Botswana is a landlocked country located in Southern Africa in which 70% of its land is the Kgalagadi desert; it is bordered by Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
The vast expanse of flat terrain is home to 2.3 million people, the majority of whom belong to the Tswana ethnic group. A significant minority, known as the San, are regarded as the first inhabitants of Southern Africa, and still live out a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Amid the balmy and arid weather conditions, Batswana satiate themselves with a diet consisting primarily of meat, starches and grains, and indigenous plants.
The nation was a protectorate under Britain until 1966, and, like many colonized countries, its cuisine has been tinged with a British touch whilst holding true to its origins.
Let’s take a look now at an assortment of foods relished by the Batswana people.
Meat, specifically beef, plays a vital role in Tswana culture; it is present at all types of gatherings and is served in a variety of ways. One popular way that it is served all around the country is seswaa, which is slow-cooked beef. The most common cuts are the shoulder, rib, rump and neck. All parts of the cow are used, but often cooked separately as they vary in toughness.
Seswaa is traditionally prepared in a three-legged cast iron pot over a sweltering flame; the meat fills most of the pot and is slow cooked in water and lots of salt for an average of five hours. In the rural parts of Botswana, seswaa preparation begins in the morning, cooking throughout the afternoon to be eaten finally at night, with an occasional stir along the way. The result is a comforting stew, with pieces of beef that melt in the mouth.
When a cow is slaughtered, its parts are assigned to different types of preparation, consumption and storage. The making of Segwapa, better known as biltong or beef jerky, is a popular method of preservation and consumption of beef that happens in the winter.
Most Batswana make it in their homes, especially in rural areas where there isn’t any refrigeration to preserve meat. Strips of meat are doused with vinegar before they are lathered in a bed of salt and spices which include coriander, cloves, and black pepper. In comparison to jerky, Segwapa comes in all shapes and sizes: shredded, thick, and stick-thin.
Mogatla, meaning “oxtail” in Setswana, is a stew that is savored all across Botswana. It could be regarded as a national comfort food because of its deep ties with Botswana’s culture.
Most Batswana get their income from rearing and selling cattle, and they tend to save the less expensive cuts, such as the tail, for special occasions. Oxtail can take longer to cook, as half of its weight is bones and it has tougher meat, but once the juices and flavors of tomatoes, onions, broth, and bay leaves have been absorbed, the result is a delicious stew which is devoured in a matter of moments.
Menoto is Setswana for “chicken feet”. You can find many Batswana biting down on this gnarly snack during lunch hour as it is a common street food.
They are usually roasted over a barbeque after being seasoned and spiced. Many people enjoy them hot. Menoto can also be cooked down into a stew to make the most of their gelatin. In restaurants they are served in large portions due to their lack of meat. They are also sold at butcher’s and food stores nationwide.
Batswana have a very peculiar sense of humor, so much so that they’ve dedicated an entire piece of meat to women: a cow’s tongue referred to as leleme la kgomo in Setswana.