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Asian cuisines all over Uganda

By Vision Reporter

Added 26th June 2012 01:11 PM

To mark 50 years of Uganda’s independence, New Vision will, until October 9, 2012, be publishing highlights of events and pro ling personalities who have shaped the history of this country.

Asian cuisines all over Uganda

To mark 50 years of Uganda’s independence, New Vision will, until October 9, 2012, be publishing highlights of events and pro ling personalities who have shaped the history of this country.

To mark 50 years of Uganda’s independence, New Vision will, until October 9, 2012, be publishing highlights of events and pro ling personalities who have shaped the history of this country. Today, JOSEPH SSEMUTOOKE looks at some of the dishes that were brought into Uganda by Asians, but have since become as native as the people who use them daily to spice up their lives
 
History denotes that Asians, primarily Arabs and Indians, were the fi rst foreigners to reach Uganda. They came in at the start of the nineteenth century to deal in slaves, ivory and precious metals. History also shows that over the years, some of the Asians, who came as traders settled in the country eventually.
 
The construction of the Uganda Railway between 1896 and 1901 is perhaps the single factor responsible for the infl ux of Asians into Uganda, most of the Asians who were Indians, were semiskilled labourers employed by the British East African Company to construct the railway. While some of them returned home after the completion of the project, some chose to remain and take on commerce.
 
The more the Asians interacted with the Ugandans, the more they infl uenced the Ugandan’s lifestyle. One evident infl uence has been on the cuisine, which, over the decades has picked up aspects of Asian culinary art. Below we look at some of the aspects of Uganda cuisine that trace their roots back to Asia.
 
Rice dishes, pilau
Rice is one of the most widely eaten foods in Uganda today. History indicates that rice was introduced to the East African coast by South Asian traders (Arabs and Indians), who invaded and settled there in the 13th century.
 
It is from the coast that the Asian traders who moved into the interior carried the rice with them. The various ways in which the rice is cooked are all evidently Asian in origin, for example the use of spices such as ginger and cinnamon.
 
When the Indians came into the region in big numbers, they introduced the famous pilau style of cooking rice, where the cereal is cooked with many spices and curries with emphasis placed on it yielding dry, separate grains when the dish is ready.
 
Curries
Apart from rice, curries/ curry-soups are the other prominent feature of Uganda’s cuisine that was introduced by Asian settlers. The Arabs are believed to have introduced to the region many of the spices that are now a staple feature of the Ugandan cuisine, among them onions, tomatoes, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and pepper. Curry powder as we know it today is also said to have been invented by Indian merchants for sale in far-off places where they could not carry the spices/herbs in their fresh form.
 
In his book Ugandan Asians, Dr. Vali Jamal says curry powder was introduced to Uganda by Indian traders at the turn of the century. He points out that it was until the Indians constructing the railway turned-up, that curry powder became widely available as the new railway-builder-turnedtraders began dealing in it in big quantities.
 
Chapati
According to Jamal, the oilroasted unleavened fl atbread was also an introduction of the Indians.
 
Dr. Jamal writes in his book that the Indians who came to build the railway carried their culinary traditions along and the chapati was one of those aspects that Ugandans most fell in love with. It should also be noted that the Ugandan chapati has gone through a transition that makes it distinct from its Asian parent.
 
The most outstanding modifi cation is the concoction that is known as the rolex. (Where eggs mixed with cabbage are rolled in a chapati).
 
Samosa
The samosa is also a snack that is traced back to the railway builders. A fried or baked pastry with a savory filling (commonly peas, grilled meat or spiced potatoes, in Uganda), the samosa is infact said to have been exported to the rest of the world by Indians who are believed to have been preparing it in varied forms for about 10 centuries.
 
Tea, coffee, sugar
The drinking of tea, coffee and sugar as beverages is recorded to have begun in Asia. Tea is from China, coffee from Arabia and sugar from the Far East. By the turn of the 19th century the three beverages were already popular throughout Asia and the Arabian and Indian traders coming to the East Africa reportedly brought the beverages with them.
 
In East Africa, coffee is believed to have arrived to the interior, by the seventeenth century grown in the Great Lakes region and being used for both culinary and cultural purposes like religious rituals.
 
Tea and sugar are believed to have come with the Asian traders in the nineteenth century, first being available only at the courts of the wealthy.
 
In his narratives, explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley talked of being served tea and sugar at the courts of Mutesa, and seeing a lot of coffee plants in the various homesteads he visited.
 
Oranges, mangoes, lemons
The list of fruits believed to have been introduced to Uganda from Asia features some amazing inclusions.
 
Some historians believe bananas were introduced to the region from South East Asia more than a millennium ago by the earliest traders to come to the East African coast.
 
And that it is from the coast that the bananas spread to the interior, evolving over time to turn into species unique to the East Africa. However, many scholars have disputed this view, arguing that East Africa’s bananas are native to the region.
 
If bananas are disputed, among the fruits that are unanimously believed to have been introduced to East Africa from Asia are mangoes, oranges and lemons.
 
Mangoes were spread all over the world from South Asia, with the English word ‘mango’ coming directly from the fruit’s Tamil name ‘Mangai’, while oranges and lemons have also been discovered to have roots in South Asia.
 
Several historians indicate that mangoes had begun growing on the East African coast by the ninth century. Oranges and lemons are believed to have come a bit later with the Asian settlement at the East African coast starting in the thirteenth century. Other fruits introduced by Asians include coconuts, eggplants and pomegranates.

Asian cuisines all over Uganda

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