Recipe: Mama Luce’s Chai ya Rangi
My heart is big. I wonder sometimes whether I have too many loves in this life; how I will ever find the time to fit everything in—experience it all, change all that I wish to change, improve, make better. Language, literature. Conversation. Wine, beer, spirits. Travel. Really inspired business models. Food.
No small wonder that I’m sharing a recipe today, then. I didn’t expect to be recipe blogging over here, too, but here I am.
Food. My delicious creative outlet. Something so personal to all of us that to meet a vegetarian makes most people instantly defensive, offended. Our food is our culture, our traditions, our family. My mother’s pea soup, fish chowder, chicken marbella. Tabbouleh and hummus. Coffee filtering through the Chemex on weekend mornings. We are what we eat.
I will miss chai ya rangi when I’m away from here. I will take it with me, but it will not be the same.
Chai ya rangi means coloured tea; contrast with chai mazima, milk tea.
I will write more of this story later, but my adventures this morning took me grocery shopping with Mama Luce, the mama who runs the show at the shop where I get breakfast and, when near home, lunch.
Stepping off the rickety, ancient twelve-passenger van and away from the twenty-two or so people crammed into it, I tried to piece together what Mama Luce was asking me form the key words that I understood. When nyumbani, to home, -rudi, returning, and pamoja, together failed me, I motioned back towards the shop and told her that I lived near there. She started walking in the other direction, and I followed, still carrying her two kilos of onions.
She met a friend, who helped her lift the massive basket of vegetables onto her head.
As I snuck a picture of her, she asked me if I was going to church.
‘No,’ I answered, ‘Not today.’ Even though it’s Sunday. She asked me what religion I was. Not knowing the Swahili for ‘atheist,’ I picked the most likely from her litany of creeds. ‘Roman katoliki.’
We walked along together, the top of her basket just barely taller than my head.
We returned to her house, where she welcomed me inside. Imagine a compound sort of structure. A dirt path, a cement courtyard where women wash and hang laundry. Where there’s a pile of potatoes that could have sustained a village for a week during the Famine.
I stood on the other side of the curtain for a moment too long—Joyce, once of the dadas who works at the stall, bade me enter. ‘Karibu,’ she told me. I slipped off my sandals and stepped inside.
I sit on the only chair available, a plush mid-century thing with sleek wooden arms and a steep angle back and down. To my left is Mama Luce’s bed, at the foot of it piled things that would have gone in a dresser had she owned one. There are five-gallon buckets, things for cooking. The room is barely three metres by three metres.
Mama asks me if I would like some chai, a question always answered similarly to whether I would like some wine.
She pulls forth a kerosene stove and asks Joyce to light it. Joyce enters from outside and does so, placing an inner and outer cylinder of metal over the flames and making me wonder how she didn’t just burn her fingers.
Mama puts some water on to boil. She moves to my side and scoops water from a five-gallon bucket with a plastic mug into a dented stainless steel pot. From a small pile of cooking accoutrements she procures a small plastic bag, a piece of ginger, and an old plastic container that looks as if it once held instant creamer.
She opens the small plastic bag. I ask her what it is. ‘Iliki,’ she answers, a word I don’t know. She hands me one. ‘Ohhh… Katika KiIngereza, cardamom.’ I tell her, ‘Katika chai, vitumbua…’ ‘Na chapati,’ she tells me. Cardamom stealthily flavours all of the the wonderful things in East Africa cuisine.
She hands me a pod and tells me to taste it, motioning a bite. I bite a bit on the triangular pod, popping one side open and smiling. She takes the pod from me and throws it into the boiling water with a handful of other pods.
And then she makes us tea.
- 2 1/2 mugs water
- Small handful cardamom pods
- Thumb-sized piece ginger, peeled
- 2 t loose black tea (heaping teaspoons)
- 3 T sugar (heaping tablespoons)
- Boil water.
- While heating, add cardamom pods. Grate ginger into water. Add tea and sugar.
- Boil, then remove from heat and strain through a sieve into mugs to serve.