Southern African cuisine varies from effortless and straightforward 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 is a fusion of food from Portuguese influence and the country’s different ethnic groups. These ethnic groups include the Ovimbundu in the centre and south regions, the Bakongo in the north-west area, the Mbundu in the north, and the Chokwe, Lunda and Nganguela peoples in the east.
Cassava and its plant leaves (called kizaca), peanut, maize, corn, yams, sweet potato, plantain, beans and chilli are common ingredients used in Angolan cuisine. Popular protein sources include chicken, seafood, and game meat such as veal, dear, and warthog.
Popular starches include rice, cassava bread and cornmeal porridge called funge. The country’s most famous dish is the mufete de cacuso (also spelt kacusso). The dish 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 signature Angolan dish. Calulu is also popular in São Tomé e Príncipe. It consists of dry and fresh fish, okra, onions, tomatoes, sweet potato and jimboa or spinach. You’ll have it with either rice or funge.
For those with a sweet tooth, cocada amarela is a must-have dessert. Cocada amarela is a 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 of the same name.
Botswana’s cuisine is quite moreish, with beef being very popular, followed by goat meat and fish. The country grows sorghum and maize and imports wheat and rice. Dishes include a variety of fruits and vegetables such as spinach, potatoes, marula fruit, watermelons, cabbage and onions.
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. It’s 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 favourite dish among Tswana communities in South Africa is mogodu or serobe and pap. 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.
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 phane, which is 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 was a British protectorate until 1966, and its location is within the borders of South Africa. As a result, its cuisine is a fusion of South African and British dishes.
Staple ingredients include maize, sorghum, and a variety of vegetables and meat. Basotho cuisine is big on vegetable preservation. Sun-dried vegetables known as mangangajane are used to bring out intense flavours in dishes. Moroho (known as morogo in Botswana) consists of fresh green leaves which are salted, well cooked and served with tripe (also known as mogodu).
A sour porridge made from sorghum called motoho is also quite popular, as well as maqebekoane, which is steamed bread. British culinary imports include the salad, coleslaw.
Malawi has a significant dependence on subsistence farming, resulting in people eating their produce over processed foods.
Maize is one of the country’s essential crops and is used to make the signature staple called nsima. The dish is a thickly-mashed maize porridge.
Fish is another staple since the country sits on the shore of Lake Malawi. People usually pair fish and nsima 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. Other favourite species of fish include Mpasa (Lake Salmon) and Batala (Butterfish).
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.
For dessert, Malawians enjoy mandasi, which are fried doughnuts.
Mozambican cuisine is 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 chilli 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 hot peri-peri sauce. 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 French fries.
Inland cuisine is less varied and consists mainly of maize porridge and meat or vegetable stew. Matapa is a favourite 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 readily available at fruit markets.
Namibian cuisine is quite moreish and varied. It 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, which is available between September and April. Kalahari truffles, which are available in May and June and Luderitz Oysters are also fantastic to indulge in when you’re in the country. 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 one of Namibia’s signature dishes. It is popular among the Afrikaans communities of Namibia and South Africa. It’s a meat-based or chicken-based meal with vegetables that are prepared in a large, black three-legged cast iron pot that is placed on an open fire.
Another shared delicacy with South Africa and Botswana is biltong. 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. These dishes include mutete, which is a spinach and fish dish.
If you’re visiting the township areas, it is a must to enjoy some Namibian street food. Kapana is high on the must-have list. It consists of small pieces of meat served with peppers, onions, chillies and sauces.
South African cuisine is representative of the country’s multi-ethnic society. There are an array of dishes to enjoy, with staple starches being either pap made from maize, potatoes or rice.
A signature dish to have is shisa-nyama. It consists of fire-grilled lamb chops, chicken and boerewors (thick beef sausage). These are served with either pap or bread rolls and chakalaka – a spicy relish made with carrots, green peppers, sliced onion, vinegar and chilli.
When visiting Cape Town, you’ll love the traditional Cape Malay dish called Bobotie. It’s a spicy minced beef or lamb dish made with garlic, turmeric, dried apricots, almonds and sultanas. It is served with rice and a special chutney called blatjang.
Potjiekos is also popular in South Africa as it is in Namibia. It’s a meat-based or chicken-based meal with vegetables that are prepared in a large, black three-legged cast iron pot that is placed on an open fire.
A great traditional Xhosa dish is umphokoqo. It consists of crumbly pap and sour milk. The dish called umngqusho is another mouth-watering Xhosa dish to have. It consists of samp and beans served with beef or chicken stew. Chicken curry is a must-have dish if you love spicy and savoury food. Curries are a culinary heritage of South Africa’s Indian community.
You can’t visit South Africa and not have the country’s signature street food, including the bunny chow, kota, gatsby and amagwinya, also known as vetkoek.
The bunny chow is also a culinary heritage of South Africa’s Indian community. It consists of hot curry filled into hollowed white bread. The kota is a variation of the bunny chow which you’ll find in the country’s townships. It consists of cheese, polony and chips filled into hollowed white bread.
If you’re in Cape Town, your visit won’t be complete without feasting on a gatsby. This sandwich is stacked with fries, masala steak, egg and sausages. It comes with atchar or peri-peri sauce for a spicy touch.
Amagwinya or vetkoek, which are fried balls of dough, are popularly eaten with fillings such as mince, apricot jam or polony.
If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll love the country’s signature desserts, including koeksisters and malva pudding.
Koeksisters are deep-fried and syrup-soaked strips of dough. Malva pudding is a delicious baked pudding that is served with custard or ice-cream.
eSwatini is also another unique African country – its geographical location is within South Africa, with Mozambique on its border.
Swati cuisine consists of staples such as sorghum and maize, and goat meat is eaten during special occasions. Beef and chicken are also widely enjoyed with meals.
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 favourite for special occasions.
Portuguese cuisine is enjoyed in regions close to neighbouring Mozambique, with peri-peri chicken and Mozambican prawns being quite popular.
Fruits are enjoyed as a snack or as dessert. There is a variety of fruits 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. As a breakfast meal, it is made into a thinner consistency and is eaten with sugar. As a lunch and supper meal, it is made into a thicker consistency and is eaten with an array of accompaniments.
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 favourite 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 served 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 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 a maize porridge that is cooked to be soft. It is served as a breakfast meal, with additions of peanut butter, milk or jam for extra flavour.
Other top favourites 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, is often reserved for special occasions. 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.
* 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.