that are considered to be a substitute for almonds. Other common fruits in the area are red milkwood, wild medlar, num-num, kei apple and the monkey orange.
Wild and Domesticated Zulu Meat Cuisine
Meat, both wild and domesticated, is a common part of the Zulu cuisine. Meats are often roasted whole on a spit or added to vegetable-based broths or porridge. The roasted meat is served in large, rectangular wooden pans called ugqoko. Livestock animals eaten include goats, chickens, cows, sheep and pigs. Livestock is seen as wealth in Zulu culture, and all parts of the animal are consumed. Hunted meat and fish such as buffalo, kudu and waterbuck are also a large part of the Zulu diet.
Desserts Served at Zulu Meals
To finish a meal, a traditional maize-based sweet custard dessert is often served. It can be topped with a sauce made from chocolate, prunes and cream. Other desserts found at Zulu meals include melk terts, dried fruit leathers, fried dough koeksisters and spice cookies.
- Zulu.org: The History of the Zulu Nation
- Chef Mag: Zulu Cuisine -- a Culture of Sharing
- South Africa Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries: Most Common Indigenous Food Crops of South Africa
- Food Culture in Sub-Saharan Africa; Fran Osseo-Asare, pages 73-75
- Leisure Wheels: Cooking in Zululand: Inhloko and infino
- Zulu Wilderness: Shadow and Soul; Ian Player