Southern African cuisine varies from simple and effortless to fiery and exotic. It is big on meat, fish and maize, and you are guaranteed to have a delicious and hearty meal when you visit any country in the region.
Here’s a look at the region’s cuisine.
Angola’s cuisine fuses traditional cuisine from the country’s different ethnic groups – the largest groups being the Ovimbundu in the centre and south regions, the Bakongo in the north-west region, the Mbundu in the north, and the Chokwe, Lunda and Nganguela peoples in the east – with Portuguese cuisine as the country is a former Portuguese colony.
Cassava and its plant leaves (called kizaca), peanut, maize, corn, yams, sweet potato, plantain, beans and chili are ingredients that are commonly used in Angolan cuisine, and popular protein sources include chicken and seafood. Hunted game, such as veal, dear and warthog is consumed in some parts of the country.
Popular starches include rice, cassava bread and cornmeal porridge called funge. The country’s most popular dish is the mufete de cacuso (also spelt kacusso), which consists of grilled tilapia, a mildly-spiced onion sauce, stewed palm oil beans and boiled sweet potato, plantain and cassava.
Calulu is a fish stew that is also a popular Angolan dish. Interestingly enough, it is also popular in São Tomé e Príncipe. It consists of dry and fresh fish, okra, onions, tomatoes, sweet potato and jimboa or spinach. It is served with either rice or funge.
For those with a sweet tooth, cocada amarela is a must-have. Cocada amarela is yellow coconut pudding made with sugar, grated coconut, egg yolks and ground cinnamon. It is also popular in Mozambique, and Brazil has a similar dessert called cocada.
Botswana’s cuisine is quite moreish, with beef being very popular, followed by goat meat and fish. Sorghum and maize are mainly grown in the country, and wheat and rice are imported. A wide variety of fruits and vegetables such as spinach, potatoes, marula fruit, watermelons, cabbage and onions are grown and widely used in dishes.
Botswana’s signature dish is seswaa or chotlho, which is a meat stew served over thick polenta (better known in the region as pap). The meat is cooked with onions until it falls off the bone, and then it is shredded and pounded with salt for flavouring. The dish is often served with morogo, which consists of the leaves of the lerotho, thepe, lephutsi, delele and nawa plants. The dish is also popular with the Tswana people of South Africa.
Another popular dish that is also found among Tswana communities in South Africa is mogodu or serobe. The dish consists of the intestines and selected internal parts of a goat, sheep or cow that are cleaned up and cooked together with the trotters, in the case of sheep or goat. It is often served with pap.
For breakfast, maize or sorghum porridge, known as bogobe, is quite popular.
A staple in the rural areas and a delicacy in the cities is a dish known as phane, which are mopane worms. The worms are found on mopane trees after they hatch in summer, and they can be eaten dry, as crunchy as potato chips, or cooked and drenched in sauce.
Lesotho is a unique African country in that it is located within South Africa and it was a British protectorate until 1966. Its cuisine therefore features South African and British culinary practices.
Staple ingredients include maize, sorghum, a variety of vegetables including beetroot and carrots, chicken, beef and goat meat.
Basotho cuisine is big on vegetable preservation. Sun dried vegetables known as mangangajane are used to bring out intense flavours in dishes. Moroho (which is morogo in Botswana) consists of fresh green leaves which are salted and cooked well, and can be served with tripe (known as mogodu).
A sour porridge made from sorghum called motoho is also quite popular, as well as maqebekoane , which is steamed bread. South African and British culinary imports include beetroot salad and coleslaw.
Malawi is mostly rural with a dependence on subsistence farming, and as such, processed foods aren’t widely available.
Maize is one of the country’s important crops, and is used to make the country’s most popular dish called nsima, which is a thickly-mashed maize porridge dish that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch and supper.
Given the fact that the country sits on the shore of Lake Malawi, fish is also the country’s staple food. Fish and nsima are usually eaten with a vegetable relish called ndiwo. The relish consists of cassava leaves, sweet potato leaves, bean leaves, pumpkin leaves, Chinese cabbage, mustard leaves, kale leaves and cabbage. Popular fish include usipa and utaka, which are small fish similar to whitebait. Larger species of fish such as mpasa (lake salmon) and batala (butter fish) are sometimes eaten.
Foufou, which is widely popular in West Africa, is loved by Malawians. The country’s version of foufou consists of mashed plantain and cassava root.
And for dessert, Malawians enjoy mandasi, which are fried doughnuts that are frequently sold in markets.
Mozambican cuisine is known in Southern Africa to be spicy and flavoursome, fusing traditional cuisine and the spicy flavours from Portuguese and Arab cuisine. Dishes are often characterized by a hot peri-peri flavour, which is created by using chili peppers, garlic and lemons.
Dishes revolve around fresh seafood due to its abundance and affordability, and the country is popularly known for its prawns. They are grilled or fried and spiced with a fiery peri-peri sauce, and are served with either French fries or rice. A local dish that has no Portuguese influence is a seafood stew called Matata. It is made with clams in a peanut sauce.
Mozambique’s famous peri-peri chicken will surely set your taste buds on fire with its flavoursome and spicy taste. The dish consists of chicken marinated in lemon juice, garlic and peri-peri sauce, and is usually eaten with French fries.
Inland cuisine is less varied, and consists mainly of a maize porridge and meat or vegetable stew. Matapa is a tasty and popular traditional dish that is made from stewed cassava leaves, ground peanuts, garlic and coconut milk, and is served either on its own or with rice.
Dessert mainly consists of tropical fruit such as mangoes, coconuts and papayas, which are easily available at fruit markets.
