Have you ever had grits? Lesotho’s staple food, papa, is like a thicker version of the southern delicacy. The stiff, porridge-like dish is eaten all across the Mountain Kingdom at most meal-times, and is often the only food Basotho will eat all day.
Papa is made from corn or maize. It looks soft and mushy, but in fact, papa is rather solid once cooled.
In Lesotho, corn is harvested each March. It is picked while the stalks are still green and the kernels are fat, yellow and sweet.
The stalks are then dried and cut by hand. The stalks are used for animal feed and the hardened maize kernels are separated from the cobs by hand-grinding.The kernels are then bagged up or loaded into buckets and taken to a local mill for grinding into a meal, called maize meal or mealie meal and stored in 50kg grain sacks ready for Basotho to purchase at their local shop and store in their homes for the winter.
When the maize meal is cooked with water in a pot, most often over a wood fire, is becomes papa.
Papa has almost zero nutritional value and fills you with empty carbohydrates. When money and seasonal availability allows, it is often served with moroho (greens, like cooked spinach or collard greens) and with a bit of water and salt. Occasionally a family will serve papa with beans for protein or on very special occasions, papa with greens and meat.
Even though they eat it every day, many Basotho say they love papa and consider it their favourite food.
Basotho primary schools provide a free meal to students and often include papa with milk, beans or eggs in order to provide a serving of protein.
How to Make Papa
1/2 cup mealie-meal
1 1/4-1 1/2 cups water
Bring salted water to boil in a castiron pot over a wood fire (or stove). Pour in the maize, while stirring constantly. Cook until thickened. Portion onto plates and let cool for a moment. The papa will thicken to almost a solid and then can be eaten with the fingers.
There you have it! Papa, the vegetable turned grain that feeds the entire Mountain Kingdom.