As I travel, my everyday cooking skills travel with me. From Uganda to Dubai, United Arab Emirates and the countries in between, the food that I prepare is inspired by Acholi culinary ways. I have picked up new ways and ideas along the way, learnt cultures and cuisines from other countries; for example in Nairobi I learnt to cook/eat sukuma and ugali. In Tanzania, I enjoyed biryani. I did not escape South Africa’s biltong. My friday meal in Scotland was fish and chips. On Sundays, I ate roast and yorkshire pudding. I learnt to eat sandwiches and fast foods in the UK. I remember the taste of snales in a Nigerian soup. I have tried Chinese and Japanese among others and I fell in love with sea food which was rare in my land locked country when I was growing up. I am on my way to learning emirate food and foods of the various nationalities that make up the cosmopolitan Dubai.
In Acholiland, every girl child went to catering school; often taught by one’s mother, maternal aunts or sometimes the entire village. As I travel, I often worry that I may not be able to pass on all the skills I learnt as a young girl to my children. I worry that our future generation may miss out on the rich Acholi food, the food my 75-year-old grandmother advised me to cook for my husband and family. But first what is this Acholi that I refer to?
The Acholi are a Luo speaking people occupying present day northern part of Uganda (a beautiful and friendly country in East Africa) and Magwe in South Sudan. A trip down memory lane documents more about the people and culture. The composition of the region, culture and food continue to change as foreigners and thus foreign food invades the land. The movement of people to other areas in search for greener pastures, intermarriages, internet and globalisation all have effects on the culture and the food. It is for this reason that I will dedicate part of my blog to writing about Acholi food. I don’t claim to know all our food, it is my hope that my people will help me. So that collectively we can open the world to our food, our way of cooking and our culture.
In terms of food, the region has a variety of vegetables and legumes in addition to the common sources of animal proteins and fish that are common in other parts of the country. While some of the foods are not indigenous to the region, a lot of the vegetables and some legumes are (to the best of my knowledge). The variety of food in addition to the ways of cooking gives the region a rich selection. This variety is partly attributed to odii, a key ingredient used in traditional dishes. I cannot therefore write about Acholi food without writing about Odii.
What is Odii?
Odii is a mixture of roasted groundnuts and roasted simsim or sesame seeds, both of which are grown in Acholiland. It forms the sauce used in most stews; it is used in meat, fish, legumes and vegetables. Other parts of Uganda make and use it too.
How is it prepared?
Before the advent of technology, the two would be mixed, pounded and ground using a grinding stone to make the creamy paste (odii). Today, machines make the preparation easier. Normal food processors or blenders can also be used to make the creamy paste too.
Odii in other parts of the world
Groundnut only paste (odii pul) or peanut butter as it is called in other parts of the world is also common in Acholi. Simsim/sesame only paste (odii nyim) or tahini as it is called in the Arab world is useed in humus and salad dressing among others. The best odii according to my people is made from a mixture of ground nuts and simsim seeds because simsim neutralises the sweet taste of peanut butter and peanut butter nuetralises the bitter taste of simsim.
What is odii used for?
In addition to its use in most Acholi sauces, which I will be writing about in my subsequent blogs, odii is also used in the following ways;
- As a spread on bread, bananas, sweet potatoes, yams, cassava (tapioca) etc.
- It is mixed with honey and used as a spread as above
- It is added to millet porridge to give millet porridge a distinctive taste.
Benefits of Odii
While the literature on odii is lacking. The cumulative benefits of peanut and simsim which are available in literature should be the starting point. My grand mother said that it prevents the white man’s diseases.
If this resonates with you or if you would like to know more about odii, please get in touch using my contact page. For odii recipes, please follow my blog.