A milestone in our first week here (which seems a long time ago now) was buying bowls so we could get food at the canteen with the other students.
Lunch and dinner are served on campus every day, 12-1 and 5-6, prompt. It costs 750 kwacha (MKW750, around £1), or MWK500 (about 75p, ish) for the veggie option. This was our first taste of traditional Malawian grub.
The menu’s familiarity ensures you know what you’re getting. The students were all excited for us to try nsima (a dense maize flour porridge – think polenta or American grits but more finely ground and cooked for longer). A standard portion consists of 4 patties (or bullets) known as a cross. We got a few funny looks as we dug in with our camping sporks... it's more common to use your hand to pinch the nsima into bitesize pieces with a dab of sauce and some of the relish (stewed veggies)
Nsima is the staple of the Malawian diet, the alternative being rice. Either option is accompanied by a choice of nkhuku (chicken), nyama (meat, usually beef or possibly lamb), nsomba (fish) or nyemba (kidney beans) for the vegetarians. There's also stewed greens (pumpkin or bean leaves), a tomato based sauce, and maybe aubergine or okra if you’re lucky. Some days you can also get a boiled egg in a spicy sauce. They're really good. The portions are also so huge that at first we thought maybe the students made do with only one big meal per day. They tell us that they usually have lunch and dinner, but breakfast is usually just a cup of tea (with milk powder and plenty of sugar).
We have talked about Malawi time already, which means that most things seem to involve at least half an hour or more of waiting around. Meals are the one exception to this and if you’re not fast you’re last. Some days we’ve rolled up just before one to find only empty pots and the apologetic faces of the ladies who cook and transport the food to campus.
There are other places to eat in town, for when we’ve reached our rice limit, but these are all much more expensive and require a tuktuk journey. There are also little roadside stands where you can get freshly cooked chips (mbatata iriisi - Irish potatoes, or mbatata - sweet potato). Luckily, most days we're too tired to be picky, and rice definitely does a good job of filling you up.