Mouth-watering cuisine and tribal customs in Madagascar

Written by: Mahlatse Phasha

When you travel to the dynamic island of Madagascar, you’ll experience its diverse culture and cuisine. Home to 26 million Malagasy, this island is embedded with such an eclectic cultural mix. Including the influence of African, Indian, Chinese, Southeast Asian and European migrants. So you can be guaranteed to enjoy an array of tasty meals, diverse traditions and style of dress.

The complexity of Malagasy cuisine ranges from simple to more traditional meals. The royal festive dishes that were prepared just like 19th-century monarchs are mouth-watering. Throughout the island, the contemporary dishes of Madagascar usually consists of a base of rice accompanied by laoka(can be vegetarian or an animal protein).  No meal is complete without rice, starting with breakfast all the way until dinner. It’s even common to drink rice water, known as ranovola “valuable water”. Rice plays a role in their local currency; a woman selling rice is depicted on the 10 000 Ariary banknote.

Be prepared to be exposed to African, Indian, Arabic and French cuisine undertones in most meals. When exploring the local restaurants called hotelys, try out these delicious authentic meals.

-Romazava is the national dish of meat. It’s typically made of beef, but it can also feature different types of meat. It’s turned in a sauce of tomato, garlic, ginger and stewed mixed greens. The meat is braised for hours so that it is tender.

-Minsao is a Chinese-Malagasy fusion which is popular on the island. Ideal for vegetarians travelling in Madagascar. It’s essentially ramen noodles stir-fried with vegetables.

-For a sweet tooth, spoil yourself with a pineapple flambées. A slice of fruit, drenched in rum which is set alight.

Image Cred: Audey Scott and DanielNoll

Madagascar is known for its exotic edible commodity, vanilla. The best of the world’s vanilla exports come from Madagascar. One unique thing that you’ll notice in the bars and restaurants, are the huge clear glass demijohns filled with rum. Each demijohn will have different ingredients such as banana, mango and pineapple.

As a visitor, you’ll notice scattered around the island Mahafaly tombs.  These decorated tombs of the deceased tell the life of the deceased. Behind Mahafaly tombs lies another life, that of ancestors.  The belief is in eternal life. The common saying is, “a house it’s for life; a tomb, it is for eternity.” Secondly, you will realise that all houses should open up facing west.  They believe that the best sunshine in the afternoon comes as the sun starts to set.

The 4th largest island has 18 ethnic groups with distinct traditions, beliefs and style of dress. Most people still live in accordance to their old traditions and faith.  About 40% of the population worship local myths, spirits and folklore. According to Malagasy beliefs, Andriamanitra is the god who created the world.

Many of the ethnic groups are known for particular cultural traits.  The Mahafaly are known for their artistic and craftsmen skills, the Vezo are known as a fisherman, whilst the Antandroy are known for their distinctive face painting.  In the midst of different beliefs, one thing is certain about Malagasy people, that is they are known for their hospitality, friendliness and humility.

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