Sadza ne Nyama ("Sadza [and Meat Stew]") or simply Sadza is the staple
diet for most of Zimbabwe's indigenous peoples. It is a two part recipe
with sadza on one and the accompanying stew or vegetable relish on the
other. Sadza is a generic term used to describe thickened porridge made
out of any number of pulverized grains.
The most common form of sadza is made with white maize (corn) mealie meal.
Despite the fact that maize is actually an imported food crop to Zimbabwe
(circa 1890), it has become the chief source of starch and carbohydrate
and the most popular meal for indigenous peoples of Zimbabwe. Sadza is
to Zimbabweans what rice is to the Chinese or pasta to the Italians.
Nyama is the Shona word for meat. Which kind of meat is qualified by naming
the animal or beast from with it comes. For example beef is nyama ye mombe
where mombe is the Shona word for cattle. Similarly chicken is nyama ye
huku where huku is the Shona
word for chicken. Nyama ye mbudzi
is goat meat.
Grains Used to Make Sadza
The generic Shona term used to describe mealie-meal is upfu.
It is further qualified by naming the grain from which it is derived as
in "upfu hwe chibage" which literally translates to "mealie of white corn"
or white corn meal. Other grains that can be used for sadza include bulrush
millet ("mhunga") rapoko a.k.a. finger millet ("njera" or "zviyo") and
from these you get "upfu hwe njera" (rapoko meal), "upfu hwe mhunga" (bulrush
millet meal) and so on. Sadza made from these various grains will be referred
to with the appropriate grain name to fully qualify it. For example "sadza
re chibage" (sadza from corn meal), "sadza re mhunga" and "sadza re njera
or sadza re zviyo" for bulrush millet meal sadza and rapoko meal sadza
Many Meanings of "Sadza"
Sadza, a starchy food, is eaten with accompanying dish of either a meat
(nyama) based stew or some kind of vegetable. Generally Shona people will
refer to a meal simply as sadza, without specifying the accompaniment.
In this case the accompanying nyama or vegetable is assumed. In addition,
depending on the context, sadza can also be used to mean lunch or dinner.
For example, "Sadza re Masikati", lit. 'sadza of the afternoon' simply
means lunch just as "Sadza re Manheru", lit. sadza of the evening simply
means dinner. In this recipe and protocol, I describe how to make the
stew that accompanies sadza. It generally conforms to the traditional
Shona cooking but I have also added a few ingredients as well as adapt
the cooking environment to a more modern setting (electric or gas burner
assumed, metal pots and pans). Traditionally, sadza is cooked in a clay
or cast iron pot on an open fire.
This environment presents significant challenges and requires the preparer
to be seasoned, dynamic, creative and adaptive. Sadza, being at the epicenter
of the Shona diet, mandates discussion of customary procedures, the tools
required to prepare it and accepted protocol for its respectful consumption.
If you wish to try this recipe, I strongly suggest you read all the instructions
before attempting. Allow about 90 minutes from beginning to end, assuming
you have all the required ingredients at hand. It should be a fun experience.
If you have a chance to witness an experienced sadza cook, do not pass
up the opportunity.
I'd love to hear your comments, experiences, suggestions and field tips
from your sadza cooking! Please send your comments to Solomon
Murungu. Good sadza cooking!
Sadza ne Nyama ye Huku
Chicken Stew Ingredients: (5 adults Serving)
- 2 lbs fresh boneless chicken breast
- 3 - 3 1/2 lb. of very ripe red tomatoes
- 1 bunch scallions (about 6-8 scallion plants)
- 2 medium-size onions
- ginger root
- red pepper
- black pepper
- chili powder
- parsley flakes
- olive oil
Sadza Ingredients: (5 adult servings)
Mealie-Meal - In various parts of the world there is "Parenta white
maize meal". In North America you can substitute Cream of Wheat or Pillsbury
Farina for corn meal. Farina seems to work better. If your community has
an ethnic food store - Puerto Rican, African or Caribbean Food market,
chances are they may have white maize corn meal. Feel free to experiment
with the many types of mealie-meal available.
