ESHABWE: A dish from Ankole’s long-horned cattle

Sunday April 29 2012

A lady preparing Eshabwe, a delcacy in the western part of Uganda.

A lady preparing Eshabwe, a delcacy in the western part of Uganda. Photos by Otushabire Tibyangye 

By Otushabire Tibyangye

In traditional marriage ceremonies, the two people who taste the dish and are accorded special attention are the groom and his father. The other two were the paternal aunt (Ishenkazi) and maternal uncle (Nyinarimi) of the bride on the wedding day.
Then, eshabwe was served in orwabya (clay bowl with lid).

Today, eshabwe is served like any other dish to everyone. Traditionally, it used to be made by old women in a room where they had to be silent in the belief that talking would make the eshabwe come out poor.

They would use eshisha (papyrus leftover pieces) used by the bride when making a basket they would use in one of the rituals. However, this has changed with modernity.
Eshabwe is served with both hot and cold foods but many people prefer it with cold foods like karo (millet bread) potatoes, matooke and others.

Hope Mugisha, commonly known as Miria of Rukungiri Restaurant, a makeshift eating house on Mbarara’s High Street, says majority of her clients visit particularly for ehabwe.
She uses eight kilogrammes of ghee to satisfy her clients. “I start preparing eshabwe at 10am in preparation for my customers who come for lunch at 1pm,” she says.

Her customers range from ordinary blue collar workers to the business, corporates and tourists. Some eat on site while others carry the eshabwe home. She also does deliveries.

Mugisha says her place is popular because of the eshabwe. As she gives me this interview, two ladies are meeting at the restaurant. They have come for the eshabwe to carry home.

“You know this place also!” one exclaims to her friend. The two have come from Rwebikoona Market in Kamukuzi Division, about three kilometres from the restaurant, which is in Kakoba Division. Asked why she had to travel all the way from Rwebikoona, one said, “This is the only place where the quality of the eshabwe is guaranteed.”

The dish has become popular in other parts of the country like the central region and even among tourists from the East Africa and Europe. Of late it has found its way to big international hotels like the Sheraton.

Devious Kanyesigye, the manager of ADKA Tours and Travel in Mbarara, says some of his clients ask him where to they can find the eshabwe. “At times I ring Mugisha to check whether she has any available and she delivers promptly to my clients through her distribution system,” he says. She says she gets bookings for parties from as far as Kabale and Bushenyi. Apart from Rukungiri Restaurant, another popular place is Friends Corner on Buremba Road.

While eshabwe is a delicacy in some parts, it is a normal dish for cattle keepers who have ghee on hand. It forms part of their diet. Kanyesigye from Kyafoora Rushenyi Ntungamo District attests to this. “There is no reason as to why I cannot have eshabwe in my home when I go back to the village because ghee is readily available,” he says.
Apart from Ankole and Kigezi regions, other areas which eat this delicacy are Tooro and Bunyoro regions, though the preparation may be different.

Prepareration of Eshabwe
The dish is easy to prepare but to maintain a high quality; the ghee should be of high quality and should have stayed on the shelf for about two months. Locally it is kept in entsimbo (gourds) which give the ghee an inviting flavour.

Ghee, boiled water, salt, meat and rock salt. Put the ghee in a pan; stir while adding a solution of rwabarire (white rock salt) in very small quantities and cold water. Ghee that is traditionally made from Ankole cow’s milk provides best results as the milk is high in butter content. Stir using a blending stick and a small net until it makes a white liquid. Never boil the ghee as the results may be very frustrating.
Sieve the mixture to remove any dirt using a sieve or net and add salt to taste. Adding very little sugar (a half tea spoon) makes it tastier to neutralise the rock salt. Sugar is optional though. You can add in dry roasted and cooked small pieces of meat. Vegetarians are also catered for. Remember that no heat or hot utensils are used in the process.