Even though she is over 7,000 miles away from her home country of Zambia, Chisanga Kapumpa, a fashion designer, still manages her own tailor’s shop there. Kapumpa says she wishes to launch her own line here in Korea with the help of a local partner, creating an artistic fusion between the two countries.

Her love for fashion goes a long way back. “They say necessity is the mother of all inventions,” she said, adding, “I wanted to dress well, but my parents couldn’t afford all the nice clothes. When I was in the sixth grade, my mother bought me a sewing machine. Before I knew it, I was making dresses for myself, my sister and my friends. I followed that up with a diploma in fashion design and a certificate in flat pattern cutting.”

The first to represent a sub-Saharan country in this series, Kapumpa finds cooking and designing clothes similar in their attention to aesthetics.

“You want to present your creation in a way that will be both appealing and tasteful to your client. In both cases, presentation is ultimate.”

Chisanga Kapumpa, wife of the Zambian ambassador to Korea, serves a Zambian full-course meal consisting of chibwabwa, a good leafy side dish to the staple nshima. [PARK SANG-MOON]
Chisanga Kapumpa, wife of the Zambian ambassador to Korea, serves a Zambian full-course meal consisting of chibwabwa, a good leafy side dish to the staple nshima. [PARK SANG-MOON]
Q. Why did you choose chibwabwa for today’s dish?

A. Chibwabwa [pumpkin leaves] is a dish that’s cooked throughout the entire country. Where I’m from, it’s commonly prepared during traditional ceremonies, including one that’s held before a wedding, called amatebeto, in which a bride’s family cooks all the main home meals and takes the meals to an appointed groom’s relative’s house to introduce the groom to various foods his bride is expected to cook for him after marriage.

What Korean culinary aspects can you find in your Zambian dish?

Pumpkin leaves can easily be found in the local market and are frequently used in doenjang jjigae [fermented soy bean paste stew]. Koreans also sometimes wrap rice with this ingredient as a substitute for lettuce.

Another dish you will prepare today is nshima [a Zambian staple food made out of maize flour]. Do the two usually go together?

Chibwabwa and nshima are always eaten together. Nshima is to Zambia what rice is to Korea. Nshima cannot be eaten alone. It’s always prepared with a dish incorporating vegetables or meat, like fish and chicken. Families who can’t afford meats usually cook with vegetables, like chibwabwa.
Any Zambian woman wishing to get married should know how to cook this key dish; a good wife is one that prepares it without forming any lumps, which takes a lot of practice and strength. Unless my husband has a lunch meeting or some other kind of business appointment to attend, he always comes home to have his daily nshima.

In Zambia, lunch is considered the most important meal of the day, and every family member gathers home to catch up on each other’s lives. You can skip dinner if you have other plans, but lunch is commonly unacceptable to do so.

Please describe Zambian cuisine.

Zambia has 10 provinces and 72 languages. Nshima is the main staple food, and side dishes vary according to tribe. We have a lot of vegetable dishes that differ depending on geography, but chibwabwa is found in almost every corner of the country. All side dishes to nshima should have a nice, thick gravy as a dip.

Chef Choi Dae-ro and Kapumpa pose with a dish of sogeum yukhoe. [PARK SANG-MOON]
Chef Choi Dae-ro and Kapumpa pose with a dish of sogeum yukhoe. [PARK SANG-MOON]
Zambia is land-locked and therefore hasn’t been influenced much by foreign nations. The long British colonial rule has influenced foods prepared in high-end hotels, but in most Zambian households, traditional foods are cooked.

We have various sorts of wild mushrooms and freshwater fish, with meats including chicken, beef, pork, lamb and goat. There are also a wide range of vegetables, including beans indigenous to Zambia. If I had all of these ingredients here, I’d be able to cook a different Zambian meal every day for an entire month.

Nshima is mainly prepared using maize flour, or mealie-meal. It can also be made out of millet, sorghum or cassava flour. We tend to say that the dish is an “acquired taste”; for first-timers, it may seem bland. It can never be eaten alone, which is why there always has to be a side dish, called umunani in my native Bemba language.

Although many young Zambian wives nowadays tend to use cooking oil, due largely to its convenience, intwilo [groundnut powder] has traditionally been used in most side dishes.

Chibwabwa (pumpkin leaves in peanut sauce)
Chibwabwa (pumpkin leaves in peanut sauce)

Dried kapenta [sardines] and dried meat can be cooked in peanut butter or in cooking oil as a substitute. Salt, tomatoes and onions are incorporated into almost every dish, and various spices from neighboring countries have also been included in many Zambian dishes.

A typical Zambian household does not use cutlery and follows the rules of seniority at the table. The oldest member of a family would uncover the food and serve him or herself the first scoop, followed by the remaining people in the order of age. This custom, however, is changing to some degree, with the youngest members eating first, as families realize they need more food to grow stronger.

What ingredients from your cuisine are easily found in Korea, and what are difficult?

Sogeum yukhoe (salted raw beef)
Sogeum yukhoe (salted raw beef)

I can find all the ingredients, except white maize for nshima, which I tend to purchase directly from my homeland.

What Korean dishes are you most fond of and why?

I like bulgogi [marinated beef], bibimbap [rice mixed with beef, vegetables and red pepper paste] and the various types of kimchi.

We have a few Korean restaurants in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, but I never visited them before. On my next visit home, I shall pay a visit to check if they prepare these three dishes the proper way.

Please give us your personal observations about Korea, how it compares to your home country or other countries in which you have lived.

I never lived outside Zambia for more than a year. South Korea is my family’s first time away from home, so it will always be our reference point.

I find Korea’s spring and autumn comparable to those of Zambia. Summer is a bit too humid and hot here compared to Zambia, and the winter is too cold. My country also doesn’t experience snow. Korea is very mountainous. Parts of Zambia are hilly, but coming from the capital, which is on a plateau, Seoul can seem too steep for me overall.

Korea is a very pleasant country with lots to see and do. I enjoy seeing Korean architecture, and there are artistic elements everywhere I go. Cultural aspects are also seen almost everywhere.

Which place in Seoul do you enjoy visiting the most and why?

I enjoy visiting the Dongdaemun Market in eastern Seoul. I design clothes, so I go there to purchase fabrics. I also enjoy the fashion exhibitions at Dongdaemun Design Plaza, and I often go up the N Seoul Tower in Yongsan District, central Seoul. I’ve visited the landmark three times already with my friends and family, and eaten at the N Grill restaurant.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]