- large sauce-pan
- medium (8-12") diameter frying pan
- (Sh) - a sadza stirring wooden spoon made from a hardwood that
does not fray or splinter.
- various containers
Preparing the Ingredients
- slice up two onions into small chunks and store in an air-tight Tupperware
- cut up all tomatoes into 1/4" pieces and store in a large container
- skin and finely cut about 3 ounces of fresh ginger - and store in
an air-tight container to maintain freshness
- cut up the chicken into 1/4-inch cubes
- cut up 1 bunch of scallions into 1/4" pieces and store in an air-tight
container. Keep both the root and leaves!
Preparing the Sauce.
- Cover the bottom of a large sauce-pan with olive oil and apply medium
to high heat.
- When the oil is very hot (and thin), stir fry the ginger alone for
- Add the onions and continue to stir fry. (Leave a tiny bit of ginger
and onions for next step).
- Sprinkle enough chili powder to redden the onions and ginger.
- While stirring constantly also add a tinge of red pepper, a fair amount
of black pepper.
- Add 1 - 2 teaspoons of salt and continue to stir. Using your finger,
grab a half teaspoon worth of dried parsley leaves and pulverize it
with your fingers while sprinkling in the pan. Continue to stir.
- The contents should shimmer from the heat and a spicy aroma should
- Turn the heat to high. The heat will begin to brown/blacken the bottom
of the pan.
- Add the cut tomatoes in 4 to 5 portions at a time while stirring constantly.
You aim to maintain boiling point while you add tomatoes.
- When all the tomatoes are in, and the sauce has reached/maintained
boiling point, turn the heat down to medium and let boil for 10 to 15
minutes. Stir and mash the tomatoes occasionally.
- Re-sprinkle some more chili powder and stir. After five minutes turn
the heat down to low, where the sauce is barely at boiling point. Cook
for 10-20 minutes stirring and mashing the tomatoes as needed. [At this
point if you have other things to do, you can simply turn the heat off
and go off to do other things and return to the recipe later.]
Preparing the Chicken (or Beef)
- Cover the bottom of a frying sauce-pan with olive oil and apply medium
to high heat.
- When the oil is very hot, carefully tilt the pan to spread the oil
so as to cover the walls of the frying pan. Add the tiny amount of ginger
and onions from last step and stir fry for a couple of seconds.
- Apply high heat. Add all the cut chicken into a large pile in the
center of the frying pan.
- Allow bottom pieces to cook and spread/stir the rest around the pan
while stirring. Do not allow any of it to burn.
- After a while the water in the chicken will cover the bottom of the
pan and boil.
- Continued to stir and add, chili powder, black pepper, red pepper,
salt and parsley leaves.
- Allow all the water to boil off and continue to stir until the bottom
of the pan is dark brown from the heat and spices.
- Mix the chicken with the tomato sauce in the tomato saucepan and stir
to ensure an even mixture. Keep under low heat - barely boiling. Let
simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- After 30 minutes or so turn heat off but keep saucepan on the hot
burner to use the residual heat.
Cooking Sadza (Shona: "Kubika Sadza")
- Before you begin, bring to boil about one gallon of water in a kettle.
- Add 5 cups of mealie-meal in a 3 quart saucepan. Add enough cold water
to completely soak the mealie-meal. Most of the water will be absorbed
by the mealie-meal.
- Add little more water to allow you to stir with a mugoti into a very
thick white mixture and place saucepan over medium high heat, and while
stirring add boiling water slowly.
- Continue to stir evenly and constantly to prevent the mealie-meal
from settling and hardening at the bottom of the pan. (If this happens
you end up with lumpy sadza - in Shona: "Sadza rine Mapundu" - literally
"Sadza with pimples".)
- As the mixture heats up the texture changes from rough to smooth.
