Wednesday, May 29, 2024

How to Cook Thobwa


By Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D. Emeritus Professor of Sociology

There are at least 4 traditional non-alcoholic brews that are best consumed using either chipindi or nkhombo traditional Tumbuka containers. These traditional drinks among the Tumbuka people are Mthibi, Zinduku, Thobwa, Chinya, Mtaba, and Moba (beer). All of these traditional brews either use vingoma (maize or corn) or Lupoko (finger millet) when making them.

Vingoma (maize or corn) and Lupoko (finger millet).

The beginning of the making of these traditional brews starts with proper preparation of vingoma or Lupoko. Depending how much of the traditional brew is to be made, certain amounts of maize or lupoko are soaked in water for three days. Exactly what is done with the maize is done with the lupoko. We will just mention the maize since this is what is used when making Thobwa. After soaking or kuzubika for up to 3 days, the water is then drained and thrown away. The moist maize is then spread in a chihengo or a wide flat container. The maize is covered with a wide piece of paper or cloth and placed away in a secluded location may be somewhere in the kitchen or basement. After 3 days the maize will germinate. You then spread the germinated maize on a flat mphasa (mat) or chihengo and dry it in the sun. After the germinated vingoma (maize) or lupoko (finger millet) is dry, grind it into flour using an electric grinder, a pestle and mortar, and if you are in the village you can use a diesel driven hammer mill. This maize or lupoko flower is now called Chilungo.


When I was young growing up in the 1960s in my family, my mother often cooked Thobwa. She served Thobwa as a variation in our family diet and breakfast. We would drink hot Thobwa with bananas or we could just drink it on its own. The Thobwa was cooked with maize mealie meal. This is the whole description of how to cook Thobwa.

64 oz. or 2 liters of water. (2,000 Mls., 16 cups, or 2 quarts)

1 Cup or 8 oz. Roller Mealie meal or mugayiwa.

1 and half cups Chilungo


To make the very important Chilungo ingredient for cooking Thobwa, take 5 cups of maize and put it in a container. Pour water into the container of the maize until the water completely covers all the maize. Put the container away. Let the maize soak in the water for 2 days or 48 hours. After the 2 days, drain all the water away. Put the wet maize in a chihengo basket or a flat container. Spread the maize and cover it with a paper towel. Check the maize at the end of every day to see if it is beginning to germinate. After 2 to 4 days, you should see some small green shoots on the maize.

Take the maize and dry it in the sun for 8 hours in the chihengo basket. You have choices on how to grind the Chilungo. You can use a pestle and mortar to pound and sieve the maize to make the Chilungo flour. You can also use an electric grinder to grind the maize into Chilungo flour.

The Cooking of Thobwa

Pour the 64oz or 2 liters of water into a large pot. Heat the water until it is warm. Pour the 1 cup or 8oz of Roller mealie meal into the pot and stir. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes stirring occasionally to prevent burning at the bottom.

Slowly and thinly sprinkle the one and half cups of Chilungo into the pot stirring continuously to prevent the forming of lumps. After the Chilungo has been thoroughly stirred into the pot, simmer for 25 minutes stirring occasionally to prevent burning at the bottom. Remove the pot and place it on the side to cool down overnight. Do not refrigerate.


The Thobwa in the pot will be cold and very thick in the morning. About 45 minutes before breakfast, place the pot on medium heat to avoid burning at the bottom. Pour 32oz. or 1 liter of water into the pot and stir for 5 minutes. You can add more or less water if you prefer your Thobwa drink to be thicker or thinner. Let the Thobwa simmer to a boil for 20 minutes as you occasionally stir. The hot Thobwa is ready and can serve five people. Adding sugar is optional as the drink should have a natural sweet taste to it. I prefer and enjoy drinking Thobwa without adding sugar. You can drink it at any other time cold or hot as a refreshment.

If the Thobwa is kept in the open at room temperature for 6 days, it will turn into the traditional brew or drink called chinya or mutaba. On the seventh day it will turn into alcohol and become beer or moba.


  1. Dr Mwizenge
    I love your passion about kukaya….I lived in Kanele box 1 way back in the 80s…next pliz write about how to brew Munkhoyo and can you also tell us how Kachasu is brewed plus all the ingredients

  2. Very childish and ignorant author and editor for posting articles that are promoting alcohol abuse by young people. Look at the effects of underage drinking. Look at what that has done to the likes of demented kondwani the youth azzh0le

  3. What! this is a man with a pHD when the country is going through an economic hardship all he can come up with is how to Cook Tobwa. Kwena Ku mwesu fye bwafya. Highly educated but so intoxicated in his brain.

  4. Thank you for sharing the recipe for how to make Zambian non-alcoholic beverage. Prof. Tembo, are there any health benefits to this drink? Could you share them in a future article? It’s important that we embrace our African heritage.

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