Namibian cuisine is quite moreish and varied, and fuses the flavours of the country’s various indigenous tribes, such as the Herero and Ovambo, with German cuisine as the country is a former German colony.
When visiting Namibia, it is a must to try the Swakopmund green asparagus, available between September and April, the Kalahari truffles, available in May and June and the Luderitz Oysters, which are available all year round. Large fleshy mushrooms called omajowa are popular and unique to Namibia. They grow at the foot of termite hills north of Okahandja shortly after the February rains.
Potjiekos is widely popular in Namibia, and also among the Afrikaans communities of South Africa. It is a meat-based or chicken-based dish with vegetables, and it is cooked in a large, black three-legged cast iron pot that is placed on an open fire.
Another shared delicacy with South Africa is biltong, which is mainly eaten as a snack. Biltong is dried meat which is first marinated and spiced before being hung to dry for at least 21 days. Meat chosen can be anything from beef to game meat such as kudu and gemsbok.
Pap made from maize or millet is a staple starch that accompanies most dishes. It is popularly paired with mutete, which is a spinach and fish dish.
If you’re visiting the township areas, it is a must to have kapana, which is a popular street food. It consists of small pieces of meat served with peppers, onions, chilies and sauces.
South African cuisine is representative of the country’s diverse multi-ethnic society. There are arrays of dishes across the country, with staple starches being either pap made from maize, potatoes or rice.
Meat is popular throughout the country, and a must-have dish is shisa-nyama, which consists of fire-grilled lamb chops, chicken and boerewors (thick beef sausage) served with either pap or bread rolls and a spicy relish made with carrots, green peppers, sliced onion, vinegar and chilli called chakalaka.
When visiting Cape Town, you’ll love the traditional Cape Malay dish called bobotie. It’s a spicy mince beef or lamb dish made with garlic, turmeric, dried apricots, almonds and sultanas. It is served with rice and a special chutney called blatjang.
Other traditional dishes include potjie kos, which is meat or chicken that is cooked with vegetables in a three-legged cast iron pot on an open fire, umphokoqo, which is a traditional Xhosa dish consisting of crumbly pap and sour milk, umngqusho, which is samp and beans that are often served with beef or chicken stew, and chicken curry, made popular by South Africa’s Indian community.
Popular street food include the bunny chow or kota, which consists of hollowed bread that is filled with hot curry. Other variations include filling the bread with fried chips, cheese and sausage. Gatsbys are also popularly eaten as street food. They are sandwiches that are stacked with fries, masala steak, egg and russian sausage, and are accompanied by atchar or peri-peri sauce. Amagwinya or vetkoek, which are fried balls of dough, are popularly eaten with fillings such as mince, apricot jam or polony.
Popular desserts include koeksisters, which are deep fried and syrup-soaked strips of dough, and malva pudding, which is baked pudding with toffee sauce that is usually served with custard or ice-cream.
Swaziland is also another unique African country due to its geographical location within South Africa and on the border with Mozambique.
Swati cuisine consists of staples such as sorghum and maize, and goat meat is popularly eaten during special occasions. Beef and chicken is also widely eaten.
Tripe is a dish mainly reserved for special occasions such as weddings. It consists of the intestines and selected internal parts of a goat or cow that are cleaned up and cooked and served with pap. Chicken gizzards are another popular dish for special occasions.
Portuguese cuisine is enjoyed in regions close to neighbouring Mozambique, with peri-peri chicken and Mozambican prawns being quite popular.
Fruit is eaten as a snack or for dessert, and there are a number of fruit to choose from including mango, guava and paw-paw.
Zambian cuisine is dynamic and hearty, fusing traditional dishes with European, Indian and Asian influences.
As with most countries in Southern Africa, maize porridge called nshima is a popular staple and can be eaten for breakfast, lunch and supper. For breakfast, it is made into a thinner consistency and is eaten with sugar, and for lunch and supper, it is made into a thicker consistency to accompany a myriad of dishes.
A popular relish eaten with nshima is ndiwo, which can be made with fish, meat, poultry or vegetables. A popular version of ndiwo is called kapenta, and consists of dried Tanganyika sardines that are salted and fried with onions and tomatoes. Another popular dish is ifisashi, which consists of green vegetables in peanut sauce.
The Tumbuka community in the eastern part of the country eats mice as a special delicacy. The mice are gutted, boiled, salted, and are then fire-dried and served with nshima. The dish is often given to guests or highly respected people.
Tilapia is also quite popular in Zambian cuisine. It is grilled and served with greens in peanut sauce.
Zimbabwean cuisine is best described as moreish, and it is influenced by British cuisine as the country is a former British colony.
Maize is the country’s staple food, and as a result, popular dishes include sadza, which is known as pap or nshima across Southern Africa. It is thickened maize porridge that can be eaten with any meat dish or soup. Bota is maize porridge that is cooked to be soft. It is usually eaten for breakfast, and peanut butter, milk or jam can be added to it for extra flavour.
Other popular dishes include dovi, which is a peanut butter stew made with chicken and vegetables, and nhedzi, which is a soup made with wild mushrooms.
Game meat, such as kudu and springbok, are often reserved for special occasions, and expensive restaurants sometimes include exotic meats such as crocodile tail and impala shoulder on their menus.
Mopane worms, which are found on mopane trees after they hatch in summer, are popularly eaten as snacks, and can be found at open-air markets.
You will definitely have an awesome culinary experience when visiting any of these Southern African countries 🙂
*images from lindaparadeus, 196Flavors, Cooked Earth Blog, Zimbo Kitchen, Imgrum, Dose By Dose, Africa.com, Home-Dzine, Meat Snacks Group, EatOut, Flickr, Epicurious, African Bites, Lusaka Times, and AFK Travel.