An African feast in the heart of Bangalore makes friends out of strangers.
‘Babette's Feast’ was the first Danish film to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. There's a line from the movie that’s stayed with me – Babette has just finished preparing dinner. She’s spent all her money, everything, on it. And then she says this: “An artist is never poor.”
I was fascinated by the idea of Babette breaking the bank to create one magical moment in her life. She was poorer for it physically, but she was richer in the memory she created.
A few weeks ago I chanced upon another artist, a girl just like Babette who with her food, has left an even more lasting impression on me. I met Gisele Mulamba through the Barbeque Party of the Miss Africa Bangalore Pageant. Passionate about cooking authentic, traditional African fare, she asked me to take a look at her Facebook page – Gi-gi Recipes. Through her cooking she had amassed about 15000 followers. Fascinated, I decided to meet this budding Master Chef Africa.
Gisele Mulamba, Gi-gi’s recipes. Image credit: Facebook.com
We decided to go to the most celebrated VV Puram Chat Street (Thindi Beedi in Kannada) in Bangalore. The local food feast Avarekai Mela-Lablab Beans festival was being celebrated. The feast is a winter special at VV Puram, held by the farmers who produce 'Avarekai' (Hyachinth beans), a winter specialty bean.
At the local ‘bean-ey’ festival
Gisele was excited to see native dishes and sweets made of lablab - Indian broad beans. Avarekalu dose (lobiya dosa), Avare kalu palya (lobiya sabji) and the most most celebrated dish of Karnataka, Avarekalu Uppittu (upma made of avarekalu) were all on display. Even the sweets were 'bean-ey'.
Walking down the street and eating whatever we found interesting, got us talking and bonding over food. Gisele told me how her cooking has helped her make lots of Indian friends. In fact she even stayed with local families who she met through the church, on an exchange program sort of system – she taught them African recipes and they taught her Indian cooking. Impressed by her cooking skills, her friend Sheela Janson offered her a stay with her family as long as she is in India. Gisele also visited some remote villages in Karnataka with Sheela’s friends and stayed with their extended families. Bonds born and cultivated over food. The stomach has no race and no nationality.
The budding Masterchef Africa
For someone who was in India to study Computer Science, I wondered where this passion for cooking came from. “Have you ever seen people get angry eating great food? I believe good food has the capacity to stop even the most heated quarrels and fights.” She went on to tell me how her native country, the Republic Democratic of Congo is war torn, has ethnic blood baths, displacement, hunger, perpetual political unrest, and I could see why she'd want to find something that helped people just get along. She found that in cooking.
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I recalled a similar situation in Babette’s Feast when Babette Hersant runs away from Paris to the remote west coast of Jutland. She flees from counter revolutionary persecution in France after the French revolution and finds refuge with the elderly Protestant sisters Martine and Philippa. The austere Protestant sect refuses all worldly pleasures including good food. Babette wins the heart of the people in that Danish colony by improvising the frugal tasteless food into much better tastier food. It’s in the climax that Babette organises the feast by lying that she is going back to Paris and wants to thank the sisters and the Danish community by preparing a dinner for them. All to give them a taste of the good life.
The fantasy of Babette's feast was lingering on my mind. Where was my African feast? “I'd really like to taste that great food you cook,” the glutton in me spoke up, “Why can't we arrange a dinner? An authentic African dinner?”
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Giselle didn't let me watch her cook. She wanted everything to be a surprise. Don't come before 8 o clock she messaged me!
We were nine people at Gisele’s place or The Gi-gi Restaurant as she had named her residence. We had aperitif Gin and Indian Tonic with sliced lemon in it. Then came grilled pork, grilled fish and grilled chicken. All cooked in authentic African style.
Gisele told us how she prefers cooking for a large number because that was how she learned. When her parents separated, she was eleven – the oldest, and had to learn to cook for her younger siblings. “In Africa, we learn to cook at a very young age.” Gradually cooking became her passion. “When I arrived in India I had to wait months before college started. Since my senior friends were already busy with academics, I began to cook for them and I did it quite happily"
At Gi-gi’s restaurant
She became popular at college because of her tasty recipes. Her friends who were missing their native African food quickly fell in love with her dishes. Her popularity grew so much, she was encouraged to start her Gi-gi restaurant and people started coming to her for takeaway food. But soon her passion started getting in the way of studies, which her parents weren’t too happy about. Which is why she stopped. But the artist in her always craves for a chance to showcase her wares.
Next we had Foufou and some Allocco to go with it. Foufou is a staple food common in many countries in Africa such as Ghana and Nigeria. It is often made in the traditional Ghanaian and Nigerian method by mixing and pounding separate equal portions of cassava and green plantain flour thoroughly with water. Allocco is a West African snack made from fried bananas. We also had three wine bottles to finish!
Traditionally, different African cuisines use a combination of local products such as fruits, cereals and vegetables, as well as milk and meat. African cuisine covers a wide variety of regional influences. They’re influenced by the spices, herbs, fruits and vegetables found in every region of the country, and also by religion and history. The widespread vegetarianism in Indian society is completely absent in African culture.
Gisele’s African feast
Some of the recipes and dishes of African cuisine date back centuries. For example in Congo they have a recipe called ‘Liboke’. It is their national dish (sort of). Interestingly they use no utensils, no pots, no frying pans to cook. But banana leaves! Leaves in which chicken, fish and vegetables are wrapped, smothered and cooked. It is an ancestral method that is still used today.
I remember at the end of the movie Babette's Feast, Martine, one of the two austere sisters says, "In paradise you will be the great artist that God meant you to be. Ah how you will delight the angels!”
Gisele's food is delightful! I vouch for it. I'm sure all nine of us vouch for it. We went as strangers for Gisele's Feast, but came out friends. She's right. Good food can bring people together. Maybe great food, like Gisele's, can start something special.
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101 Gisele’s Feast
3 kilos of pork, 4 tomatoes, 4 onions, 2 pinches of nutmeg, coriander tongs, 8 cloves of garlic, 150ml of oil, salt (optional quantity)
Blend the onions, 8 cloves of garlic and tomatoes.
In a large saucepan put the pork and all the ingredients and boil for 1 hour 40 minutes.
Put the meat boiled in the oven. Preheat to 150 degrees.
Keep the sauce and serve hot.
Grilled Fish (Pomfret)
Pomfret (fish), 3 tomatoes, 1 onion, 40ml of ginger water, 5 cloves of garlic, a pinch of nutmeg,
a pinch of thyme, salt (optional quantity), 1 lemon, 1 yellow pepper
Finely cut all the ingredients. Add the lemon juice and mash with a blender until a smooth paste
is obtained. Add oil to make mixing easier.
Scale, empty and trim your pomfret.
Make slits centimeters in the skin of the fish and put pieces of pepper in the cuts of the fish.
Salt the fish and brush it with marinade.
Rub salt and spice in the cuts.
Let your spicy fish rest for about twenty minutes.
Cook the fish over low heat on the barbecue for 1 hour.
Serve with fries, plantains or manioc sticks.
1 whole chicken, 1 onion, 1 tbsp chives, 1 tsp onion powder, 3 tsps soup of soy sauce, 1 tsp salt,
1/2 tsp ginger
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a bowl, combine all ingredients "for seasoning", then brush the chicken with the mixture.
Place the chicken in the oven, check occasionally until cooked and it's ready.
Heat the oil in the pan. Mince the tomatoes, onion, eggplant and fry the ingredients while
stirring regularly, until it becomes tender, add some nutmeg and a little water.
Simmer for 30 minutes and its ready!
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com
By Avinash Totad Rajappa
Photographs by Avinash Totad Rajappa