What is it Like to Eat in Malawi?

Learn about common Malawian foods, and even try out cooking a Malawian dessert for yourself!

The Malawian economy is primarily based on agriculture, with many Malawians living as subsistence farmers. This means that families rely primarily on their own crop yields to feed themselves. The foods they eat are full of carbohydrates, meant to provide plenty of the energy required to farm.

Maize is one of Malawi’s most popular crops. Once it is harvested, it is ground into flour, which is then made into Malawi’s most popular dish: Nsima. Nsima is a thick maize porridge that most Malawians eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is usually served with a relish type dish known locally as Ndiwo. Relish is a  Ndiwo  is used as a flavoring for the Nsima. In poorer communities, ndiwo is only comprised of either cabbage or vegetable leaves like that of cassava, sweet potato, bean, pumpkin,, mustard, or kale. In wealthier communities, Nsima is paired with meat, typically goat.

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With Malawi sitting on the shore of Lake Malawi, other staple foods include fish, some of which are only found in this  central part of Africa. Some examples include Usipa/Utaka, (similar to whitebait), asampasa (salmon like fish), batala (butter fish), kampango (similar to catfish).

Another dish is called Kachumbari, which is similar to pico de gallo. It contains onions, tomatoes, and spicy chilly peppers, and is usually eaten alone.

Porridge is a dish that is also eaten a lot in Malawi. The difference between Porridge and Nsima, is how they are made, and the thickness, porridge is usually eaten sweet. Here’s how to make porridge: warm some water in a pot, add powdered rice or maize little by little, and stir. Leave it for some time, then add salt and sugar. Rice porridge is typically eaten by someone who is better off, while maize porridge is eaten by someone who has very little. Sometimes if people have money, they add peanut flour to make the dish  more nutritious. Also, if they have enough money to buy vegetables,, they may make a relish to go on top of the porridge. Malawian dishes are made of simple foods, with few  ingredients. Only those who are generally well off can afford to add more flavor to their meals. Normally people don’t have enough money to buy meat, and only eat meat once a month. 45% of people in Malawi live on less than a dollar a day and meat costs about $3-4.

Here’s a Malawian recipe for Zitumbuwa (Banana Fritters) that you can try yourself!

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Zitumbuwa (Banana Fritters) Recipe

Ingredients:

3 Very Ripe Bananas

1/2 cup Cornmeal

1 teaspoon Sugar

Pinch of Salt

Oil (for frying)

Instructions:

  1. Combine the bananas, cornmeal, sugar and salt to make a stiff pancake-like batter.
  2. Pour about 1 inch of oil into a pan and heat it until a drop of water sizzles in the hot oil.
  3. Drop the batter into the oil by tablespoonfuls.
  4. Fry zitumbuwa until golden on all sides.
  5. Remove golden zitumbuwa from oil and place on paper towels or newspaper to drain.

You can serve the zitumbuwa warm on it's own or with some butter or roll the fritters in sugar.

Variations:

  • Try adding 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg to the batter before frying.
  • Add some ginger to the batter.
  • Roll warm banana fritters in cinnamon sugar.
  • Serve the warm zitumbuwa with vanilla ice cream.