Welcome to Malawi

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. 

By Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach

In one of my past blogs, I encouraged the use of interesting spices and cuisine from other cultures as a way of perking up your weekly meals. In this blog, I’d like to invite you into the world of Malawi, Africa — a very poor country from which our daughter just returned from a two-week Elon University service project.

Approximately 50 percent of the Malawi population exists on $1 a day. In a country of 6 million people, that is indeed a sad number. However, Jillian reassures me that these are among the happiest people in the world, so clearly they have evolved in such a manner as to meet their nutritional needs from what is readily available.

Nsima — a thick starchy porridge made from corn flour, corn meal, or ground maize — has become the basis of most meals, much like bread, rice, pasta or potatoes are in other cultures. When combined with water in a ratio of 1 cup flour to 2½ cups water and allowed to boil and cool, the resulting porridge is formed into hamburger-size patties by scooping it out of the pot with a wet wooden spoon and flipping it onto a plate. The patty congeals once it comes in contact with the cool wet spoon and plate. Marble size pieces are broken off and rolled into a ball in the palm of the hand with the fingers. A final dimple is pressed into one side of it. Families all across the region enjoy the marble-size morsels dipped in ndiwo (a sauce of vegetables or meat).

As one may imagine, greens are plentiful in Malawi, and their cuisine reflects this. Many of their vegetable dishes consist of chopped onions and tomatoes combined with any variety of leafy greens. The most commonly used leaves come from pumpkins, cassava, sweet potato, rape, cabbage and mustard plants. When the leaves are allowed to simmer with onions, chopped tomatoes, and a bit of curry and ginger, the resulting fragrant dish is served with nsima or over jasmine rice.


Lest you begin to think that protein is completely absent from the Malawi diet,  beef is sometimes consumed at meals, but not in the same way to which we are accustomed. Thin slices of topside steak are marinated for 24 hours in a mixture of vinegar, salt, sugar, coriander, pepper and baking soda. When ready, the thin strips are hung in a warm, dry place until all liquid has evaporated.

As of this writing, Jillian is still on the other side of the world, so we have not had the opportunity to inquire as to whether she ventured out of her “cuisine comfort zone” and tried any native dishes.  However, it is good to know that the Malawi folks are quite savvy when it comes to living in harsh surroundings, and derive the nutrition they need to put smiles on their beautiful faces every day.