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Emerging from lockdown at Amanzi Farmers Market.

IN Melbourne, the food capital of the world, life is slowly returning to normal. On 2 June, after more than two months under coronavirus lockdown, restaurants and bars opened once again to sit-down customers. With interiors scrubbed clean and sanitised, customers can now be seated at every second table, social-distancing protocols observed.

Soup and salad to go from The Food Company.

In Harare, however, quietly optimistic restaurant owners still await permission to welcome sit-in patrons, in addition to providing take-out meals for collection or delivery. While the Ministry of Tourism is supportive of their proposals, approval must come from the national Covid-19 task force. In the mean time, many workers have been furloughed or laid off, and some restaurants, unable to pay rentals or cover running expenses, are unlikely to re-open once restrictions are lifted.

In Zimbabwe, a national lockdown was announced on 30 March. This was eased slightly on 16 May, and although Zimbabwe remains on level 2 of the coronavirus lockdown, it was recently announced that open markets and the informal sector could resume operations. Churches may reopen, with a congregation limited to 50 people. Being able to earn a living should enable many people to put food on the table once again, and the spiritual guidance provided by the Church will go some way to reducing the anxiety and depression felt by many since the lockdown.

Emerging from lockdown comes with its own difficulties, as we adjust to the new normal and learn to accept different social practices. The double air kiss, the bear hug and even the hand shake must now give way to the elbow bump, the foot shake, or a respectful namaste. The deep bow practised by the Japanese can signify hello, welcome or an apology, and requires no contact. Abandoning the touchy-feely embrace will seem hard, especially when meeting up with a close friend you haven’t seen for some months.

Last week I made my first visit since lockdown to the Farmers Market at Amanzi. Having gone bra-less for almost three months, it seemed unnatural to dress formally and to exchange my Stompies for a pair of shoes. Carried away by the moment, I applied full makeup and bright red lipstick, although most of this would be hidden by a face mask.

Driving a car also seemed like a novel experience, and en route there were more changes to reckon with. The Wild Himalayan Cherry trees on the roadside had flowered and gone over in my absence during lockdown, while Lucky Bean trees and Bauhinias were suddenly in full bloom. I passed by two adjacent and previously rundown properties, both now hives of activity with builders, piles of sand, stacks of bricks and even signs of tasteful landscape gardening.

At the Farmers Market everyone wore a mask, and kept a careful social distance while queueing for fresh vegetables and other delicious produce. At one stall I bought a large bunch of bananas, avocado pears and several handfuls of derere (okra). At another stall I found pearly white leeks, several types of freshly-picked lettuce and free range eggs. Nuts, pulses, spices and grains, now luxury items, were also on sale.

I knew that in my kitchen I could roast the derere Ottolenghi-style to tender crunchiness and that the eggs would make a great frittata to serve with a lettuce and avo salad. But lockdown lunches and enforced domesticity had taken its toll, and I wanted food I hadn’t cooked myself. So I joined a queue at the Food Company, where an eclectic range of mouthwatering soups, salads, dips and crisp breads were on sale. Grilled aubergine rolls stuffed with ricotta cheese, attractively packaged on a bed of rocket, looked good, but I finally chose a carton of chicken and coriander soup to take home.

Before leaving the market, buy a flavoursome cappuccino to go from Amanzi’s barista, and find a table in the garden where you can relax and catch up with friends and all the latest news.

This is probably the closest we’ll get to what going out for coffee used to look like. Even so, it was a lot of fun, and a practice run for what to expect when restaurants eventually re-open.  A Matter of Taste  with Charlotte Malakoff

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