Madagascar Food and Drink
At first glance, the cuisine of Madagascar can appear quite dull. Traditionally the Malagasy eat a large mound of rice, dwarfing the surprisingly small accompanying portion of meat, vegetables and sauce.
Tourist establishments tend to serve meals with the rice-to-accompaniment ratio turned on its head. These dishes tend to have a French influence and fries are often offered in place of rice.
Zebu (beef) steaks are usually excellent and most commonly served with a delicious creamy green peppercorn sauce. On the coast, seafood naturally predominates, including all manner of fish, as well as lobster and shellfish. Pizza is popular everywhere. Most towns have cheap Chinese eateries, which are usually reliable and popular with independent travellers.
Note that more isolated hotels tend to offer a set menu or a very limited choice to their guests. Even restaurants with an apparently extensive menu may have a rather restricted number of dishes available outside peak tourist season.
Vegetarians can usually be accommodated without too much fuss, even if there are no vegetarian dishes explicitly listed on the menu. Travellers with more unusual dietary requirements, such as a peanut allergy, would be well advised to find out the Malagasy and French words for what they cannot eat and write them down on a card, so that their needs can be communicated unequivocally to waiters and chefs.
Street snacks include slices of coconut and peanuts in a sweet coconut or toffee coating. If you spot a man carrying a glass case on his head, he is probably selling koba (banana, peanuts and rice, ground to a paste, wrapped in a banana leaf and served in slices), sambos (samosas) or nems (spring rolls).
Romazava (a type of beef stew).
Ravitoto (pork served with shredded cassava leaves).
Varanga (fried slivers of beef).
Sesika (a sort of poultry blood sausage).
Vorivorin-kena (beef tripe).
Smalona (stuffed eels).
Lasary (a colourful chutney usually made from lemon, mango or papaya – or sometimes tomato, peanuts or vegetables).
Khimo (curried ground beef popular in Majunga).
Kabaro (lima beans with curry or coconut, a speciality in Morondava).
Things to know
Malagasy cuisine is not usually particularly hot and spicy, but a chilli relish called sakay (in both red and green forms) is always available to liven up any dish. This ranges from merely quite hot to cataclysmically spicy, so test with caution before dolloping it on.
Tipping is not really customary amongst the Malagasy, but it is increasingly normal in tourist places. At restaurants, about 5% would be plenty.
Ranovola (burnt rice water, made by boiling water in the pan in which rice has just been cooked – an acquired taste that divides opinion among travellers).
Three Horses Beer or THB (lager available in bottles, cans, and occasionally as draught).
Malagasy wine (produced by seven vineyards, and is typically of an average table wine quality; it is produced in red, white, rosé and grey types).
Litchel (an aperitif made from lychees).
Rhum arrangé (homemade flavoured rums that are available in great variety – produced with various fruit or spices).