There is an old colonial custom still in use that I never followed: what the patrão (master) eats, the servant cannot eat. Today it’s almost the same, even in genuine Mozambican households. Over the master’s table you’ll find a kind of food; on the table of his domestic worker, a different one.
When I first came to Mozambique, I hardly tried to follow the local customs. I asked my home right hands what they wanted to eat. Basically, they told me they would be happy with cornmeal porridge and dried fish.
For a week or so I was giving them the money to buy and cook their own food. You cannot imagine the smell of the curry they were preparing using dried fish! Soon, I started to feel sick with it. That dreadful smell was invading everything. Urgent action was required.
“Do you like the kind of food that we eat?” I dodged.
Chef Mario and nanny Fina reacted with their usual awkward smile, a mix of shyness and expectation.
“Would you mind to eat the same food we have?” I repeated.
Like in a forceps birth, the answer was difficult to get.
“We can eat anything, senhora.”
I explained to both that I couldn’t see a reason why they should cook two different types of food. It was set. I got rid of the smell and the flies. They got an improved diet. I truly think they have enough of dried fish at home.
Feeding two to four more people everyday is a little bit expensive, but not impossible. Sometimes I have the notion that it sounds strange to feed so many with imported meat and other delicacies impossible to find locally. But the system has proven to work for us.
My family knows that at home we all eat the same. Though, outsiders react from time to time.
Months ago I had to explain why I was feeding my maid with English muffins, while I could buy another kind of bread for her. I understand the remark because that bread travels from Cape Town to our table and, as you may guess, it’s not cheap at all. To be sincere, during that short period I was buying the same bread for the maid just because I was too lazy to discover a different type of bread, not so expensive.
Anyway, when that someone questioned why I was feeding my maid with English muffins, I simply answered: “Why not?”