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What Is Sadza?

By Rebecca Cartwright
Updated May 16, 2024
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Sadza is a stiff grain porridge, or paste, that is the staple carbohydrate food in Zimbabwe. Currently, most sadza is made of very finely ground corn, called maize in Africa, but before maize was introduced into Africa the dish was made from other grains, principally types of millet. Pronounced “sud-za,” sadza is the word for this dish in Shona, the language of the Shona people, the largest ethnic group in Zimbabwe. The same type of cooked grain is eaten in most of eastern and southern Africa under different names. It is always served with a some kind of stew, soup, or meat with sauce, into which small pieces of the cooked grain are dipped before being eaten.

White maize is the most common grain used for sadza. Maize was not introduced into Zimbabwe until the late 1800s, but it quickly became a dominant crop. Before maize was introduced, the dish was made from various millets, including pearl and finger millet. When white maize is not available yellow is often used in its place, and millet is still sometimes used. The ground maize is finer than North American cornmeal, more nearly resembling cornflour, and is called mealie-meal throughout eastern and southern Africa.

Meal and water are the only ingredients, but cooking sadza takes skill. Traditionally, it was cooked in a kettle over an open fire and that method is still common. The meal and cold water are mixed and brought to a boil, then the cook stirs continually and adds more water and meal as needed. During this period the boiling mixture throws up bits of hot meal and the cook must be alert to avoid being scalded while still stirring to keep the mixture from burning. When fully cooked, the mixture is very thick; it pulls away from the side of the pot and can be molded into a ball for serving.

The Shona people also use sadza in preparing a traditional form of batik, or resist dyeing on cloth. Designs are painted on fabric with the sadza and after the painted areas dry, the cloth is painted with color and then dried again. The areas covered with the cooked grain paste resist the paint and remain the original color. After drying, more sadza is applied and another color added; this process may be repeated several times. Once the design is complete and all the paint is dry, the sadza is washed out of the cloth and the design is revealed.

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