What do People in Malawi eat? A Guide to Malawian Cuisine

The question “What do people in Malawi eat?” is usually one of the first to spring to mind when one is considering travelling to this small, landlocked African nation.

Malawi is very rural country, one in which most people participate in subsistence farming and fishing. As such, western processed foods remain both largely unnecessary to the average Malawian (and pointlessly costly compared to what’s available locally).

What do People in Malawi Eat on a Day to Day Basis?

The Malawian lifestyle—full of manual labour, as is required for farming—has shaped the nation’s dietary preferences; foods are often rich in carbohydrates, meant to provide as much energy as possible for the day’s work. Malawian staple foods include the following:

Maize porridge. Maize is one of Malawi’s most important crops; on a journey around the country, one will sight field after field of maize waving in the breeze. After harvest, maize is typically ground up into flour, which is then used to make Malawi’s most popular dish: Nsima, a thickly-mashed maize porridge dish so relied upon by Malawians that it is not uncommon to see people eating variations of it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Nsima is served with “relish”, known locally as Ndiwo. This element is mostly added just for flavouring, with the starch always being the bulk of the meal. In the poorer regions of Malawi, the relish is usually comprised of only vegetables (typically cassava leaves, sweet potato leaves, bean leaves, pumpkin leaves, cabbage, mustard leaves, rape leaves, or kale leaves), but in the wealthier areas, meat is used (goat meat is popular).

Naturally, give the fact that Malawi sits on the shore of the vast Lake Malawi, fish are also a staple food. Malawi’s food fishes are unique to central Africa and include a small fish similar to whitebait, known as usipa or utaka, and people also consume larger fish, notably asmpasa (a salmon-like fish), batala (butter fish), and kampango (similar to catfish).

Foufou or Foutou, a dish of mashed plantain and cassava root, is also popular in Malawi, as it is throughout most of Africa.

For dessert, Malawians may enjoy the local plain doughnut—mandasi—and they frequently wash their meals down with tea. Tea is one of Malawi’s major crops, so it is consumed regularly and with gusto; Malawian tea is thought to be some of the best in the world.

What do people in Malawi eat

What do People in Malawi Eat When Dining Out?

While day to day cuisine in most Malawian households remains quite traditional, Malawi’s urban centres offer up a great variety of choices when it comes to restaurant cuisine. One may find Asian-infused meals, authentic Italian pasta, and Indian dishes, particularly in Lilongwe. Malawi has a vibrant expat community, many of whom have brought their native foods with them.

If you would like to experience fresh traditional Malawian cuisine, your best bet is to stay at Kumbali Lodge, which includes a 650-hectare working farm; check out what culinary delights are on offer at http://www.kumbalilodge.com/cuisine/. All of the hotel’s meals are made with fresh produce right off the farm, in keeping with what the locals use in their own home cooking.


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