Featured Post

U motenya!

I leave my house for work and get called over by two village women awaiting their chance to do business with the chief. The first smiles...

Saturday, November 01, 2014


A small bag of maizemeal
 At the heart of the Basotho diet is a corn-based food called papa. Papa is served almost every lunch and dinner. Papa le moroho (cooked greens), papa le nama (meat), papa le lebese (milk), papa le linaoa (beans), papa le beet root, paper le lihoete (carrots), papa le mahe (eggs); the possibilities are endless. This is because papa is a classic starch. It is a mildly flavored, completely unseasoned base to every meal.

In Lesotho, the place of papa is impossible to miss. I was the first Basotho food my host mother taught me to cook. It is simple to make and difficult to mess up. The first step is simply to boil water. Once boiling, reduce heat and slowly add the maizemeal while stirring slowly with a lesokoana. Cover and ignore for five to ten minutes before stirring again. Serve when hungry. The time it takes to cook varies depending on volume, but it is much faster than making bread, tortillas, or rice.

Stirring papa with a lesokoana
A lesokoana is a stick used exclusively for stirring papa. When stirring with the papa stick, the verb in Sesotho is ho soka. That's right, papa is so important that it gets its own kitchen utensil and its own verb for stirring. All other forms of stirring, with other utensils, is ho fuluha.

As with starches in many parts of the world (tortillas, sandwiches, etc), papa serves in lieu of an eating utensil. The Basotho grab some, roll it between their finger and thumb, then use it to scoop up bits of the other food in the meal. As such, papa comprises two-thirds or more of the typical Basotho plate.

Many PCVs are not fans of papa. This is especially true for the education volunteers as they are fed large plates of papa for lunch daily at school. I like papa and make it as often as pasta or rice and more often the potatoes. It turns out that I am in fact a papa rebel. If the Basotho—who are always thrilled to find I eat papa—knew the following about me, they would probably be devastated and I might be disowned!

My small, Beth-sized portion of papa
Here is what makes me a papa-rule breaker:
  • When I have papa, I treat it as a side dish and only have a small portion.
  • I often eat my papa with a spoon or fork
  • I use my lesokoana as a rolling pin
  • Sometimes I season my papa or even add veggies and cheese.
  • If I am cooking papa and I accidentally add too much maizemeal, I break the cardinal rule and toss in extra water. I have been told this will ruin the papa, but it seems the same to me.
  • I rewet and then reheat papa all the time.
  • I buy the small 2.5kg bag of maizemeal instead of a 25kg sack. And I am pretty sure my baby bag lasts me twice as long.

Now that I have shared this with the world, I am a bit worried that my visa will soon be revoked. If that happens, I will be sure to grab some maizemeal on my way home and we can have a papa party when I get there!

1 comment:

Larry said...

Thanks for sharing, Beth. I really enjoy your updates from Lesotho. Sounds to me like "Papa" is Sesotho for "grits"!

Love ya!