Sometimes known by the more familiar spelling of mamaliga.
Reconstitute with chicken stock and you’ll have an Italian polenta; use milk and butter and you’ll have a plate of Southern grits; add okra and a side of flying fish and you’ll have coo-coo, the national dish of Barbados.
Almost every culture on the African continent makes an iteration, usually with water, from South Africa’s sugar-topped mealie pap, Eritrea’s spice-and-buttermilk-topped gaat (which can be made with either barley flour or cornmeal), to Cameroon and Ghana’s corn fufu, typically a side dish for stews.
And yet, this isn’t the earliest self-conscious defense of mamaliga I could find.
In 1838’s Travels in the Western Causasus, Vol. II, Edmund Spencer began a description of the mamaliga (though he spells it mamalinga) he encountered in Moldavia (now a part of Romania) by writing, “This dish, which is by no means contemptible, is made from maize flour…”
This tastes a lot better than it sounds. It was a favorite of mine, as a child.
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. cold water
2-1/2 c. boiling water
Mix cornmeal and cold water until smooth. Mix salt with hot water. Add cornmeal mixture slowly to the salt water. Cook for 30 minutes over low heat, stirring.
When cooked, arrange on plates in layers:
- hot cornmeal mush
- melted butter
- sprinkle sugar over buttered mush
- spread sour cream over this
- sprinkle farmer’s cheese on top