List of Traditional Zulu Foods

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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.

Zulu indigenous foods include over 20 native varieties of fruits and grains.
Zulu indigenous foods include over 20 native varieties of fruits and grains. (Image: corkonian/iStock/Getty Images)

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.

Most meals are cooked over an open fire
Most meals are cooked over an open fire (Image: lausbro/iStock/Getty Images)

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.

Porridge is regularly served out of three-legged community cooking pots in Zulu villages
Porridge is regularly served out of three-legged community cooking pots in Zulu villages (Image: Monkey Business Images/Monkey Business/Getty Images)

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.

Sweet potato chips flavored with cumin are often found at large Zulu community meals
Sweet potato chips flavored with cumin are often found at large Zulu community meals (Image: Ju-Lee/iStock/Getty Images)

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.

Like cottage cheese, the curds are separated from the whey and consumed
Like cottage cheese, the curds are separated from the whey and consumed (Image: SarapulSar38/iStock/Getty Images)

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 culture's distinct beer-making traditions include using the native mobola plum, sorghum and maize.
Zulu culture's distinct beer-making traditions include using the native mobola plum, sorghum and maize. (Image: Ingram Publishing/Ingram Publishing/Getty Images)

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.

The marula and mobola plums grow plentifully in Zulu territories.
The marula and mobola plums grow plentifully in Zulu territories. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photodisc/Getty Images)

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.

Livestock animals eaten include goats, chickens, cows, sheep and pigs.
Livestock animals eaten include goats, chickens, cows, sheep and pigs. (Image: Marco Veringa/iStock/Getty Images)

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.

To finish a meal, a traditional maize-based sweet custard dessert is often served
To finish a meal, a traditional maize-based sweet custard dessert is often served (Image: Jenny Zhang/iStock/Getty Images)

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