The Reality of Malawian Dining

In took me only a few days to sniff out a good Italian restaurant with proper cappuccino in Lilongwe. I could eat like a local, but unfortunately my western palette can’t handle the monotony of the diet: nsima or white rice with an occasional roasted chicken or goat.
Nsima is the staple of Malawi (and most other African countries). It’s a mixture of powdered maize and hot water, blended into a thick paste. American maize was introduced by the Europeans in the 1800s, then later planted in great quantities during the famine of the 1970s. It’s the main crop of the country, second only to tobacco (Malawi’s only export)–a cheap filler for an empty stomach with little nutritional value.
Roadside sugar cane


To my credit I did try a “local” diet for one day, but after two meals of plain white rice I opted out, like most foreigners living here. I luckily have an option; most people do not.


Village tomato stand
Market stalls are piled high with “Irish” potatoes, tomatoes, casava, squash and bananas, but little else. As the capital city, home to many embassies and NGOs, as well as the “tobacco barons”, Lilongwe has small pockets of luxury, like any good third world country. I learned this on my first trip to the grocery store frequented by expats. I found shelves laden with Italian pastas, English jams and South African everything. However, there’s a price one pays for living in an imported world and it’s steep. After spending $4 on a package of spaghetti and $5 on a few zucchini, white rice doesn’t seem so bad after all. But am I capable of ignoring my taste buds?
Banana Tree
This all brings me back to divine pizza with incredibly thin crust, cooked to prefection in a brick oven. I discovered Al Fresco restaurant walking by a rustic strip mall (yes, there are strip malls all over the world). I passed a man, sitting at one of the outdoor tables, speaking Italian on his phone (an international sign for good food) and knew the place deserved a chance, even though I hadn’t had one good meal since arriving in Malawi. I was not disappointed, especially after getting the bill.
I’ll definitely be a regular here, bringing a book to read, a reliable disguise for eavesdropping on embassy and relief workers. They’ve interesting, intelligent and fascinating company.

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