I recently posted a picture of a very popular type of morogo from my mother’s garden in Limpopo. Less than an hour later that post had over 400 comments. What took me by surprise was where the comments were from. Not only all the provinces of our country, but also from neighbouring Zambia and Zimbabwe all the way to Congo, Nigeria and Kenya. I realised that this particular variety of morogo is grown and enjoyed by many nations across the continent. The joy in all those comments proved that food really is a great unifier. Who knew that we all share morogo/ mfino (South Africa), muriwo (Zimbabwe), ombidi (Namibia), lengalenga (Congo)?
“Morogo” refers to different varieties of green leafy vegetables that grow wild in SA and other parts of Africa. Traditionally, these leaves formed a much-loved part of the nation’s diet, but urbanisation and changing attitudes to food have led to a decline in their popularity, or so we thought. The general mood or sentiment in those 400-plus comments was one of longing, nostalgia and love for the morogo plants.
Comments like “Reminds me of my childhood/my mom/ back home” speak to just how revered morogo still is. Much like Europeans have traditionally foraged for mushrooms, generations of South Africans have gathered morogo to fry, stew or steam, and serve in a tomato relish or with crushed peanuts and other vegetables.
Morogo can sometimes be mistaken for weeds by those who are unaware of its deliciousness and nutritional benefits. Though it’s sometimes called African spinach, it tastes nothing like spinach. It’s got an earthy flavour and it has an almost sour undertone that’s best enjoyed with a serving of piping hot pap and a tomato relish.
While shopping recently, I was pleasantly surprised to see morogo–flavoured two-minute noodles. Imagine that, a product in Africa, catering specifically to an African palate?
Morogo is also one of the flavours celebrated at the Makers Landing’s “100 Flavours” exhibition in Cape Town, which celebrates South Africa’s epicurean identity among “classic” homegrown flavours including rooibos sorghum, biltong, melktert and gemere. It’s great to see all these authentic homegrown ancient flavours celebrated in one place. This particular bowl of love is one of my favourite kinds of morogo. Pumpkin leaves cooked with onion, tomato and mashed butternut for a simple, delicious lunch. This takes me back to sunny afternoons at my koko’s feet – my portion with a little sugar to offset the bitterness – but just as delicious. Morogo is one of those incredible dishes with the power to take you back in time.