Food And Drink In Southern Africa

By West Africa Cooks, 1 November, 2017

The following extract is from the book Southern Africa by Lonely Planet.

The business of eating tends to be all about survival for population and much of the day's activity is associated witl of meals. In a region racked by famine, with many countries not able to consistently produce enough food to feed their own population food is about functionality, not creativity. That said, the variety food for visitors and well-to-do locals is improving all time.

The Basics

An urban setting will usually mean more variety for visitors and the colonial legacy in some countries does mean some intriguing combinations.

South Africa is the best place to eat and certainly has the most variety inheritance of its varied African, European and Asian population. Mozambique, too, blends a variety of influences (African, Indian and Portuguese) into its seafood offerings. In Malawi, eating chambo (fried fish) lake is a for highlight. A favourite for many visitors to Southern Africa is the fruit, and depending on the season you'll find bananas, pineapples, pawpaws (papayas), mangoes) and avocados in plentiful supply.

Cooking the Southern African Way by Kari Cornell. ISBN : #0822512394 includes authentic ethnic foods (even vegetarian ones) from across the region. including a section on holiday and festival food.

Read What Do Zambians Like To Eat?

Staples And Specialities

In parts of Southern Africa, especially in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana, meat features as a staple and anything that can be grilled is - including ostrich, crocodile, warthog and kudu. Meat also features in local celebrations. The braai (barbecue) is a regional obsession.

Takeaway snack food found on the street may include bits of grilled deep-fried potato or cassava chips, roasted corn cobs, boiled eggs, peanuts (called ground nuts locally), biscuits, cakes, fried dough balls (which approximate doughnuts) and miniature green bananas. Prices ways are always dirt cheap (unfortunately, often with the emphasis on dirt).

For something more substantial, but still inexpensive, the most common meal is the regional staple, boiled maize meal, which is called mealie pap in South Africa and Namibia, sadza in Zimbabwe, and nshima in countries further north. In Botswana, the staple is known as bogobe, in which sorghum replaces the maize. When fresh and well cooked, all varieties are both tasty and filling, and are usually eaten with a relish (sauce or stew), which is either very simple (eg boiled vegetable leaves) or something more substantial, such as a stew of beef, fish, beans chicken.

The main meal is at noon, so most cheap eateries are closed in the evening. In the morning you can buy coffee or tea (with or without milk the latter is cheaper) and bread, sometimes with margarine, or maybe slightly sweetened breadlike cake.

Up a notch, and popular with tourists, are traditional meals of mielies cobs of maize) and relish, or Western dishes, such as beef or chicken served with rice or chips (fries). More elaborate options, such as steaks, pies, fish dishes, pasta and something that resembles curry over rice are worth trying for a change.

Most cities also have speciality restaurants serving genuine (or at least pretty close to it) Indian, Thai, Chinese. Lebanese, Mexican or ethnic African (such as Ethiopian or West African) cuisine.

Be aware of the source of your seafood: overfishing and inappropriate fishing methods mean that many species are overexploited and some stocks are running dangerously low. For lists on what to avoid, check out the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) at

Food Etiquette

Most travellers will have the opportunity to share an African meal sometime during their stay, and will normally be given royal treatment and a seat of honour. Although concessions are sometimes made for foreigners, to avoid offence be aware that table manners are probably different to those you're accustomed to. The African staple, maize or sorghum meal, is the centre of nearly every meal. It is normally taken with the right hand from a communal pot, rolled into balls, dipped in some sort of relish - meat. beans or vegetables - and eaten. As in most societies, it is considered impolite to scoff food, or hoard it or be stingy with it. If you do, your host may feel that he or she hasn't provided enough. Similarly. if you can't finish your food. don't worry; the host will be pleased that I have been satisfied. Often, containers of water or home-brew beer may be passed and from person to person. It is not customary to share coffee, tea or bottled soft drinks.

Read What Do Zimbabweans Like To Eat?

Travel Your Tastebuds

If you're not squeamish about watching wildlife during the day and then sampling it the evening, meat lovers can try some (nonendangered) local produce: dishes such as warthog stew. buffalo steak and impala sausages go down a treat. They can be hardto find but wildlife lodges and upmarket restaurants are usually the best bet. In Namibia kudu or gemsbok or even zebra steaks are much easier to find.

Bunny chow is a South African favourite, also popular in Swaziland. It's basically a curry inside a hollowed-out loaf, messy to eat but quite delicious.

African bush tucker varies across the region among Southern Africa's indigenous groups - for example, the San still eat many desert creatures including caterpillar like mopane worms. prepared in many different ways, such as deep-fried, or just eaten raw. These fat suckers are pulled off mopane trees and fried into little delicacies - they're tasty and a good source of protein: Botswana is a good place to find them.

The San eat hoodia, a prickly. cucumber-like plant. to suppress their appetite on long hunting treks - in the West hoodia is used in one of the most popular weight-loss drugs on the market.

