Traditionally, the Zulu are nomadic farmers whose diet revolved around meat, grains and wild plants. Meat is served with phutu (corn meal porridge), samp (maize and beans), yams and seasonal greens. Zulu meals are a social rituals: Sharing the same plate or cup is symbolic of friendship and welcome. As part of a cultural tenet of sharing, children traditionally eat from one large dish. Before eating, hands are washed; afterward, mouths are rinsed.
This traditional Zulu beer is made by women from fermented sorghum. Only mildly alcoholic and rich in B vitamins, utshwala is considered a nutritional staple. Sorghum is soaked and boiled in water, then on the third day sieved and poured into a communal drinking vessel. The brewer ladles the froth onto the ground as an offering to the ancestors. She then takes the first drink;her husband the second, demonstrating to guests that it is safe. The gourd is passed to guests in order of importance, each taking a drink.
Amazi is a curdled milk dish similar to yoghurt. Although most Zulu foods have cultural associations with sharing and hospitality, amazi is a delicacy reserved for family. Milk is curdled in a gourd, and the whey is drained from the bottom. Amazi is in constant production, and the gourd is never washed between fillings.
Beef, Mutton and Goat
Meat is boiled in a potjie (three-legged cauldron) or roasted over a fire. Inyama yenkomo is beef stew. Many Zulus' daily diet is substantially vegetarian, with livestock slaughtered only for special occasions and cattle only for coming-of-age ceremonies and weddings. Usu (offal) is popular, especially for women; boys eat the feet and lower legs. Slow-simmered cows head is a high-status delicacy, traditionally cooked and eaten by men. Cows head is served with traditional steamed bread dumplings.
Phutu and Samp
Served with most meals, phutu --- or mealie --- is a cornmeal porridge solid enough to be eaten with the hands. For breakfast, a runnier form is served with milk and sugar. Phutu might be fermented into a dish called isibhede. Samp is another staple of maize kernels and beans cooked long and slow with onions, chillies, lemon juice and salt.
Other Grain Dishes
Sorghum and millet are traditional African crops, but maize and beans are completely assimilated into Zulu food culture. Three basic Zulu ingredients --- maize meal, sorghum and beans --- are combined with vegetables in innumerable variations. Isijingi is pumpkin pulp mixed with phutu; sgwaquane a blend of phutu and beans. Adding amazi to phutu creates isithambu. Green maize, with Zulu beer as a raising agent, makes traditional steamed bread --- ujeke.
Staple vegetables are yams (amadumbe), pumpkins, African melons and local weeds, including purslane, amaranthus and thistles. Beans, pumpkins and beets are used for their leaves as well as for their fruits or roots. Weeds are eaten boiled, cooked into stews or stirred into grain dishes. Morogo is a dish of mixed weeds and leaf vegetables.
Favourite Traditional Recipes
A 2009 research study found that Zulu respondents ranked isijabane (wild vegetables stirred into phutu) as their favourite traditional food. Pumpkin leaves ranked second, wild leafy vegetables sixth, traditional beer eighth and isijingi ninth. All other places were filled with maize meal and bean dishes.
- Every Culture: Zulu
- South Africa Tours and Travel: South Africa's Traditional Foods
- Zululand Eco Adventures: Zulu Culture
- The Nutritional Quality of Traditional and Modified Traditional Foods in KwaZulu Natal; M. Modi; 2009
- Markets of Warwick: Bovine Head Cooking Market
- South African Tourism: Zulu Cuisine