Rich in vitamins, salts, and calcium, helps improve children’s intelligenceWazif: meat of the poor and returnees’ gift [Archives:2005/852/Reportage]
By Sa'eed al-Soufi
For the Yemen Times
It is said, according to popular stories, that a man from Sana'a ate wazif (tiny fish), got choked and then kicked the bucket. The parable says that people from Sana'a and Dhamar (I don't know why Dhamar), consequently “demonized” wazif and this is why they don't eat it. What we are going to tackle are stories derived from the Taiz rural area and from Shanini Market which is the pioneering place for selling wazif. Some might laugh at the introduction of such a topic, but we are determined to sail through the sea of laughter if we are going lay our hands on Shanini Market's treasure, wazif.
Wazif's relation to Ramadhan Gun
In the old city of Taiz, namely in Mu'attabiyah and other old neighborhoods, certain families excel in preparing porridge with wazif (luqma bil wazif). Even in Ramadhan, women grind wazif with the traditional grindstones mixing it with spices making wazif fattah and hulbah. Ways of preparing wazif differ from area to area. In some areas, it is prepared with porridge mixed with spices and Indian dates. This type of porridge is called “maridah.” When it is made with wazif mixed with spices and water, porridge is called “kadhabiyah” which is popular in Hujariyah area. Thus, wazif continues to occupy a prominent place among popular meals in Taiz and is on top of the rural meal list with no rival.
Reason behind Taizis' intelligence:
Once, a professor at the Faculty of Medicine, Aden University, said humorously that the reason behind Taizi people's intelligence that exceed others, is their eating wazif voraciously across Taiz districts: Sabir, Jabal Habashi, Shar'ab and Hujariyah areas.
Taiz is ranked first in terms of consuming wazif. However, the rate of buying wazif differs from place to place.
Hamoud Qasim, wazif salesman, and Fahd al-Ameeri, customer, agreed that people from the above mentioned districts are the most wazif-consuming. At times of paucity due to insufficient fishing for wazif at the port of Makha, some traders have to go as far as Shuqrah and Mukalla ports to purchase wazif. They claim that this type of wazif is cheap because of its quality and bad drying process which makes it appear unclean. Besides, locals in those areas do not eat wazif and prefer to give it to animals.
Surveying marketplaces in several areas, we found out that most people avoid wazif, as in Dhamar and Sana'a. In a few of them, wazif was displayed but not that notably. It was only in Shanini market that wazif was displayed very obviously and abundantly as though it was a gold ornament around the market's neck or a aromatic flower that excels famous Paris factory-manufactured perfumes. It is always displayed throughout the market starting from al-Bab al-Kabir and ending at Bab Mosa.
Favorite immigrants' gift
Wazif is of the gifts most preferred by Taizi immigrants. Most of the time their families send them ground wazif with the accompaniment of cheese and honey. There is a positive relation between appetite and wazif. Wazif gets involved even in the emotional relations. The following two humorous lines are said by a woman recalling her husband:
I remembered you as the porridge was served;
And pieces of wazif were being grounded manually.
Makha wazif the best
Makha district with its seashores on the Red Sea remains to be the sole source for wazif. It beefs up Taiz markets with top-quality wazif, according to Shanini wholesalers.
Hamoud Ghaleb Qasim, wholesaler, says: “Makha wazif is the best of its kind in the market. It, and Amran wazif is preferred by consumers because they are clean and delicious. Traders bring wazif from the areas of Makha, Khukha, Bab al-Mandab, Hodeidah, Amran, Shuqra, Mukalla, etc.
Wazif catching season
Fishermen know how to recognize the season for catching wazif. Sa'eed Abdu Salem of Makha says that there are seasons in December, January and February, at the end of winter, when seasonal winds become fiercer for forty days. “Sailors, fishermen and coastal area residents call them the Forty. At such times fishermen cast their nets into the sea and catch large quantities of wazif. In this season, wazif is of a high-quality, unlike other times of the year.”
