Best Local Food To Try On A Trip To Malawi

best food to try in malawi
| 4 min read

Malawi is well known as being “The Warm Heart of Africa” and that statement doesn’t only apply to the hot and sunny weather of this sub-tropical country. Malawian locals themselves are very warm and friendly too. Unlike many other “westernized” African countries, Malawi is Africa in the raw, with its wildlife reserves, tea plantations, gorgeous scenery and beautiful lake. Wherever possible, the locals grow their own maize (sweetcorn), which is either cooked whole over the fire or ground into maize flour. They also cultivate their own fresh vegetables to keep meals affordable, while mixing in meat and fresh Lake Malawi fish, bought at the local markets. Visitors can try out the dishes on the roadside, at the local markets or in a relaxed atmosphere in the restaurants and eateries of Malawi’s cities and towns. Also worth nothing is the fresh bananas and papayas, hawked by vendors in the markets at extremely affordable prices.

Experience Malawi’s charming and smile-filled welcome, while giving their cuisine a taste test or two. Whether it’s the catch of the day from Lake Malawi, a tasty meat and vegetable stew, or a creamy and delicious breakfast porridge, the following are five examples of the traditional food of Malawi, plus an introduction to local alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Each dish should be given a try while on holiday in this landlocked, southeastern Africa destination.

1. Nsima (maize porridge)

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Vicmwafu used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Nsima is the country’s staple food and forms the basis of many meals in Malawi. Made from ground white maize flour, nsima is cooked in a pan and then formed into patties to be served with a variety of different flavors. The flour is sometimes ground by the family using a pestle and mortar, or bought as a mass-produced flour in local shops. The patties are served up with a tasty sauce of meat, fish and vegetables known as “ndiwo.” As can be seen in the photo, patties are often served as a side dish with freshly caught “chambo” (a fish widely caught in Lake Malawi). Alternatively, nsima can be served as a replacement for mashed potatoes with beans and vegetables.

Thomass Restaurant

Address: Cape Maclear, Lake Malawi National Park

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2. Mkhwani – side dish served with nsima

Pumpkin patch
Source: Pixabay

This tasty treat is made by cooking up pumpkin leaves, stewed with tomatoes and ground peanut flour. Mkhwani is a popular relish, often served with nsima and makes the family’s pumpkin crop go that much further, as the leaves can be picked at any time prior to harvest. Mkhwani is also delicious served with rice.

Nthalo Restaurant

Address: Tsoka Road, Pacific Parade, Lilongwe, Malawi

Facebook: Nthalo

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3. Fresh fish dishes in Malawi

Chambo (tilapia) fish, Blantyre market, Malawi
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Michaelphoya used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Lake Malawi (previously Lake Nyasa) is a major source of fish in the country, including the popular chambo – a tilapia fish similar to bream. Usipa is another fish caught in the lake, which is similar to a sardine, while mpasa is similar to salmon. The fish is either fried or cooked over the fire and is served for breakfast, lunch or dinner with the staple nsima. Chambo is particularly delicious fried up with a local Malawian curry spice blend for extra flavor and served with a delicious sauce, with patties of nsima on the side.

Banapana Restaurant

Address: Cape MacClear, Lake Malawi National Park

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4. Mgaiwa Phala or Rice Phala - porridge to start off the day

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Eurritimia used under CC BY 2.0

With maize being the staple food of Malawi, it is not surprising that it pops up in virtually every meal, including breakfast. Malawians like to keep their breakfasts simple, so they start the day with a healthy, satisfying and nourishing dish. Mgaiwa Phala is a smooth and tasty breakfast porridge, cooked using the staple maize flour and usually served with milk and sugar. Cinnamon can be added for extra flavor. To keep things varied, Malawians often cook a Rice Phala, which is basically the same thing, but cooked using rice flour instead.

Chef's Pride Restaurant

Address: Main Street, Rumphi, Malawi

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5. Street food: Mandasi - the Malawian doughnut and Mbatata - a tasty biscuit

Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing

Mandasi is a type of local doughnut, or fat cake, sold in the streets and in the markets by Malawian women to make a little extra cash. Some of the smaller supermarkets also sell the treat. The ingredients are simple - the doughnuts are made with all-purpose wheat flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and egg mixed with water or milk, then dropped into vegetable oil for deep frying. It is also possible to buy ready-made ingredients for mandasi in the local supermarkets for those who don’t want to make the doughnuts from scratch. Another tasty street treat is mbatata - a tasty biscuit made from sweet potato and cinnamon. For those who prefer something more international, visitors will find stalls selling freshly fried potato chips, served in small packets, just like at home.

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6. Malawian drinks with a difference

Everyone loves Chibuku!
Source: Photo by user used under CC BY-ND 2.0

Make sure to include some of the traditional drinks of the country while dining. These include Mawehu, an unsweetened, non-alcoholic drink made from the staple maize. For something with more of a kick, try chibuku, a beer made from fermented maize which is served in a milk carton. The beer has a porridge-like consistency, which takes a little getting used to. Make sure you give it a good shake before imbibing! Alternatively, Kuche Kuche is a lighter and refreshing local beer. Malawi gin is another alcoholic treat, which can be taken with the usual tonic and a slice of fresh lemon. The minimum drinking age in Malawi is 18.

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Sample the warmth and flavor of Malawi

Source: Photo by user Lars Plougmann used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Enjoy a visit to Malawi, whether touring the cities, basking in the sun at Lake Malawi or on safari in the country’s game reserves. But make sure you head out of your hotel at meal times to sample the traditional and delicious food of the country. Your taste buds will thank you! Please bear in mind that while tipping is not obligatory in Malawi, many restaurant employees earn very little, so a few coins would be most welcome.

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Anne Sewell was born in England, but has spent most of her life in Africa - Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa - and now resides on the beautiful Costa del Sol in southern Spain. She loves writing...Read more

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