For many travelers, food is the central focus of their journeys. They are often called “foodie travelers,” and enjoy partaking in the various types of food found in the myriad of cultures around the world. How else does one get to take in and savor the culture of a place than through an experience of food that involves all the senses? Hearing the sizzle coming from the kitchen, smelling the aromas of the dishes being prepared, seeing the plates of delightful food being served, tasting the delectable flavors, and in many cases, eating without utensils and reveling in the feeling of picking up one’s food and licking one’s fingers like a delighted child.
The fifteen countries of Southern Africa – Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe – offer a wide variety of delicious dishes for the foodie traveler to enjoy. Today, we explore some of the foods of Angola, Botswana, and the Democratic Republic of Congo
Luanda has a rich cuisine, which draws from both European and African influences. With its coastal location, seafood is extremely popular, with prawns and white fish such as tilapia used in many recipes. Meat is also prized, with chicken, beef and pork most commonly available.
Angola was a Portuguese colony for centuries, so it isn’t surprising that Portuguese cuisine has significantly influenced Angolan cuisine. Funge and pirão are very common dishes, and can be eaten with fish, chicken, and beans. Funge de bombo, more common in northern Angola, is a paste or porridge of cassava (also called manioc or yuca), and is made from cassava flour and has a gelatinous consistency. Pirão, yellow in color and similar to polenta, is made from corn flour and is more common in the south. Fubá is the term for the flour that is used to make either funge or pirão, and is also used to make angu, a Brazilian polenta. Both foods are bland but filling and are often eaten with sauces and juices or with a spicy condiment called gindungo.
Chicken moamba is made with a palm paste, okra, garlic, and palm oil hash or red palm oil sauce, and is often served with rice and funge. Both funge and moamba de galinha have been considered the national dish. A variant dish of moamba de galinha, muamba de ginguba, uses ginguba, a peanut sauce instead of palm paste.
In the countryside, a box of one hundred mangos sells for around 10 dollars. But by the time the fruit has reached Luanda, a single mango can be 5 dollars. This means a basic meal for two people can easily cost around 50 dollars. Local beer remains the exception to the high food prices, with bottles at less than a dollar.
Botswana’s traditional local dishes use sorghum or maize as their basis, prepared as a porridge (bogobe) or pap. This staple is accompanied by servings of meat such as seswaa (a salted stewed beef) or vegetable sauces such as wild spinach or pumpkin.
Other popular local dishes include serobe (made from goat, sheep, or cow lungs and intestines) and recipes which use imported bread-flour such as matemekwane (dumplings) and magwinya, dough balls deep-fried in fat (known as fat cakes).
Melons are popular in Botswana. Local varieties include the lerotse or lekatane and the watermelon. This is believed to stem from the wild tsamma melons of the Kalahari. A wide variety of vegetables and other crops are grown commercially, including beans and groundnuts/peanuts.
Beer is a popular drink in Botswana, with cloudy local varieties fermented from sorghum, maize, millet, and wild fruits or berries. But beware! Some home brews have an extremely high alcohol content.
Democratic Republic of Congo
The staple food in DR Congo is cassava. This root vegetable is often ground into a paste and served with plantains, fish or bushmeat. Grubs and caterpillars are also collected to provide protein. Nuts and fruit are widely grown, and oranges and bananas are the most commonly available fruits.
Congolese meals often consist of a starchy ingredient, along with vegetables and meat in the form of a stew. The starch can come in the form of a paste or mash made of cassava and/or corn flour, called fufu or ugali. When eaten, the fufu is rolled into golf ball-sized balls and dipped into the spicy stew—often an indentation is made with the thumb in order to bring up a thimbleful of sauce.
A type of fermented bread, kwanga, made from cassava, is commercially produced throughout the country. Lituma is a popular plantain dish made from mashed plantains which are formed into balls and baked. Sweet potatoes are prepared in a similar way, and mixed with roasted peanuts in some parts of the country. Rice is often mixed with beans.
To accompany these starchy ingredients, green vegetables such as cassava leaves, tshitekutaku (a spinach-like plant) and okra are often added. Mushrooms, especially prized among the Luba people, are often seen as a substitute for meat in times of shortage. Though actual vegetarianism is unknown, most meals are eaten without meat due to its high price.
Fish are plentiful along the River Congo, its tributaries, and various lakes; and are baked, boiled, or fried for immediate consumption as well as smoked or salted when preserved. Markets often sell ready-to-eat peppered fish baked in banana leaves. Goat is the most widely consumed meat, and Mwambe is a common way of cooking chicken with peanut sauce. Edible insects such as grasshoppers and caterpillars are eaten, which tend to have a nutty flavor.
Sauces to mix with the available ingredients can be made with tomatoes, onions, and local aromatic herbs. Vegetable oil, together with salt, hot red chile pepper, and sweet green pepper are used to impart extra flavor. These spices are less frequently used in the far south.
Palm trees are grown in some parts and their fermented sap is used to make palm wine.
The Regional Tourism Organization of Southern Africa (RETOSA) is a Southern African Development Community (SADC) institution responsible for tourism growth and development. In part, the aims of RETOSA are to increase tourist arrivals to the region through sustainable development initiatives, improved regional competitiveness, and effective destination marketing. The organization works together with Member States’ tourism ministries, tourism boards, and private sector partners. For more information about RETOSA, go to www.retosa.co.za