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Chakula cha Mchana!
Long before the
first bento box was laquered in Japan, Africans were carrying their lunches
to school and work. The traditions vary from country to country and
across ethnic groups. I haven't managed to find any specific information
on special containers, but here and there I've found various things that
well...don't fit much other than a lunch situation. One of them is
the lunch basket.
(Swahili for, "Time for lunch!")
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Some resemble the Indonesian style lunch basket, while others are either
bucket or somewhat vase shaped. Generally, whatever type of basket
weaving is common for one's area, will determine what kind of lunch baskets
people carry to school or work. That is, if they carry a basket at
all. Baskets have lost favor in the age of plastic and metal.
In some cases, lunch is a communal meal. Students or workers will
each bring a dish they specialize in, and it's all brought together to
one meal, which everyone shares.
If you're just starting out carrying African style lunches though, it's
best to do it as an individual, and then later include others if they're
You may need:
To decide what to
put in your lunch basket, just decide which regional or cultural cuisine
you like best, and select recipes that are portable. If you're used
to taking a sandwich for lunch, try making one with flatbread or griddle
cakes instead of regular sliced bread. Injera and spicy chicken stew
are a good combination from Ethiopia. Though it's not technically
traditional South African fare, you can fill a hollowed out half baguette
with chicken curry. Be creative with it.
a bucket shaped basket for the days you want to carry a stew and bread
or porridge, a flat basket for flatbread days, and/or a colorfully decorated
canvas messenger bag
a soup thermos
a screw topped air tight container that fits in your bucket basket
a cloth for your bread
a cloth for your fruit or to neatly wrap around your veggie bag
a canteen, a drinking gourd, or a bottle for water and a colorfully decorated
bottled water holder
a collection of African, Arab, and diaspora recipes
some biodegradable hand wipes or a packet of soft soap for before and after
Also, you may want to research the eating etiquitte of various regions.
In most of Africa and the middle east though, folks didn't traditionally
eat with utensils except perhaps a spoon for a thin soup. It is said
that it was considered somewhat rude to bring "weapons" to the table.
So utensils were for cooking and serving, not for the eating of meals.
Africans in most areas eat with their right hand, and the left hand
is kept away from the table. If one needs help tearing something,
one asks others for help.
When you make things like porridges for your lunch, you may want to
keep that in mind. Make them somewhat stiff and not soupy, so that
they can be easily scooped up with the fingers, and dipped in whatever
sauce or stew you make to go with them.
So basically your constraints are:
to prepare a lunch that won't require the use of forks or knives to eat
to have some degree of consistency in regional style or to make it practical
for your own region
to be economical about it
overly processed foods that are not made using traditional ingredients
should be avoided
not to use disposable items for carry or storage that aren't easily degradable,
since this would be bad for nature and if you believe, anger the spirits
and to be ready to share what you have if one of your classmates or coworkers
is in need
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© 2006 Nicole Lasher