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WWe cannot begin a conversation about South African food without giving a special mention to pap. Pap is a kind of porridge made from maize meal and can be cooked to be runny, soft or stiff. Any time of the day is a great time to enjoy pap - breakfast, lunch or supper. It is a staple in many homes, mainly thanks to its cost and versatility. Pap can be enjoyed with sugar and milk for breakfast or meat and vegetables for lunch and supper; it can even be watered down to make a tasty drink called Mageu. There are also many intricate ways to prepare pap, depending on the tribe, for example, Xhosa, Venda, Zulu or Sepedi.
Celebrations and occasions such as funerals are very important in telling the food story of South Africa. These occasions really are a group effort - everyone in the community has a role to play in order for the event to be executed. In the case of a wedding, a white flag is hoisted on the gate of the family home weeks before the date to alert passersby of the upcoming nuptials.
TThe events are usually on a weekend. Women arrive at the family’s home the week of the wedding, singing and ululating to express their shared joy at the occasion. On their heads they carry vegetables, cooldrinks and wood to be used to cook the feast. The wood and food pile up, and more and more families bring their contributions. The women usually belong to a special “club” called a society or stokvel. These women are a collective that gather to help each other in times of need and have monthly monetary contributions and meetings. These are the same women who wake up at the crack of dawn on the day of the occasion to prepare the feast for everyone to enjoy.
A cow is slaughtered by the men in the community; a trusted uncle is entrusted with slitting the throat while the men hold the animal down. A hole is dug in the ground to collect some of the blood to appease the ancestors who will bless the union of the families, and some is collected to be cooked on an open flame until it simmers into a thickened mixture called bobete, a brown paste similar to liver paste that can be served with pap.
Skilled men then skin the carcass and the skin is given to the couple. The offal is then cleaned by the young men before they cook it and the rest of the meat given to the women to cook for everyone. Most weddings have a very standard menu of starch such as rice, pap and samp (dried corn kernels that have been ground and chopped), vegetables such as beetroot, butternut and salads, and meats like beef and chicken.
The women would have made umqombothi, the traditional beer that is also used to communicate to the ancestors. There is always an aunt who makes it best and she is the one entrusted with the brewing. Some of the beer is given to the in-laws as a gift to take home to those that could not attend the nuptials. A place like Shakaland in northern Kwazulu-Natal goes a long way in recreating a similar experience in a traditional and authentic Zulu experience as it was in days gone by.