Food & Cuisine in Malawi
Food in Malawi, as in most sub-Saharan African countries, generally offers a fairly restrictive diet with standard meals consisting of sausage, chicken, goat and omelette, more often than not accompanied by either chips or salad. However, in the main cities restaurants cater for both the middle and higher end Malawian and expat populations and offer a wide range of international cuisine including Chinese, Indian, French, Italian and Western menus, so most travellers should be able to find a decent menu to suit their taste.
Major cities in Malawi like Blantyre and Lilongwe offer good food and a choice of neat restaurants, cosy cafes and bars.
Our Malawi Restaurant Guide tells you all about the local food and cuisine, as well as some recommended places to find a great meal and for taking a break from a long day of touring or shopping in Malawi.
Food & Cuisine in Malawi
Basic restaurants in Malawi are found along many major routes and trading centres with local dishes at the top of the menu. Nsima is the major Malawian local dish, made from either maize or cassava and usually eaten together with cabbage, beans and occasionally fish, goat or beef. Prepared from a mixture of the maize or cassava flour and water the powdered Nsima is congealed together until it becomes similar to a mashed potato like consistency and eaten with the fingers.
Lake Malawi is a great source of a variety of fresh fish. Fish is also caught from the many streams in the country. Excellent fresh fish preparations and barbecues are available especially in areas near the lake. Chambo fish (Tilapia) is a great favourite with everyone and is a must try for all visitors.
Malawi is a strong agricultural country with over 80% of the population living from the land, so visitors will find fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables sold in most local markets and along all major roads. Apart from the local markets in Malawi, other products such as Mandasi (fritters), Thobwa (a local drink), mphalabungu (Caterpillars), mice, birds and chicken feet are also sold along major routes serving as snacks for the passing trade or brave visitors.
Meat is typically displayed in open air stalls, the live product usually tied to the slaughter block to keep it fresh before an order is received. Although not for the faint hearted, fresh goat, beef and chicken can be bought straight from the carcass and can provide some delicious local meals.
Traditionally, men take food before both women and children, signifying their status in the family, while the biggest share and the best parts of the meat are given to the man as the strongest member of the unit. A visit to a rural community to enjoy a traditional African meal is a rare opportunity to experience an authentic taste of local food and conventional eating habits. The Malawian culture is remarkably welcoming and respectful towards their visitors with any guest served before family and given the best share of the meal. This is a great honour and as in many developing cultures often seen as disrespectful to turn down any offer of food and water, valuable resources within many local communities with most food painstakingly grown, gathered and prepared with great attention and effort.
Drinking tap water is not advisable. It is best to boil water before drinking or opt for bottled water. Bottled water and soft drinks are sold everywhere.
Alcohol is cheap and widely available. Carlsberg beers (known as Greens) are commonly found (Carlsberg has a brewery in Blantyre) as are South African wines. Malawi gin and tonic is famous and is inexpensive.