Literary Feasts – Running the Rift, by Naomi Benaron

Literary Feast Banquet Image @ Linus's Blanket

Naomi Benaron’s Running the Rift takes place in Rwanda and a  lot of the staple foods were unfamiliar to me, with the exception of a few vegetables. All of the food sounded delicious, and I took to the internet to look some of it up. Isombe is a stew made of cassava leaves, fresh vegetables, peanuts and peanut butter, and ugali seems closest to a grain like polenta or grits, albeit cooked and served in coarser texture.

The table was set up in the front room, covered wit the tablecloth resrved for holidays. There were plates of ugali and stews with bits of meat and fish to dip it in, bowls of isombe, green bananas and red beans, fried plaintains, boiled sweet potatoes and cassava. There were peas and haricots verts sauteed with tomatoes, bottles of Primus beer and Uncle Emmanuel’s home-brewed urwagwa. Angelique had not stopped cooking, bringing mam tea, wiping everyone’s eyes. The power was off. Candles flickered; lanterns tossed shadows at the wall. Jean-Patrick and Roger sat on the floor with Jacqueline, feeding Clemence bits of stew wrapped in sticky balls of ugali.


Ugali, pictured above, and below with beef and sauce.  Photo source: Elimu Strive’s Blog  & Wikimedia Commons.

 Ugali is supposed to be an acquired taste for the American palate. Like I said, the closest equivalent I can think of would be grits, which can also be vey plain if not flavored with butter and salt, and eaten with (usually) eggs, bacon, sausage or fish. Shrimp and grits is also a favorite.

Here is a quick recipe that I found for ugali:

In a 2-quart saucepan:

Boil rapidly 1 quart water or chicken broth

Add 1 tsp. salt and 1 cup any fine white cereal.

Swirl the cereal into the boiling water and cook according to package directions to a thick heavy mush.

Keep warm over hot water (in a double boiler) until ready to serve.

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  1. I’m dieting so anything I see online makes my stomach growl. This looks absolutely delicious (and I have heard really good things about this book). So…when is lunch?

  2. It sounds almost like Cream of Wheat or something similar, which is a favorite of my husband. I think it tastes like wallpaper paste, but then again, I am not really a refined girl 😉 I would think that if you had the ugali, and you were dipping it in something flavorful, like the amazingly described stew, that it might taste excellent! This was a wonderful little snippet to have shared with us! Thanks!

  3. What makes the ugali sound so good to me is that it’s dipped in the meat and fish stews and other things. I love that kind of food…so many of the food irmes in the paragraph from the book sound delicious. I’ve always enjoyed sampling the food from other cultures and tend to like it.

    I didn’t realize Running the Rift includes the foods of Rawanda, another good reason to read this book.

    Great post, Nicole, thank you!

  4. I’m not sure if Ugali is for me, though the whole meal does look really good. I really can’t wait to read this book.