Read A Taste Of Africa Glossary

Vegetarians And Vegans

Vegetarianism isn't widely understood in Africa, and many locals think a meal is incomplete unless at least half of it once lived and breathed. That said, nearly all safari lodges can provide vegetarian options with a little advance notice. Elsewhere, if you're not worried about variety or taste finding inexpensive vegetarian options isn't that difficult. In the cheapest places, you may have to stick to the mielies and greens. A step above that would be eggs and chips (which may be fried in animal fat) with whatever vegetables may be available. Those who eat fish should have even more luck, but note that many places will even serve chicken as a vegetarian dish, on the notion that it's not really meat. Nearly all mid-range and upmarket restaurants offer some sort of genuine vegetarian, dish, even if it's just a vegetable omelette or pasta and sauce. In lager cities and towns, a growing number of places specialise in light vegetarian cuisine - especially at lunchtime - and of course, Lebanese, Italian restaurants usually offer various interesting meat-free choices.


You can buy tea and coffee in many places, from top-end hotel restaurants to humble local eating houses.

In bars, hotels and bottle stores you can buy beer and spirit either imported international brands or locally brewed drinks. South Africa and Namibian beers (Windhoek brand is excellent) are available, throughout the region, and in many areas they dominate local markets. Wonderful South African wines are widely available, as is a growing extremely popular spirit coolers.

Traditional beer of the region is made from maize, brewed in the villagers and drunk from communal pots with great ceremony special occasions, and with less ado in everyday situations. This produce known as Chibuku (or shake-shake), is commercially brewed in many countries and sold in large blue paper cartons, or by the bucketful. Its definitely an acquired taste, and it does pack a punch.

Read South African Wines For Your Cellar

Southern Africa Countries

  1. Angola Population: 28.81 million Leader: President Jose Eduardo dos Santos Capital city: Luanda Independence: November 11, 1975 (Portugal) Official language: Portuguese Interesting fact: After 27 years of civil war, there's a shortage of men in the country.
  2. Malawi Population: 18.09 million Leader: President Peter Mutharika Capital city: Lilongwe Independence: July 6, 1964 (United Kingdom) Official language: English Interesting fact: The earliest human settlements in Malawi date back to 50,000 to 60,000 years ago. They were bushmen people, whose rock paintings can still be seen outside the capital of Lilongwe.
  3. Mauritius Population: 1.3 million Leader: President Kailash Purryag Capital city: Port Louis Independence: March 12, 1968 (Unite Kingdom) Official language: No official language Interesting fact: Mauritius boxer Bruno Julie won his country's first Olympic medal by taking the bronze at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
  4. South Africa Population: 55.91 million Leader: President Jacob Zuma Capital city: Pretoria Independence: May 31 1910 (United Kingdom) Official language: No official language Interesting fact: South Africa is responsible for the generation of 2/3 of the continent's electricity.
  5. Swaziland Population: 1.3 million Leader: King Mswati III Capital city: Lobamba Independence: September 6, 1968 (Unite Kingdom) Official language: Swati, English Interesting fact: Swaziland is the last absolute monarchy in Africa.
  6. Zambia Population: 16.59 million Leader: Edgar Lungu Capital city: Lusaka Independence: October 24, 1964 (United Kingdom) Interesting fact: There are 72 language spoken in Zambia, from range of different origins
  7. Namibia Population: 2.4 million Leader: President Hage Geingob Independence: March 21, 1990 (South Africa) Official language: English Interesting fact: Namibia is one of the only two countries in the world that has desert elephants.
  8. Mozambique Population: 28.83 million Leader: President Filipe Nyusi Capital city: Maputo Independence: June 25, 1975 (Portugal) Official language: Portuguese Interesting fact: Half the people in Mozambique are under 17.
  9. Madagascar Population: 24.89 million Leader: President Ameenah Gurib Capital city: Antananarivo Independence: June 26, 1960 (France) Official languages: Malagasy, France Interesting fact: Bare-knuckle fighting is a national sport.
  10. Lesotho Population: 2.2 million Leader: King Letsie III Capital city: Maseru Independence: October 4, 1966 (United Kingdom) Official languages: Sesotho, English Interesting fact: Lesotho has one of the world's smallest roads.
  11. Botswana Population: 2.2 million Leader: President Ian Khama Capital city: Gaborone Independence: September 30, 1966 (United Kingdom) Official languages: English, Tswana Interesting fact: Botswana has the richest diamond mine by value in the world.
  12. Zimbabwe Population: 16.15 million Leader: President Robert Mugabe Capital city: Harare Independence: April 18, 1980 (United Kingdom) Official languages: Zimbabwe has 16 official languages including English, Chewa and Chibarwe Interesting fact: Zimbabwe means 'great house of stones' in the local Chishona language.

Souce: Lonely Planet Southern Africa. ISBN 9781786570413


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