America has a serious contender among junk food loving people in Namibia. To explain the diversity and quality of snack foods I was told me that these salty snacks were necessitated by having to live in the bush – thus biltong. But the profusion is actually incredible.
Here Frito-Lay is Simba – king of snacks. Potato chips that r-r-roar with Boerwors flavour! There’s also Fruit Chutney, Smoky Beef, Thyme Chicken, as well as the more staid Salt and Vinegar. Oddly, while Namibia is host to the world’s largest population of cheetahs in the world, Chester Cheetah and his dangerously cheesy habits are nowhere to be found. Instead, Simba the lion graces the packages for Cheese Puffs while an anonymous and slightly menacing harlequin clown does duties for Nik-Naks. Nik-Naks are like crack for kids – wrappers are torn open so that the every ounce of Real Cheese Flavour can be enjoyed. Slightly more down market from Nik-Naks are Twiggles whose packages boast a slightly drunk looking dragon and tomato sauce flavor. The demand is such for these puffs that people also make homemade corn puffs that are sold in unmarked body-bag size containers.
Potato chips or “crisps” are popular but nothing compares to “chips,” Namibian French Fries, which usually are eaten with a one liter Pineapple Fanta. People even talk about their “chips money,” which means “small change.” At most service stations you can get boiled eggs, fried fish fillets, fried chicken, different burgers and sausages as well as pies which are made of flaky crust with a savory meat inside. Then there are the various biltongs, from long tubes of droewors to chipped pieces of chili bites.
We also have lots of different chocolate bars. While M&Ms and Crunch bars are available in limited distribution, you’ll likely only find Kit Kat throughout the country. Plus, according to some volunteers “the M&Ms are not the same,” and some have even resorted to getting M&Ms shipped to them. I met a girl during training for the new group that was excited because the M&Ms website made it so she could custom design the colors of a 5lbs bag which she had received in Namibia. She also recited the production dates for the special commemorative peanut butter Halloween M&Ms. She ET’d before swearing-in.
Those with a sweet tooth are not to be disappointed though. There are lots of Cadbury products – even Kinder Eggs, the kind you might only find around Easter at home are available year round here. Another incongruous import are the multitude of Haribo gummy products which you can find most anywhere in the country. The popular PS Bar is a social food, a sort of conversation starter. It’s like those chalky valentines heart candies that say “Fax Me,” except that the wrapper on a PS Bar will pose a question like “True Love?” and the bar inside would have been printed “yes” and “no.” There are a multitude of questions and even allow you to write your own. It’s a pretty successful gimmick and I think it’s ahead of the more boring, static candy you can buy at home.
If you want to have something a little more healthy your options are often limited. Nuts are available most everywhere and you can often find sour milk-based drinks like Oshitaka or Oshikandela which are more filling and at least contain some vitamins. If you can find them Pita Snacks are good – baked pita chips doused in salt and artificial flavoring (basil pesto, sea salt, mediterranean herb etc). There are also different yogurt smoothie drinks you can buy, although I still prefer to open mine by pulling off the cover, whereas traditionally you’d sip it through a hole made in the bottom of the container, kinda like poking a Capri Sun through the bottom. Capri Sun is hard to find here but we do have Barney the dinosaur fruit juice though.
I think you could make a case for studying development based on a country’s snacking habits. First there is a move from basic sustenance to disposable income items like potato chips and french fries. Then there is a shift beyond that to making food choices based on nutrition. When you start seeing healthy snack food that is a sign that people are starting to making decisions about their eating and consumption patterns. However, these choices are complicated by the cost of more healthy snacks. As in America, the most unhealthy choices are also the cheapest calories you can buy. Corn sweeteners and lots of salt (as well as MSG) make them tempting and addictive. You can tell a lot about a country about what its snack aisle looks like. In Namibia it’s still a lot easier to get a potato chip sandwich than a salad but at least things are changing.