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Friends of Malawi > Learn About Malawi > About Malawian Culture > Food

The staple food in Malawi is nsima (nsee -ma), which is a thick maize (corn) porridge. The porridge is molded into patties and served with either beans, meat, or vegetables in a tomoto-and-onion sauce, collectively called ndiwo (ndee 3 -wo). Malawians also eat rice, cassava, and potatoes, though rice is considered a luxury and potatoes are often used as ndiwo. Basically put, the keystone of any Malawian meal is starch in generous quantity, and the “relish” is sparse and only intended to add flavor. In fact, a Malawian fed only meat or vegetables is bound to leave the table feeling that he hasn’t eaten, regardless of how many times you fill his plate!

In the vast majority of homes, food is cooked over a wood fire using a tripod made of three supporting stones. Women (and children helpers) are responsible for everything concerning the food from market shopping to dish washing.

Malawians consider food essential to hospitality and go out of their way to feed a guest, even if they have very little to offer. If it isn’t a regular meal time, they’ll get some nsima and ndiwo from the fire for the guest to have an early (or late) meal. If it’s dinner time, the guest is shown an extra courtesy by being served first, followed by the man of the house, then the women and finally the children. As nsima is eaten with the hands, everyone washes in a communal bowl before and after the meal. Once again, the guest washes first and so on. There is no shame in eating until you are full. In fact, guests will often be encouraged to eat more and then more again. Custom dictates that a guest be served so much food that he can’t finish everything on his plate!

Malawi is an agricultural society. This means that in villages and cities alike fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, and eggs are plentiful. Processed foods (from cereal to cheese) are in more limited supply and are often more expensive than the same products in US grocery stores. Because foods are not widely imported, the availability of items depends on the growing season. Tomatoes, onions, bananas and a few varieties of greens are available year round. Other fruits and vegetables, such as pineapples, guavas, mangoes, papayas, tangerines, lemons, cucumbers, eggplants, carrots, green peppers, and cabbage are available dependant on the season and region. Foods that can be stored easily, such as peanuts, maize, and beans, can be purchased cheaply at harvest time, but increase in price as the year progresses. And some produce is imported— South Africa and Zimbabwe export grapes, strawberries, garlic, broccoli and cauliflower are sold outside import shops in the city, though at a considerable cost.

Most villages have some form of restaurant. The most common commercial food is the “chippie” stand—a metal stand used to fry potatoes over a fire. Customers either purchase a small bag to go or eat directly off of the stand. Some villages even have a simple mud hut establishment that serves nsima and ndiwo (usually beans or roasted chicken) at very cheap prices. In the major cities ( Lilongwe , Blantyre and Mzuzu) one can find restaurants serving Lebanese, Korean, Italian and Indian food.




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