A Journey through Zambian Traditional Food

How much do you know about Zambian traditional food? Well, this is your opportunity to learn. But, warning! This post will make your mouth water and want to take the first plane ticket to Zambia, just to experience the taste of these different and tasty platters.

Let’s start simple, with this popular roadside snack: Maize, cooked in their husks over a small coal barbecue.

Fulfilling midday whims

Bellow you can see the delicious Chikanda, dubbed ‘Zambian sausage’, which is made from the tubers of the orchid plant. Eaten typically as a side with nshima or simply in a mix of diced onion and fresh chilli.

The ‘Zambian sausage,’ better known as Chikanda

Nshima is the undisputed king of Zambian staples. A thick dough typically made from compounded maize meal, nshima can be found on the side of almost every meal. Experienced users have learnt to master the rolling technique, moulding it into a tight ball for scooping up delicious sauces. Also, stewed pumpkin leaves, locally known as Chibwabwa, are a popular Zambian side dish high in iron and vitamin A.

About to eat some Nshima

Delicious stewed pumpkin leaves

Bellow is a picture of the tilapia, the local freshwater fish of Zambia, served here boiled in a tomato and pepper stew at a dusty lunch spot in Chongwe, on the outskirts of Lusaka. As is the norm at Zambian mealtimes, the main meat or fish plate is eaten with mounds of nshima and a selection of vegetable sides; clockwise from top – ifishashi (a paste of greens and groundnuts), kalembulu, (dried pumpkin leaves), rape (the leafy green that is commonly cultivated to produce rapeseed oil) and chibwabwa.

Tilapia with some nshima and stewed pumpkin leaves

More tilapia! But here it is fried over a charcoal barbecue at a traditional matebeto lunch market at Longacres, Lusaka. 

Fried tilapia during a matebeto

In Zambian wedding tradition, matebeto is a ceremonial meal prepared by the women in the family of the bride-to-be showcasing the food from the culture of their tribe for friends, family and guests of the groom. Markets bearing the name of this ceremony are popular lunch spots for locals in Lusaka, with the range of delicious barbecued meat and fish on offer reason enough for celebration.

Women from brides family cooking the matebeto

While chicken and fish are popular choices at these bustling cookouts, it’s the beef that steals the show. Zambian beef is famous in Africa and the juicy T-bone steaks served up here explain why.

T-bone stake being prepared during the matebeto

For the bargain price of 35 Kwacha (equivalent to £3) a platter of T-bone steak can be bought for the table to share as a group.

Preparing the delicious and famous T-bones

T-bones to share

The meat is accompanied by as much nshima as is needed and a selection of side dishes (including fresh chillis, ifishashi, rape, okra, chibwabwa, beans and impwa – a smaller, yellow aubergine variety that grows wild in Zambia).

A feast that you cannot missed

Family gatherings are also often accompanied by a barbecue, or braai. Here the Bandas show off their grilling skills on a rack of marinated beef ribs.

The Bandas during their delicious family barbicue

If you’re lucky, and quick enough, leftovers from the braai can be stored away for an enviable packed lunch. Be warned however, three rounds of nshima at lunchtime can be a potent sleeping pill, as Mukela knows only too well.

Braai leftovers for lunch

Mukela taking his well-diserved nap