A stroll around markets, schools or any other place that attracts huge crowds is likely to find the aroma of kabalagala.
Amina Ndagire, who has baked Kabalagala also known as pancake, for the last 20 years, says it become famous during Idi Amin’s regime in the 1970s following the influx of Nubians.
Kasim Kibirige who operates a butchery adjacent to Ndagire’s pancake stall reminisces. “I first tasted kabalagala during break times at school and it has since become part of my breakfast menu,” he says.
Kibirige says back then kabalagala come in a far bigger size than today.
“I think because yellow bananas were abundant then, cassava was not yet affected by wilt and therefore bakers never found it expensive to use more ingredients,” he explains. Owing to their affection for spicy meals, Nubians added pepper to the ingredients while baking kabalagala.
Originally restricted to Zombo, when it was introduced to Buganda, it was named kabalagala (Luganda word for the hot sensation felt when eating peppered food) owing to the pepper-induced bitterness. However, pepper is no longer a popularly used ingredient.
It has since found new names in different regions of Uganda like burahanda (meal that scratches) in Kigezi and obubanda (meal that is flat) in Ankole because of its flat shape.
Rags to riches snack
Kabalagala which started as a low profile snack and was not lucrative as a business, has since evolved into a middle-income business with the snack heavily consumed in upmarket places. Ndagire says kabalagala enjoyed a quick turnaround in fortune during the hard economic times, which were characterised by a lack of confectionaries.
“There was shortage of bread and cakes as sugar (a major ingredient in bread baking was scarce) and people inevitably resorted to locally produced kabalagala,”she adds.
The crisis come as a blessing in disguise as kabalagala quickly evolved from schools and markets and made its way into offices.
More demand meant more people joining the trade and many women who ply this business today joined during the 1970s.
The preparation style of kabalagala has also contributed to the snack surviving the test of time and finding its way to the tables of the affluent.
“I think the best thing about kabalagala is that it is prepared without adding sugar. It is safe to be eaten by people who are cautious and choosy about their meals especially due to health reasons,” Ndagire explains.
Sugar is not an ingredient in Kabalagala, but unscrupulous and incompetent bakers add sugar to stir up sweetness.
Now a lucrative trade, many bakers I talked to were reluctant to divulge their recipes for fear of being copied.