Continue to add water to loosen the mixture and allow it boil with enough
movement - some upward spattering will occur (Shona: "kukwata").
- At this stage, the sadza is in porridge state. If the water/mealie-meal
mixture is just right, the sadza will boil without spilling over. However
if it is too thin it might spill over, especially if you put a the saucepan
cover on. Keep an eye on it.
- Allow the mixture to boil under medium high heat for about 5 minutes.
Add the mealie-meal (upfu) 1/2 cup at a time and stir. At this point
the sadza requires relatively heavy stirring as it thickens.
- Continue to add upfu and stir evenly until the sadza takes on the
appearance of mashed potatoes. Be careful not to make it too thick otherwise
it becomes too hard (Sh:"chidhina" )- literally "brick" and not as enjoyable
- After the sadza reaches the desired texture and is well mixed, turn
heat off an cover and let it sit for a couple of minutes before serving.
To Cook and to Serve
Before serving, bring the chicken stew to a boil again. Turn heat
off completely and add the cut scallions. Stir evenly to spread scallions
in the stew. Let sit for 1 minute and serve while scallions are green
and crunchy. Stew is served in a bowl and sadza on a plate.
How to eat Sadza neNyama
Sadza is finger food. However the first time around you may wish to
use a spoon until you have had a chance to observe an experienced person
eat with their hands - it is quite and art! Wash your hand well in a bowl
of clean water. Using your right hand (Sh: rudyi -lit. 'the one used to
eat') partition a small chunk of sadza and mold it into a little round
or oval ball of sadza called "musuwa we sadza" in your palm. Be careful
not to burn yourself. Dip (Sh: tonha) it in the soup (Sh: muto) and bite
off and eat a sizable chunk. Re-mold the remainder of your sadza in your
palm and continue the process. Use your fingers to pick up and eat chunks
of chicken or beef. Enjoy!
Sadza is normally shared by several people all eating from the same
plate and bowl sitting in a circle on the floor. This environment provides
amble opportunity to learn sharing as one has to pace themselves accordingly
while eating with others. It is particularly interesting to watch children
of different ages eat from the same servings. The older children, who
may be capable of eating very quickly and consume most of food at the
expense of younger slower kids. They will either pace themselves at the
rate of younger children or consume a fair portion but leave enough food
for the younger children to finish at their own pace - a tremendous way
to instill sharing and responsibility.
The Social Politics of Sadza ne Nyama
Rudyi is the Shona word for right hand. Literally it means the "one
used for eating". Rudyi is also used to refer to "right" or "right side"
as in the opposite of left. Because the right hand is designated the hand
you eat with (rudyi), it is considered impolite to eat sadza with your
left hand - even if you are left handed and may feel more comfortable
doing so. Thus to be polite, and show respect for your host or hostess,
you always use your right hand to eat. Don't forget to wash your hands
after you eat!
In Shona society people do not eat meat on a daily basis. It is not unusual
for some families to go for two weeks eating sadza with vegetables instead
of meat. Thus eating sadza with meat becomes a bit of a treat. Some occasions
are deemed important that some kind of meat should be used as an accompanyment
for sadza. The kind of meat made available by the host in this context
is important since it signifies the importance of the occassion. In most
cases nyama is made available when visitors (Shona: Vaenzi) come. These
can be impromptu visits or planned visits. However the beast slaughtered
for the occasion signifies the importance of either visit or visitor's
status in the eyes of the host/hostess. It is unlikely that a previously
unknown visitor who stops by to deliver a message will be accorded the
luxury of sadza ne nyma. However, a close relative or child who has been
away at boarding school for several months may be accorded a sizable rooster.
By the same token a son who has been away from home working in a far away
city and returns home after a year or longer may be command goat. Similarly
a bull may be the appropriate beast to slaughter for a son or daughter
who has been away studying in a foreign country and returns after several
years. Thus, nyama takes on various meanings in the eyes of the host/hostess.
The more important the occasion is to the host, the larger the beast slaughtered.