HARARE, Zimbabwe – Zimbabweans are beginning to consume more traditional meals and say they are healthier compared to when they eat conventional western dishes.
So high is the demand, several restaurants, supermarkets and hotels have begun to sell traditional foods.
“Our people have awakened and are beginning to realize the benefits of eating their own traditional foods and wild fruits.
“It’s time to raise awareness around the area just like what first lady Auxillia Mnangagwa is doing,” Deputy Health Minister John Mangwiro told Anadolu Agency.
The first lady is running wellness awareness programs where she is moving around the country conducting competitions in preparing traditional meals.
Mangwiro said the coronavirus was a blessing in disguise because it made people check their health all the time.
During lockdowns, people moved to rural homes where they started eating traditional meals more often, hence they quickly realized health benefits.
The staple food in this southern African nation is sadza, or maize meal pulp, and for years supermarkets have been selling maize meals according to demand.
Now supermarkets have begun selling different types of mealies meal including small grain-like millet, sorghum, finger millet and relish like mopani worms, blackjack, cassava, sweet potato, pumpkin and African spinach.
In Harare, Mbare Musika, the biggest vegetable and fruit market in the country, had a monopoly on selling small grains and other traditional foods, which changed because of high demand.
Until recently, there was a belief that if a family did not have maize for their mealie meal then it was poor and starving but now those with a lot of small grains are deemed wiser.
Restaurants adopting traditional meals
Because of the demand, established restaurants, hotels and supermarkets are diversifying and coming up with attractive traditional dishes.
Anadolu Agency visited several outlets in Harare and noted traditional meals on menus.
“Traditional range is scientifically proven to be healthy and safe for your well-being, hence there is a sudden upsurge in interest.
“Tripe, mopani worms, dried vegetables (mufushwa) are some of the most popular and on-demand,” Chief Executive Officer of Hotplate Grillhouse, Benson Muneri, told Anadolu Agency.
The South African franchise has created more than 400 jobs locally. It sells 60% African traditional meals in a bid to showcase the vast cultural heritage through traditional food, according to officials.
The food outlet now has 17 branches across the country.
The Zimbabwe Chefs Association said food in Zimbabwe has changed with the African cuisine being fused into international dishes.
“There is a new push by consumers for traditional meals to be sold everywhere, including hotels as a way of marketing the uniqueness our country is.
“Hotels were slow to change but small outlets have now transformed,” said the group’s deputy president Author Masocha.
On efforts by the first lady to get the country to be aware of the need to consume traditional meals, Muneri said: “We are Africans and we need to recognize and appreciate our culture so this gesture is quite symbolic coming from the first lady.”
Health benefits of traditional meals
Several fitness trainers in Harare said traditional foods are helping their clients because they do not have fats.
“There are more people consuming traditional meals today in the country as these are healthy. The foods don’t have much starch and carbohydrates,” said Independent legislator and fitness trainer Temba Mliswa.
Apart from being Deputy Health Minister, Mangwiro is a diabetologist and has always advised Zimbabweans to eat traditional foods.
“Most of our foods don’t have fats. Take for example the mopani worms have three times the protein content as compared to beef.
“We have lots of our vegetables like okra which are natural and healthy, those are the foods we are encouraging our people to eat,” Mangwiro said.
“Some traditional meals that we are encouraging young Zimbabweans to eat, reduces chances of getting non-communicable diseases (NCDs),” NCD Peer Educator Vanessa Chiwetu told Anadolu Agency.