Sunday, February 26, 2012

Food and drink in Malawi

I promised a post about the foods and beverages of Malawi, and here it is. First, let's cover the basics:

Chicken. Chicken is definitely the staple meat here, in all its varieties. Roasted chicken. Stewed chicken. Piri-piri chicken. "Southern fried" chicken. Just around work, there's a former Nando's (now called "The Grill House", but serving a strikingly-similar menu...), Galito's (more piri-piri chicken), "Luv Dat Chicken" (KFC-esque), and I'm certain several others that I'm missing. And those are just the North American-style fast food joints - there are several local takeaway places that serve similar menus of chicken + chips/nsima/rice. I see goat and beef on menus, too, but chicken is easily the most prominent. 
Chicken and nsima from Summer Park restaurant, Lilongwe
Nsima. Not by itself, of course (that would be like saying you need to try rice while in China), but it's a great vehicle for chicken and leafy greens (the most commonly served accompaniments). Nsima is similar in appearance and consistency to slightly solidified mashed potatoes (it's solid enough that you can rip pieces off and pick things up with it), and by itself, is mostly tasteless. I'm fond of eating it with stews, so I have something to dip it in (much as I enjoy Indian naan or Ethiopian injera), but others will eat it accompanying grilled chicken or steak. I've discovered a great place to get it right by work (cheap, too: 450 kwacha, or just over 2.50$, for the smallest portion, pictured here). Now I just need to figure out how to reproduce the chicken stew in vegetarian fashion!

Ok, so you could have read about those two things in any Malawi guidebook - they're the traditional staples. (If you're feeling really scholarly, you might take a look at this article, which goes into far more depth about nshima and its place in Zambian culture). 

Here are some other, less-anticipated, aspects of food and drink that I'd like to highlight:

Sobo. Sobo (Southern Bottlers Limited) is a Malawian producer of soft drinks and bottled water. They produce two flavours of soda: "Cocopina", which is an orangey-yellow and tastes like a very sweet pina colada, and "Cherry Plum", which is dark purple and reminds me somewhat of cherry coke. I personally prefer the Cherry Plum.

Pizza. It truly is universal. I've eaten at Pizza Huts in Beijing, St. Petersburg, and London. Sadly, Malawi lacks a franchise to add to my list, but there are plenty of other options: almost every takeaway joint that serves chicken also serves pizza. There are also dedicated pizza places, like "Pizza Inn", which does a large (closer to a Canadian medium) for 16$. They have a 2-for-1 special on Tuesdays, which makes the prices more reasonable but requires me to find a partner or be a glutton. The place with the 2.50$ chicken stew & nsima does a $4.50 small pizza, so one of these days, I'll try that out.

Halaal. Everything is halaal. Every butcher shop I see advertises itself as halaal, and instead of bacon, restaurants serve "macon" (despite my initial hopes that this was some sort of vegetarian bacon substitute, it's actually mutton-based bacon, for those who won't eat pork). Although the number of Muslims in Malawi hovers around 13% of the population (Canada is only at 2-3%), I think the halaal-friendliness may be catering more to the restaurant owners (at least one place has flyers for a local mosque on its counter) than to local population pressure. Still, much like the Chinese influence, the Muslim influence wasn't one I expected to see so much of out here.

Soy mince. It's super, in fact. Says so right on the box. This is by far the cheapest and easiest vegetarian option here. 300 kwacha gets you this box, which, rehydrated, turns into 4+ portions of ground "meat". Sadly, veggie ground not something I cook with a lot back in Canada, so I'm out of my element on this one. I may yet develop a taste for Hamburger Helper before leaving. 

Weet-bix. I bought a box of this because it was one of two cereals I saw in pretty much every store here (the other being Corn Flakes). I don't care what Australian marketing says: Weet-bix tastes like cardboard. I thought I had found something with my Weet-bix + milk + sugar + raisins combo, but I went to have it yesterday morning and discovered that the milk I'd bought last Friday had already gone bad. I ate a handful of raisins instead (bitter, bitter raisins).  

Indian and Chinese food. While the food is certainly good, I bring this up for a different reason. There is a significant Indian population in Malawi, probably as a result of the British colonial influence. The old is rapidly making way to the new, though, and China is becoming a big player here. Even the Indian restaurant near work is now offering a Chinese food menu!

Ceres fruit juice.
 I used to consume a lot of this stuff when I lived in Toronto. Then I stopped, because it was kind of expensive. Lo and behold, being a South African brand, it's everywhere here, and more reasonably priced. 

Pineapple, passion, orange, and exotic.
Fanta. There's a multitude of excellent flavours here. Orange Fanta (the variety which tastes just like orange Crush, not the weird and tasty Polish kind you'll find in unexpected places in Montreal) is the most commonly found, but I've also tried pineapple Fanta, some sort of reddish-pink "exotic" Fanta (no clue what fruit it's supposed to be, but it's quite good, if a touch too sweet for my tastes), and passion fruit Fanta (probably my favourite of the bunch). Semi-scientific studies have even confirmed that Malawian Fanta is the best Fanta in the world, so, just saying, I've got it pretty good out here Fanta-wise...

Fresh food. Fresh fruits, veggies, and nuts are everywhere. Not just in the local markets, but also on roadsides (even in the middle of the city), where people will sit selling everything from bananas to shoes. There were even mangos in the backyard a few months ago, but I've apparently missed the actual mango season. (I still see them everywhere, and at 20 kwacha each, they're a tremendously good deal by Canadian standards.)

Wine and cheese. I was greatly amused to see Shoprite, one of the big Western-style grocery stores, advertising in the local tourism booklet that they had everything you needed to host a wine and cheese night. I can't comment on their wine selection, as I am no connoisseur, but they probably do have the best selection of cheese in town. A few days ago, this approximately consisted of 2-3 bries, a blue cheese, one variety of edam, and a nameless orange cheese that's on sale every time I go. (You're all invited to come to Fromagerie Hamel with me on my first day back in Montreal and watch in amusement as I stand there for an hour, frozen with indecision, overcome with emotion).

Goat. There are an awful lot of goats in the countryside, though I was disappointed that this doesn't seem to have translated into goat cheese, goat milk, or goat 'gurt on store shelves. I don't like the idea of people eating goats, but I have to include it on my list so that I can round out my post with this cute fellow:

Now, lest everyone think it's all Fanta and curry down here, I should say that your options can be quite varied if you're willing to spend. Shoprite stocks a lot of ex-pat groceries, some acceptably priced (brick of cheddar, 7$), others outrageous (can of refried beans, 7$). For restaurants, I've mentioned Indian and Chinese (of which there are several), but I also know of at least 2 upscale Italian restaurants, a steakhouse, and several bistro-esque places serving things like sandwiches, burgers, fancy salads, etc. There's also a fast food place by work called Papaya that always seems full of ex-pats, and they serve a varied menu of wraps and sandwiches (500-650 kwacha / 3-4$), quesadillas and nachos (1000 kwacha / 6$), etc. 

I'm happy with curry. :D


  1. "Pineapple, passion, orange, and exotic."

    Too exotic to name!

  2. Hi

    Enjoyed reading.Its good.

  3. Cocopina or Cherry Plum... it's a tough choice!

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