Zambia isn’t particularly well-known for its cuisine, but the fare you’ll find in luxury lodges and safari camps is generally of an equally high standard to the properties themselves, with interesting barbecued game meats and other South African influences found on many menus.
Towns like Livingstone and Lusaka have some good Western style restaurants and curry houses. Further afield, Zambia’s bountiful lakes and rivers provide plentiful fresh fish both for local fisherman and restaurants across the country. The typical Zambian diet is heavy on starch and comfort foods such as stews, soups and beans. Zambia’s most popular lager is called Mosi, taken from the original name for Victoria Falls. But in rural areas, you’re more likely to see locals drinking maize or sorghum beer, often homemade.
Some restaurants will add a service charge to your bill, if not 10% is standard
Freshwater fish: Bream, Nile perch and salmon from the Kafue, Luapula and Zambezi rivers.
Nshima: A stiff porridge made from ground maize – a staple eaten daily in the rural areas. A thinned down version may be eaten for breakfast with sugar and butter.
Ndiwo: A relish or sauce made from meat or fish boiled with green vegetables, usually served with nshima.
Ifisashi: Vegetarian stew of peanuts, tomatoes, spinach and cabbage, used to accompany nshima.
Samp and beans: Starchy dish made from crushed maize kernels and beans.
Biltong: Spiced, dried meat usually made from beef or game meat.
Sautéed insects: Grasshoppers, caterpillars, cicadas, flying ants and mopane worms are seasonal delicacies for rural Zambians.
Kapenta: A small sardine from Lake Tanganyika that is salted and sundried before eating.
Munkoyo: Zambians’ favourite non-alcoholic drink, made from maize meal and the roots of the Munkoyo tree.
Mosi: The local beer.
Chibuku: An opaque, often homemade beer made from maize or sorghum.
6 Traditional Foods You Must TRY While You’re in Zambia
Eating is ingrained in Zambian culture, from social events such as barbeques to pre-wedding events where a groom is treated to a buffet of traditional dishes from his bride’s family. If you want to know what’s on the menu, check out our pick of the top 6 traditional foods you must TRY while you’re in Zambia.
Nshima is the staple carbohydrate of Zambia. It is made from corn that is processed into a fine white powder called ‘mealie meal’. It is cooked by mixing the corn meal with water which is brought to the boil as porridge (similar to grits). More cornmeal is added until it develops a thicker texture. The cornmeal can be substituted for cassava, sorghum and millet. Nshima is served with a protein (usually meat or fish) and one or two vegetables. Nshima can be enjoyed at any of the many traditional restaurants in Zambia as well as at boutique hotels.
There are plenty of vegetables that are eaten in Zambia, based on seasonal availability. Popular vegetables include ‘chibwabwa‘, which are pumpkin leaves, ‘katapa‘ sweet potato leaves, ‘bondwe‘ (a species of amaranthus), ‘impwa‘ (a species of eggplant), ‘lumanda‘ (a species of hibiscus), and okra, which is either fried or boiled with bicarbonate of soda.
Chikanda is commonly referred to as ‘African polony’, although it is entirely vegetarian. Made from wild orchid tubers, peanuts, chilli and baking soda, it is cooked until it has a meatloaf consistency, and is served either hot or cold.
Pounded peanuts are mixed with vegetables such as rape (a type of kale) to make ifisashi, although it can be added to other food items such as kapenta (a small sardine-like fish), sweet potatoes and chikanda.
Zambia’s many water bodies produce different types of fish. Some of the most popular are kapenta (small sardine-type fish that are fried in oil, tomatoes and onions), and buka buka, a species of Nile perch, and bream which is either grilled, boiled or dried, and served in gravy with nshima.
Michopo is roasted meat which is usually cooked outdoors on the grill. It is usually beef or goat meat served with chilli or onions, tomatoes and potatoes. Michopo is commonly found at bars as it is great paired with a Mosi (the local lager).