It’s finally time to talk about food.
For my first month or so in Lesotho, I ate lijo tsa Basotho (Basotho food), prepared by my host family, three meals a day. It was quite the introduction! I mostly liked the food, but I got tired of the monotony. Now, a year later, I eat Basotho food several times a week.
Maize is undoubtably the center of any Basotho kitchen. Fields of maize, currently struggling to grow in the drought, dot the countryside. Maize meal, a thinly ground maize powder, is pretty much the only food product I can buy in my village.
Maize is the main ingredient in papa, the staple food of Lesotho. Papa is a near-tasteless white paste made by boiling water and maize meal. It has little nutritional value, but a big scoop certainly fills you up. Most people I know eat papa once or twice a day and buy 12 (or more) kilos of maize meal at a time.
In my humble, American opinion, papa is fine. I don’t love it, but it’s so plain that it would be hard to hate either. I eat it at school when I can’t be bothered to pack my own lunch, I eat it from plate food takeaway places when I’m traveling, and once in a while I share some with my host mother. But to be honest, I only ever cook it myself to feed my dog.
Those who can afford other food products like to pair papa with other dishes. The most common is moroho. Directly translating to “spinach,” moroho can refer to any green leafy vegetable, cooked with plenty of oil and salt. Spicy food of any kind isn’t common here – most Basotho stick to just salt, and lots of it!
Meat is more expensive, so most Basotho in my village eat it infrequently. My neighbors take pride in “Sesotho chicken,” and indeed, I have had the best chicken of my life here. Mutton and beef are also common, especially at special occasions like funerals or feasts. These meats are usually prepared without much seasoning.
My personal favorite Basotho food is bohobe (bread)! Bread here can be prepared two ways: steamed or baked. My host mother loves baking, and she always gives me a slice of the crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside finished product. Bohobe dough can also be fried to make makoenya (fat cakes), which are out of this world delicious.
The fruits and vegetables available in my district vary by season, and lately prices have been rising due to the drought. My favorite times are avocado and mango season (summer) and peach season (fall). Tomatos, onions, bananas, carrots, apples, and squash are available year round.
While it’s easy to forget that there’s more to Basotho food than papa and moroho, lately I’ve tried a few less frequently prepared traditional dishes. The most recent was likhobe, a savory mix of wheat and split peas.