On a volunteer trip to Africa, Melbourne-based Russell Hunter got hooked on a bottle of local-made chilli sauce. Here, he shares his take on Malawian cuisine, pantry must-haves and who's on dinner duty tonight.
By
April Smallwood

1 Dec 2013 - 4:06 PM  UPDATED 2 Jul 2014 - 3:54 PM

What do you do?

Apart from import chilli sauce, I’m a project management consultant for animal health and bio security projects. That’s my day job, or the job that pays the rent. I’m also a freelance voiceover artist.

 

Is that how you found yourself in Malawi? Because of work?

A good friend of mine was over there working for this sister organisation of the National Rural Poultry Centre. I’ve got a background in animal science and was keen to visit that part of the world and him. I stayed in Malawi for a month.

 

When did you first try the chilli sauce you now import? Which dish were you eating?

I remember it vividly: it was in a small restaurant, essentially a take-away. And the dish definitely wasn’t glamorous, but delicious – grilled chicken and chips! A bottle of Nali Sauce was sitting on the table and I gave it a go. I was hooked.

 

The sauce is made from bird’s eye chillies. How are these harvested?

The chillies are sourced from small-holder farmers who sow, grow and harvest by hand. The majority of producers are women.

 

You’ve said the chilli sauces have a cult following now. What’s your favourite way to use it?

I just marinated chicken breast in it. A little olive oil, the garlic Nali Sauce, a squeeze of lemon juice. Sit it in that for 15-20 minutes and then grill it; the spice tends to reduce but the flavour stays. I like using it mainly as a condiment.

 

Which cuisine do you gravitate towards?

My favourite style of eating is small tables, plastic chairs, roadside-type stuff in South East Asia. You get a fair bit of that around Melbourne, but you have to seek out the quality ones. My tastes are pretty broad; I love everything from the cheap and nasty, to a lovely degustation with matching wines.

 

What’s the food like in Malawi?

Basic. Malawi itself is a landlocked country. Lake Malawi is freshwater and the man fish eaten is bream. But the things served with it aren’t necessarily exciting. So nsima is a bland, cakey thing made of maize meal. In Malawi, the meal used is called ufa; so they grow corn, dry the kernels and bash the living daylights out of it until it becomes flour. There’s also whatever’s on hand, like eggs and a bit of chicken. It’s a very simple cuisine.

 

What’s the lifestyle like?

Something that struck me while in Malawi was how simple things can be. Where I was staying, the power really only worked three days out of seven – if that. So we’d come home at night, sit down and have a beer, and when it got dark, it was bedtime. It was a very simple, natural rhythm to get into.

 

Must-have pantry items?

Chilli sauce is pretty good, cheeky two-minute noodles, pasta and pasta sauces. Oh, and a decent selection of greens. I have a little vegie garden with rocket, lettuce and herbs. I’m waiting for my tomatoes to get going. I’ve usually got something like chocolate or licorice all-sorts. Have a crack at Dutch licorice. It’s salty.

 

What’s for dinner?

I’ve been instructed that I’m in charge of dinner tonight. I believe I’m making fish for my partner and sausages and salad for me.

 

Photography by Anna Turnock of Pixierouge Photography.

 

For every bottle of Nali Sauce sold, $1 will support the National Rural Poultry Centre, which aims to provide effective support of village poultry at the grassroots level.