xima/pap: sub saharan africa’s staple food

When looking at photos of African food, you may wonder what the pile of white stuff resembling mashed potatoes is: this is one of the main staples of Sub Saharan African cuisine, and we call it ‘xima’ in Mozambique (pronounced she-ma).

Its name changes (from fufu in West and Central Africa to pap in Southern Africa, to nshima or ugali in East Africa, etc) as often as the methods of cooking differ (it is beaten or stirred in different ways, giving it a different texture as more or less air in it allows it to fluff up or clump together). I find the Namibian and Mozambican methods easier to prepare, as they’re not as physically straining as in West Africa, but are much heavier to eat at the same time.

The main ingredient used here is maize (corn) meal, usually purchased prepackaged (see photo of some more popular brands), though you will find hand pounded flours in rural areas. It is a fine flour, not to be confused with cornmeal available in North America (and other places), or corn flour/starch. You can often find varieties of the flour in African or West Indian shops, or you could always ask in an African restaurant where to get it.
I’ve also tasted this dish prepared with cassava (mandioca) flour (made from the roots), and in Namibia it’s mixed with mahangu (millet) flour, to make oshifima. I’ve even learned to make the same dish in Nepal of all places (with pure millet flour), where it is called dhido, and is one of the national dishes according to wikipedia.

Whatever the name or form (it exists on just about every continent from what I’ve found), the main purpose of eating this is to fill your stomach. African portions of it are huge, especially when meat and veggies are scarce. It is usually eaten by picking up bite size pieces with your fingers (and sometimes rolling them into balls), then dipping it into a rich sauce, absorbing it and replacing the pap’s unseasoned flavour.

The cooking instructions written on the side of the ‘Top Score’ package are as follows, for four people:

– Mix 200g maize meal with 400ml cold water and stir until smooth and without lumps.
– Bring 800ml water to a boil in a pot and add a pinch of salt.
– Take the pot with the boiling water offf the stove and add the already prepared maize mixture
– Put the pot back on the stove and bring the porridge to boiling point while stirring continuously (in Namibia they use a whisk to stir it, and it works great).
– When the porridge starts to boil, turn the temperature down to low and let the porridge simmer for 5 minutes with the lid on.

Helena’s method of making xima in Maputo is a little bit different. Here is her variation, using the same quantities (200g maize meal, 1.2L water):

– heat 900ml of water on high heat until boiling
– while the water is heating, add 100g of maize meal to 300ml cold water, mixing with a spoon until it’s smooth
– add the water/maize meal mix to the boiling water, stir and leave to thicken, until the surface is bubbling (see photo), not boiling (this could take 10 minutes for small quantities, or half an hour for larger ones)
– add the remaining maize meal, stir in with wooden spoon, and beat by reaching spoon to the bottom of the pot, pulling it towards the body until it hits the side edge of the pot, then pulling up and repeating

– once the consistency is even (no clumps of dry flour can be found), lower heat and leave to thicken/harden
– serve using a cup or bowl to take a portion out of the pot, and on to a plate to be served with sauce, veggies, and whatever else you fancy!

5 Responses to “xima/pap: sub saharan africa’s staple food”

  1. June 20, 2014 at 4:47 am

    Wow, this article is good, my younger sister is
    analyzing these kinds of things, so I am going to tell her.

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