Salem adds that there are big and small wazifs: the big is called abda'a and is used as food for livestock while the small type is preferred by people.
Wazif drying places
In the district of Makha, rocks scatter along the coast on which wazif is put to dry. The drying duration depends on the whether: in cold temperatures, it takes two months but if it is hot it takes only one month. What affects the quality of wazif is the way of drying it.
Parliament's wazif debate
When wazif production is little, crisis comes to Taiz which considers wazif as one of the most important foodstuffs for a broad class of people especially in the rural areas. Wazif dominates their meals as a replacement for fish and meat whose prices are unaffordable by many citizens. Earlier, poor people used to dream about a piece of meat or fish but now they have a new dream, that is, to get a handful of wazif without which they can tastefully eat nothing. When wazif production is little, its price soars creating a real crisis for people.
Once a number of members of Parliament deliberately discussed wazif through a report on the living conditions (feeding). Their report concluded that, concerning Taiz rural areas, wazif and porridge is the most popular meal over there. They produced that argument to undermine some of their fellow members who said that people's living standard was OK.
Wholesalers say that wazif prices depends on the quantities of the caught wazif. The price in case of availability ranges between YR 3000-4000 per sack, while in paucity prices skyrocket to between YR 20-25 thousand per sack.
A retailer sells a bushel of wazif at YR 80-100. As the prices increase, people cannot dispense with wazif because it is one of their main foods even if the price of a wazif bushel higher than the price of kilogram of meat.
Yonus Thabet from Makbana district says that he would not prefer a kilogram of meat to a bushel of wazif and he has his own reason. “The meat would be consumed in one meal while the wazif bushel would be used over a week or more.” Some of his friends told us that there are people who solely depend on wazif and others diversify their meals but keep wazif present in all of them. “However well-off some people are, they would not give up wazif for the world.”
Fahd al-Ameeri was present at al-Shanini market. He dismounted Sabir mountain into the city of Taiz to procure wazif. When he met us and knew what we were about, he said “I feel happy as wazif's smell overcome me. I feel happier when I get my favorite wazif meal prepared by my mother.”
He expatiates, “My fellow villagers in Sabir district buy wazif in large quantities and always eat it. They call it 'Poor's meat'. It is the main component of any meal. The different ways of preparing wazif have given it a variety of delicious tastes. There are families who prepare wazif in different ways: fried, mixed with other ingredients, stewed, etc. Usually it is mixed with hulba giving it a special taste. Wazif is preferred to be eaten with porridge. They are entwined and are recommended for the sick as appetizers. Some laugh at wazif eaters although it contains useful protein which is crucial for human beings.
Oh, how delicious wazif is?
At al-Shanini, we also met 75-year-old Haj Hassan Ahmed who was examining types of wazif detecting the best to buy. He kept on feeling wazif with his hand. “I have come from Jabal Habashi in order to buy our household needs from al-Shanini most important of which is wazif.” He returned to feel the wazif, eyeing it with fascinated looks. He admitted that he had been consuming wazif throughout his life. “At home, we have a cow which we milk and get butter. Yet, we cannot be independent of wazif.”
Due to the value of wazif, Ameen al-Hubaish of Ibb province, said that people use wazif as food for their animals in order to get large quantities of milk. This also happens in Hadhramout and other places.
In Taiz, pregnant women and breast-feeders are advised to eat wazif. Sa'eed Salem said that locals think that wazif contains useful materials such as proteins which form 75% of it, calcium which builds and enhances bones, vitamins and salts.
Mohammed al-Hamadi, pharmacist, said wazif contains unsaturated fat acids which help treat rheumatism whereas saturated acids leads up to increased blood cholesterol. Scientific studies have showed that wazif helps build children's grey cells, thus improving the level of their intelligence. Researchers also indicate that wazif contains phosphor and iod which are two important elements for human body functions.