It doesn’t matter which part of Uganda you come from, you should have tasted this sumptous cusine that has it’s roots in the Buganda culture but has now broken it’s banks and found it’s way in all parts of this country.
Luwombo or ‘oluwombo’ in it’s proper name as it was referred to in Buganda, was first prepared in 1887 for Kabaka Mwanga by his creative chef who was called ‘Kawuuta’. It is a traditional dish that is cooked in a banana leaf by steaming. It can be made of beef, chicken, smoked fish, goat meat, ground nut sauce or even mushrooms. Though this meal was once reserved for the palace, it evolved and started to make an appearance at special occasions especially when a girl brought her soon to be husband to meet her parents. The ‘luwombo’ to be given to the groom was specially prepared by the girl’s ‘senga’ (the girls paternal aunt). This was often a whole chicken prepared to perfection, in most cases it would be cooked for the whole night and by the time it is served that chicken is very tender and busting with countless flavors. The groom was meant to eat it all least it be an offence to the girl’s family. This tradition still continues even to this day although the dish is no-longer reserved for only the royals and special occasions. Ugandans from all walks of life enjoy the dish and we have seen restaurants add it to their menus as well as some that only serve luwombo for example ‘Luwombo restaurant here in Kampala.
- Luwombo has a distinct aroma and this comes from this here. Banana leaves are key ingredient for this cuisine but not any kind, young banana leaves are used. First the young banana leaves are smoked in a special way because it’s the aroma is derived from the smoked leaves that gives good oluwombo its uniqueness and great diners appreciate the smoked seasoned taste of the stew inside the leaves. The beauty with this cuisine is the fact that one has the leverage to alter the contents apart from the constants which are banana leaves, salt and water. Otherwise one may choose to use beef, chicken, goat’s meat, mushrooms, dried fish or even simply groundnuts.
- Here is another secret, when the subject of the meal is meat, make sure that yo smoke it.‘kukalirira’ Traditionally this is how it is done; the charcoal on the stove is also covered by light banana peels, the idea here is to make sure that the heat remains under and the peels transport the charming smoked savor into the meat.
- The luwombo taste is not only derived from the way the banana leaves are smoked, but also the way the meat is smoked and the type of the banana leaf. The banana leaf is specifically from ndiizi type of banana, and they are smoked over a specific flame from dry banana leaves and they must first become brown before they are removed from the fire. Lucky for you and me is lately these smoked banana leaves are sold so you may not have to worry where to get them from or go through the process.
How to make the luwombo
- Carefully inspect that there are no holes in your smoked banana leaf. Then carefully remove the central rib making sure that you do not tear the leaf and clean the leaf with a damp cloth and then fold the leaf into two.
- By now you should have a clean basket ready, place the above leaf in its centre. After that, cut a small part from another cleaned leaf and place it under the other fold.(Locally it is called ‘akawuwo’)
- Now you are ready to bring your ingredients; meat, chopped up vegetables, salt, pepper and all others to your taste and then cover the meat. Other ingredients often used include, onions, green pepper, carrots, tomatoes, garlic, spices, black pepper, chilli etc. Make sure you measure the water you add carefully such that it is just enough to cook the meat and also remain to make soup for the meat.
- Having put all you need, it is time to tie up your luwombo.
- Holding the two sides of the folded leaf up and then collecting the side of leaves on both sides while making sure that none of the ingredients spills and then tie up your luwombo with a clean string which is usually the other central rib or midrib of the leaves you removed earlier or a banana fibre.
- Depending on the number of people you are preparing for, repeat the above exercise to make the number you want.
- When completed, steam them for about six hours until ready and serve. Luwombo can be served with any food of your liking from matooke to potatoes, cassava to pumpkin or even millet bread
- Luuwombo is a steamed dish and nothing of it’s ingredients is fried so there is no need to worry about cholestrol. It is one of the healthiest foods you will partake.
- The banana leaf sheathing and the steaming not only creates a delicious aroma very specific to the luwombo, but also prevents the loss of nutrients which would have otherwise been lost in the cooking liquid.
- The smoking that is done to the meat kills certain bacteria in the meat and slows down the growth of others, prevents fats from becoming rancid, and enhances the smell and flavor making it more appetizing.
Should you be among the unlucky ones who have never tasted a Luwombo, find yourself this cuisine sooner or later and gift your taste buds. They deserve it.