Carla Hall’s culinary journey to Zimbabwe
Leonard Ncube ,[email protected]
SHARING a meal has always been a time-honoured tradition among humans throughout history. It’s an act that transcends borders and languages, building and cementing relationships, whether between individuals or families. From the simplest home-cooked dishes to extravagant dinners at fancy eateries, the power of food to warm hearts and forge connections is undeniable.
In courtship, food becomes a language of love. A man knows that a dinner date at an elegant restaurant can melt a woman’s heart, just as a woman understands that the way to a man’s heart is often through his stomach, with a carefully prepared and sumptuous meal.
Childhood memories are often filled with stories of sneaking out to a neighbour’s house where the promise of delicious food awaited. Some carry this habit into adulthood, seeking comfort and connection through shared meals.
After a long and tiring day, a meal becomes more than nourishment; it becomes a source of solace for both body and soul. The experience is heightened when shared with others, turning a simple act into a bonding ritual.
Some social gatherings, like weddings, parties and funerals become opportunities not just for celebration or mourning, but also for indulging in culinary delights. People may attend these events primarily for the food, sometimes not even knowing the hosts or the occasion itself.
Yet, for someone to travel great distances solely to savour a meal, there must be something truly exceptional about the food. This is precisely what drew the renowned United States celebrity, chef, television personality, and author Carla Hall to Zimbabwe.
Carla Hall embarked on a journey to “live” the Zimbabwean life and immerse herself in the country’s rich culinary traditions. To her, traditional African food is not just a cuisine; it’s a reflection of one’s identity.
Her introduction to Zimbabwean cuisine came courtesy of Hollywood-based Zimbabwean make-up artist and entrepreneur, Jacque Mgido, who extended the invitation and brought her to Harare and Victoria Falls. Here, she discovered the heart and soul of Zimbabwean food.
In Harare, Carla Hall, fondly known as “Tafara” by the locals, embraced the authentic African lifestyle. She stayed at Amanzi Lodge and experienced breakfast in Mbare, sitting on the floor on a reed mat. This intimate encounter with local life left an indelible mark.
In Victoria Falls, she was hosted by Dr Mati Martha Nyazema, the founder of Mbano Manor Hotel. Here, she indulged in a traditional luncheon, sharing the experience with tourism executives and local residents alike. They affectionately dubbed her “Zanele Ndlovu.”
Chef Carla’s journey began in early 2022 when she first connected with Dr Nyazema. She was captivated by a video showcasing the Zimbabwean hotel entrepreneur’s remarkable journey and the challenges she faced in establishing the first black female-owned five-star hotel in Victoria Falls.
In Victoria Falls, Carla Hall fell in love with the vibrant flavours of Zimbabwean cuisine. Dishes like “Gango,” “amacimbi” (mopane worms), “umfushwa” (dried vegetables), peanut butter-infused greens and the exotic baobab fruit were all too good for her.
“Food has so much to do with culture and if you don’t know the culture you don’t know the food. Coming here was all about cultural culinary experience and we had to actually work with the chefs to cook the food.
“That helps me understand the culture and I am hoping to inspire the chefs here not to leave those dishes in the bush or villages but bring them out and showcase them. I have travelled to different countries and some foods are spicy but here in Zimbabwe that’s not the case, yes you may have chilly on the side but I love the food,” said Hall as she tried to pronounce names of some foods she tasted.
Hall believes with proper packaging, Zimbabwean foods can be a tourism attraction. She said she and her husband now enjoy Zimbabwean meals at their home in Los Angeles.
“I have had greens mixed with peanut butter once because it was made by a Zimbabwean. The first time I had sadza was in Los Angeles and I love the greens and vegetables. It was prepared by Jackie who I think is an official ambassador to Zimbabwe and she made this huge feast. My husband loves peanut butter rice and I love the greens and sweet potatoes with tea.
“So I had to fly down here to share with fantastic people. The traditional food was amazing, beautifully presented and it’s unique to this place and that makes me want to come back,” said Hall.
She has been to Ghana, Sierra Leone, Egypt and Mozambique before and had to fly to Zimbabwe to taste the traditional meals. Hall writes culinary books and said she will translate names of some foods to local Zimbabwean languages.
Dr Nyazema said through food, Victoria Falls can appeal to the tourism world. She named the luncheon ‘Mabiko nanaTete – Meal with the Sisters.
Hall first won over audiences when she competed on America’s “Top Chef” and “Top Chef: All Stars”. She has combined her love of food, people and culture to write several cookbooks.
Her latest cookbook, Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration, is a celebration of the rich culture and history of soul food. She has two previous cookbooks – Carla’s Comfort Food: Favourite Dishes from Around the World and Cooking with Love: Comfort Food That Hugs You.