Malagasy cuisine blends the influences of the Arabic, Chinese, French, African and Indian cultures present in Madagascar. Of course, there are regional variations - each zone has very different vegetables, fruits and fish available and ingredients on hand command local recipes.
Unhappily, the most fascinating food in Madagascar can only be discovered at local homes. When on location, try to earn an invitation to a Malagasy home to sample a traditional meal by socializing with friendly local cooks, if your stay will be long enough to do the social. Console yourself if that is not possible, the country’s restaurants serve excellent French cuisine -sometimes with more colorful ingredients from the Western world point of view, such as their zebra steak and fries- and there is a good assortment of informal restaurants and market stalls where to experience some of the local food magic. Else, try some of the recipes from Madagascar at World Food and Wine.
Staple and specialty food in Madagascar
As everyone else in the world, Malagasy people have their favorite flavors.
Starches: rice, noodles and root vegetables
As it happens in most of the African territory, meals in Madagascar consist of less meat, more whole grain cereals and beans, and lots, lots, lots more fresh fruits and vegetables than Western meals.
This vegetable stock is ro. It may resemble bowl of hot water with the odd cabbage leaf swimming around. However, this broth is less risky to drink than local untreated water and has the added bonus of adding some extra vitamins and minerals, as any broth worth its salt should do.
Rice makes the staple of the Malagasy diet; fish, beef or chicken are just the frills on the side. A bowl of rice on its own is considered a perfectly suitable meal. In the countryside, the bowl of rice arrives together with a bowl of a very clear broth made from leafy vegetables.
Rice is breakfast food everywhere in Madagascar. In fact, rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner is a wholly normal food day. Eating rice is rooted so deep in the land some people will claim they were not be able to sleep the day they did not have a meal of rice. Rice may come with a stew made from beef, fish, chicken or duck, or vegetables with a few spices for flavor and plain vegetables, boiled in water, will make a side dish.
Noodles are the natural option other than rice. Noodles will come steaming in a bowl either fried, with vegetables or meat, or in the shape of a Chinese broth, with vegetables, fish or meat. In a more rustic setting, root vegetables, such as manioc, and corn will complement the diet.
Zebu cattle are the main source for the meat consumed. A zebu beef stew or zebu steak is as delicious as traditional beef when cooked well. The lower quality beef is usually cut into small cubes, boiled in salted water with onion and garlic until really tender –so tender that it can be shredded with a fork- then cut into thin strips, and roasted until brown.
Chicken or goat is also standard fare and you will find chicken curry readily available. Pork meat is available but eating pork is taboo in many parts of Madagascar. If traveling to Madagascar, be careful where you ask for pork.
Recipes from Madagascar
To best appreciate the simple but flavorful Malagasy cuisine, it is best to try some recipes from Madagascar.