The cornerstone of every Zambian’s diet, and widely available to locals and tourists alike, is something called nshima. It is a corn-based product which looks a lot like mash potato and functions in much the same way, providing a heavy dose of carbohydrates for a largely agricultural nation. Nshima is usually provided in large quantities and served with vegetables and smaller pieces of meat, chicken or fish, making the finished dish look a lot like that of a typically proportioned English meal. It is of course the flavour that is different, and while there are some extremely adventurous local delicacies, there is still a lot of food available which is wholly recognizable and won’t leave you green at the gills. A popular vegetable used to accompany the Nshima is called rape, and can be fried with onions and tomatoes and is often served in small quantities as a ‘relish,’ to give the nshima a little more flavour. However, nshima can also be sweetened and eaten for breakfast, and has thus become extremely popular through its versatility and low cost.
If you are eating on the go, most places, particularly near town centres, will have a certain number of cafes and restaurants. These may take the form of a metal tripod or ‘chippie’ upon which potatoes are fried and sold by the bag, but for something a little more hearty, you can also find huts out in some of the smaller villages which provide meals of nshima at a decent price.
Those with a little more time on their hands to purchase and prepare something themselves can venture into the smaller towns, which host a number of corner shops and markets where most of the bare essentials such as rice, bread, soup, vegetables and meat can be purchased.
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, then there are two rather peculiar dishes on offer at certain periods during the year. The first are Chinkubala, which are essentially dried tree caterpillars, usually served with onions and tomatoes, much like the relish. For those not familiar with the local Chichewa language, asking for the relish could get you more than you bargained for.
The Zambians are also accustomed to eating a variety of other insects, such as ‘Inswa,’ a breed of flying ant, the wasp-like ‘Mafulufute,’ and Shongonono grasshoppers. There are different names for each of these edible insects due to the wide variety of languages and dialects in and around Zambia, including the Chichewa language also known as Nyanja, making the task of avoiding placing such an order at a local restaurant all the more difficult!
Any drinks with that?
There are numerous soft drinks available, namely Coca Cola, as well as bottled water, which most travel advisors will tell you is your best bet to avoid an upset stomach for the duration of your stay. However, it is advisable to keep hold of your plastic bottles, as many corner shops in smaller towns have a swapping policy, where you must ask for your own bottle to be filled or exchanged for another.
How about a nice cold beer?
In Zambia you can choose from two different types of beer, which are clear and opaque. The clear beers are more akin to your usual lager, but for those not willing to fork out for the familiar option, there is the opaque beer drunk mainly by the local Zambians due to its dense consistency and extremely acquired taste. This opaque beer is often called Chibuku, and even Shake-Shake as it has a similar viscosity to milkshake, and worth a try just for the novelty.