Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Mamma Boga

The intercom buzzes discreetly and when I answer a voice asks me if I need 'Boga'(vegetables)in Kiswahili,the local language of Kenya and the rest of East Africa.I answer in the affirmative and then wait for Mamma Boga,the itinerant vegetable seller,to trudge up to our third floor flat since we do not have an elevator.Such is the use of modern technology!She ensures that the effort of climbing the steps will not be in vain by using the intercom!
As Mamma Boga comes into sight I am reminded of our tea pickers of Assam.She has a huge basket slung on her back but going by the smile on her face one would never guess that she is lugging around at least ten kilos of vegetables.All married women are called Mamma in this part of the continent hence the name Mamma Boga!
She sets down the basket on the floor and begins to display the wares.Thanks to Kenya's cool weather and frequent showers even the vegetables thrive here!The tomatoes are farm fresh,a bright red with green sepals still clinging to them.She offers me tender,light green lady's finger,which she calls 'bhindi'(yes,they know all the Indian names of vegetables,we Asians being their biggest customers).It's just begging to be stuffed and I buy it immidiately!Then I turn my attention to the well polished brinjal which she assures me will be good for 'bharta'!Putting aside my inherent dislike for the blameless 'baingan' I buy it for my husband.Milky white garlic pearls and ginger rhizomes are a must have,though the garlic packet carries a 'Made In China' tag!
But though Mamma Boga assures me that the knobbly 'karela'(bitter gourd) is not bitter at all,I refuse to be persuaded!I snap up the  fragile french beans and the creamy cauliflower.Knowing the weakness we Indians have for pickles she hopefully holds up a bag full of raw mangoes and says for 'achaar'.I ignore the mangoes(who wants to ingest extra salt and oil!)but then she pulls out a packet of big,vermillion red chillies like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat!And I am smitten.I love stuffed red chilly pickle and so in go the chillies!A litre of mustard oil imported from India,costs the same amount as three litres of locally manufactured sunflower oil and so is the case with the amchoor(dry mango powder) that I need for this achaar!But that is another story and will not deter me from making it!
I see a mellow yellow pumpkin jostling for space with crunchy carrots and cool cucumbers.A few laukis(bottle gourds)lie languidly in another corner,sure to be sold before the day is over.After all,who cooks lauki the way we do?Sabji,raita,kofta,halwa,you name it,we make it!Pale pink,papery skinned onions smirk confidently at me,knowing they will be in almost every dish that is churned out in my kitchen!A pile of dusty potatoes peers out of the basket looking very humble,despite being a staple in almost all the major cuisines of the world!Of course I need a kilo of those!
Dark green spinach,grass green coriander and some fine fenugreek(methi) ensures enough iron in the children's diet and rounds off my vegetable shopping.A little bit of bargaining,(how can I digest these veggies unless I know for sure I have got my money's worth!) and we are through.
As I stock up my fridge with the vegetables,I know that after just a few days the intercom  will buzz again and I will hear a voice say,'Boga,Mamma?'

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