Sudan: The Tukul - Rural Sudan's Traditional Kitchen
Khartoum — The Sudanese tukul (or traditional kitchen) is not just an enclosure or building for cooking food. It is a world in its own right that teems with life, culture and tradition. That is because food, its components and its traditions of preparation and consumption are part of the identities of peoples. It is a culture that reflects the psychology of the concerned community and its socio-economic fabric.
The tukul described in this manner is a favorite place for family gatherings, females in particular. It is traditionally where the women belong and spend much of their time. And when women grow up and become mothers and grandmothers it still remains to be their favorite place. Youngsters returning from an outing head directly to the tukul because there they would find the caring grandmother with her helpful food handouts and heartfelt and amusing speeches.
Elder women prefer the tukul for the afternoon nap and for preparing and taking coffee.
But male family members are culturally discouraged to stay long in the tukul and are encouraged to stay where they naturally belong: in the fields or after livestock. Says a popular female folk song: My sons are for wide spaces, not for tukuls.
Sudan is very rich in different cuisines and the tukul is Sudan's factory of delicious and unique meals.
The tukul was the word widely used for kitchen in the Sudanese vernacular until very recently .The word is believed to have its roots in the ancient language of Nubia and is thought to be a combination of the segments /t/ and /kul/ that refer to a call for food.
The tukuls take different structures as one travels around the country. They are also different in the foods cooked inside them, depending on what types of crops the community grows, what animals it rears and what local cooking utensils it uses.
The Nubian Tukul:
The Nubian cooking place (called di wisha) follows the design of the Nubian home architecture and, in addition to its being a fire place, it is also a silo for storing cereals (sorghum, wheat and beans) usually cultivated on the banks of the River Nile.
The Nubian di wisha is divided into two chambers: The upper chamber, reached through a brief staircase, is used to stockpile cereals in big clay jars.
Down below this chamber is the place where food is cooked. This part accommodates the kitchenware arranged on a big wooden stand. The utensils in frequent use are kept clean on a smaller stand. At this lower part three big stones are laid upon which the cooking pot is put. Firewood is lit beneath to cook the food. The cooking pot is named ' the dokan nari ' in the language of Nubians. Out of the top of the tukul sticks a chimney to let smoke away.
A heavy metal sheet is used to bake ghorrasa, which is Nubia's primary bread. This metal sheet is called 'saj' and it is a basic component of the Nubian tukul. The ghorrasa is baked from wheat flour and is usually a thick frame. But, according to need, Nubian women sometimes bake thinner forms of ghorrasa.
The Nubian cuisine is superbly cooked and tastes quite appetizing and this could explain why Nubians are reputable cooks in Sudan and abroad particularly in the Gulf states.
Tirkeen , a type of fermented fish, is one of Nubia's favorite meals. A quantity of tirkeen is cooked with tomato, groundnut paste and garlic and is taken with ghorrasa bread for breakfast. This meal has now become well known in many parts of Sudan. For a tirkeen meal all the family would assemble together. They eat it with onion and pepper. This rich tirkeen meal can suffice a person throughout daytime.
Ghorrasa is also taken with meat and vegetable soups of sorts. The thinner form of ghorrasa (the salabia) is taken with sugared curdle milk, honey and butter.
In Western Sudan the tukul is called 'kozi' and is usually built at a distant corner of the house. It is one big room containing a four-supports wooden stand known as 'the darangal' which is used to store millet, the staple food of Western Sudanese. We also find the 'ladayat' which are big pieces of rock between which firewood is lit for cooking. The main diet is millet porridge and is taken hot with cooked vegetables or milk.
Down from the roof dangles a three-string leather- roped container (mashlaeeb) used to keep food in open air and out of the reach of animals and pests.
We can also see the 'bukhsa' which is a big calabash fruit used to prepare sour milk and to keep flour, milk and water.
The 'kajaik', a sort of dried fish, is also a favorite meal in the West. It is cooked with dried mallow and fried onion and is taken with hot porridge.
The 'kawal' , a rain-fed vegetable is also a savory meal there. Kawal leaves are picked, crushed, put in a clay pot and buried in the ground to ferment and become ready for consumption. It is then cooked with onion and tomato .
