By Petronella Sibeene
Traditional food has always been the ideal menu for tourists visiting Namibia and the aging sections of our society who still prefer keeping their roots in ancient cooking styles.
However, Owambo chicken has become the hottest selling property in the country with demand for it ranging from the young to the old.
Traditional foods have returned to many kitchens and cuca shops across the country and among food samples that have taken Windhoek by storm is Owambo chicken also known as the roadrunner, marathon chicken or athlete chicken.
Sheya Ndahambelela narrates a typical day as she goes about her booming chicken business. She says her day starts before sunrise and by 06h00 she is already at her small business place. She puts water in a pot to boil and while the water is on the boil she slaughters the chicken. Once the water boils, she dips the slaughtered chicken in as she begins plucking the feathers starting with the large ones in a downward motion.
“Take care not to try pulling large clumps, if you try to pull too many (feathers) at a time, then you risk tearing the skin. After you have plucked the bird clean, simply hold the chicken over an open flame to burn off the hairs that are difficult to pluck,” she says.
Satisfied the chicken is clean, she cuts it into pieces and places all the cuts in a pot, adding a bit of salt. While chicken pieces cook she cleans the intestines and the feet. Once cleaned, they are thrown into the pot to cook with the rest of the pieces.
“The whole process takes me about three hours,” she says.
Business is okay and by 10h00 customers start trickling in sampling the dish to choose their favourite piece, she says.
“Once the customer has identified the chicken piece, we offer him/her a bench to sit on and a wet cloth to clean his/her hands then serve and also chat,” said Ndahambelela.
The courtesy has also led to trust building between the seller and customers such that during the dry periods of the month, regular customers are allowed to buy on credit.
“During the middle of the month we have our regular customers eating on credit,” she said.
The biggest piece sells for N$7.
The live chickens are sold by the roadside opposite the Horse Shoe market in Katutura. One live chicken costs about N$37.50 but after cooking, operators in the industry are able to get 100 percent profit.
Operating at a place where almost every person sells the same product, Tokyo Alweendo who has been in this business for the past seven years says, “I usually sell more than two chicken a day.”
“This is my only source of income. Even if my husband works, I have to do this business to supplement his income, times are hard now,” said Ndahambelela.
Aune Nekongo, a customer went into raptures over this delicacy and said, “The traditional chicken or Owambo chicken is tastier and has no fat. The chicken is prepared in such a away that all the spices are “absorbed” making it succulent and tasty – I enjoy it.”
Donas Lumbu, who says every evening he visits the Horse Shoe market also commented, “The other one is ice-blocks but the Owambo chicken is fresh. You eat from the head to the feet.”
He added, “There are no omandjandja (intestines) or oshindimba (gizzard). The chicken from the shop does not have all the small yet delicious parts. You know, different people prefer different parts of the chicken and with Owambo chicken everything is there.”
Lumbu said his appetite for traditionally prepared chicken aroused by the way the chicken is prepared. “Because the chicken is smoked before being cooked, all the funny chicken smell likely to be found in the “other” chicken is killed.”
Twapewa Kadhikwa, a successful entrepreneur who has also recently ventured into preparing traditional foods, commented, “There is something special about that chicken. It has a unique flavour and the salt goes to all corners where a braai pack won’t reach.”
While no one can dream of claiming that a hen or cock belongs to a certain tribe, the Owambo chicken has become popular.
The name Owambo chicken came into being because the Oshiwambo people of Namibia, given their subsistence way of life, have for years reared chicken at their homesteads.
Given that, they have mastered the way to prepare it, hence its tantalising taste that has attracted many Namibians to the dish.
At the end of the day, chicken is just chicken!
Basic Owambo Chicken Recipe
– Place the cleaned chicken pieces in a clean pot
– Add salt to taste
– If you desire add turmeric or curry powder to colour
– Add a bit of water (do not submerge the chicken pieces in water)
– Put to boil
– Once the water has drained, fry a bit with marula oil
– If the chicken is still not tender, add a bit of water again and let it boil at low heat
– Continue with the process of frying and adding a bit of water until it is tender
– NB: Usually cooks for about 45 minutes and its ready to serve
For the exotic flavour, add mixed herbs, sour cream and vinegar, during the frying process or add vegetables like carrots and potatoes to create a “a potjie like” mixture.
Of late, many ways of cooking the bird have come up to make the chicken tastier and bring the cooking to modern standards.
However, chicken will always taste best when prepared traditionally on an open fire in a three legged pot.