'Um jingir ' is a famous Western Sudanese dessert. It is made of millet, milk and sugar. Western Sudanese favor soft drinks made from their local produce of aradaib, tabaldi and hibiscus.
Eastern Sudanese communities are infatuated with coffee , or 'jabana' as they call it. The main feature of Eastern Sudan's tukul is coffee utensils.
The 'gallaya', or coffee burning pan, is a cylindrical aluminum pot with a handle which is used to stir coffee grains until they fry under the glowing charcoal below. Then the coffee is grinded in a wooden or metal grinder using a heavy metal rod called yad (or hand). Also we have the 'sharagrag', a sort of kettle in which coffee particles are boiled in water, filtered in a clay pot known as the 'jabana' and then served.
Easterners carry coffee utensils and components wherever they travel. Goes the Eastern Sudanese famous song in praise of coffee and the pretty lady that serves it: A coffee cup from her hand is worth a lifetime. Women like coffee sittings with their merry chats and the songs that glorify coffee.
Another feature of the Eastern Sudanese tukul is the 'murhaka ' which is a large flat stone on which cereals are grinded with a small ball-like stone to obtain flour.
Eastern Sudanese depend heavily on sorghum or wheat porridge taken with sugared curdle milk or butter.
Central Sudan , Khartoum in particular, has gradually become the target of immigrants escaping war and drought in outlying areas and in search of jobs and services. This exodus to the Capital and other urban areas has led the public to become familiar with different communities' foods through hand outs among neighbours or through restaurants. By the result, the Darfur menu , the East's steak and the North's ghorrasa have become popular among all Sudanese.
The 'kisra' (sorghum bread) taken with okra (lady fingers) soup has become a popular dish everywhere. Dried and grinded okra is cooked with meat to produce this soup.
Kisra is also taken with fresh okra and mallow cooked with meat (fresh or dried). The aseeda ( porridge) is baked from fermented sorghum or millet flour and served with okra soup or a mix of okra and curdle milk.
The waikab is another popular dish of Central Sudan. Dried sorghum stalks are burned , soaked in water and cooked with beans and okra. The waikab is taken with kisra or porridge.
The Sudanese kitchen was also largely influenced by the Turkish rule (1821-1885). Sudan's food table has borrowed steaks , kufta and some confectioneries from the Turkish cuisine.
The list of homegrown confectioneries includes date gruel which is prepared from dates, wheat flour, sugar and oil. Another traditional confectionery is the pancake which is made from wheat flour fried in oil. Hilba porridge is made of wheat flour, milk and sugar
mixed with boiled hilba (fenugreek). This porridge is thought to be helpful for lactating women as it is believed to stimulate the production of milk for the newborns.
Sudan's most popular soft drinks are lemon juice, hibiscus and tabaldi fruit emulsions.
Tukul structures and utensils are nearly the same in many parts of Sudan. The Sudanese tukul usually contains a stove made of iron sheets where food is cooked and bread (ghorrasa and kisra) are baked. Stoves vary in size according to need.
The mufraka , a sort of food mixer, is also very common everywhere in the country. The mufraka is made of a wooden stick with a horizontal wooden bar at the head. It is used to stir vegetables to liquefy them.
The mu'raka is also a common feature of the Sudanese kitchen. The mu'raka is a cloth rag soaked in grease with which the bread stove (saj) is whipped to ease the removal of kisra and ghorrasa breads from the stove surface once they are fully cooked. For future use the mu'raka is kept away from dust and insects in a special container .
With the mu'raka we also find the gragareeba which is a sheet made from palm or dom leaves used to stretch sorghum or wheat dough on the stove (saj) surface.
Like the mu'raka , the tayoug (or animal marrow) is used to grease the saj surface to prevent burning and ease bread removal once it is finally baked.
The raika is a big tray woven from palm or dom leaves to keep kisra and ghorrasa fresh. Sudanese women produce very colorful raikas. Small raika designs are also used to cover food from dust and flies .
The banbar , a wooden or metal stool is available in every Sudanese kitchen. Women sit on it while preparing meals. Family members also sit on banbars to take their food or drink tea or coffee.
Different sizes of clay pots (jars) are used to keep water to cool , store cereals or ferment sorghum flour.