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Zambian Food

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So a few friends and I were sitting around last night and we got to talking about how we all want to expand our cooking horizons.

I suggested we take a map, point randomly to country, and then we would each cook a meal based on the local cusine of the country we picked.

We pulled out two relatively easy counties, Russia and New Zealand. But we also got The Maldives, and Zambia.

I happily got Zambia, as I was hoping for something unquie like that.

After much searching, I really couldn't find much on Zambian cuisine. I will do Nshima, which is a really thick (basically dough) maize flour porridge used for picking up and dipping in food. (It also seems to be the un-offical national dish). With the Nshima, I was to do a vegetarian and meat based stew/sauce (which they call Ndiwo). I found a recipe for Ifishashi which is basically greens in peanut sauce. But I am having troubles finding something very 'Zambian' or atleast central african that is a meat based dish. I don't have a huge preference to what the meat is: beef, chicken, goat, lamb. I would rather not do fish, as red meats are a bit more forgiving when cooking.

If anyone can help me with some recipes and ideas it would be greatly appreciated.


Here's a picture of Nshima in the top right, and a few different relishes/stews that would be traditionally be served. Thanks to Wikipedia!


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My spouse was raised in Zambia and says, "nope, he's got it all in that one post." Apparently you just don't get much meat, and never meat by itself ("that's what they fed the white people - kudu steaks"). He lived all over but most of his time was down South, and always in villages, not cities.

At home we regularly eat the greens/nuts with nshima - our favorite.

Edited by gfron1 (log)
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Piri-piri chicken. (Chicken with chillies.) Any way you like, but casseroled with tomatoes (and quite a lot of red chillies) would be fairly authentic.

Basic idea is a small amount of strongly flavoured relish into which lots and lots of n'shima can be dipped, a walnut-sized knob at a time.

Rather not do fish? Are you sure you haven't been stuck behind a truck carrying bales of unrefrigerated Kapenta, the local sun-dried fish speciality?

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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spouse suggests that piri piri is really more South African, although it may have found its way into hotels and such in Zambia. Kapenta...he screamed with a painful look on his face, "Oh yeah, those are really nasty smelling. You eat them like popcorn. More of a snack."

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spouse suggests that piri piri is really more South African, although it may have found its way into hotels and such in Zambia.  Kapenta...he screamed with a painful look on his face, "Oh yeah, those are really nasty smelling.  You eat them like popcorn.  More of a snack."

The taste for chillies (and the piri-piri nomenclature) may well have originated in SA, but was well established among the local working-class (ie urban, not wealthy but not starving) some years back on the Copperbelt.

My understanding was that much Kapenta was eaten as a relish - I believe pounded to a mash with cooking oil - but this may have been a particularly Bemba thing.

While mealie meal for n'shima was usually bought by the (50kg? a hundredweight? - big!) sackful (to be carried home on the head), the other great staple requirement "cooking oil" was bought in large cans, a gallon or two at a time, and often. Now, I have to admit, I really don't know how it was consumed in such quantity, but my impression was that a lot of stuff was shallow fried or seasoned with oil.

Incidentally, "mealies" (whole maize corns) were a popular veg. Grill over a fire. And for authenticity note that it should be maize, not sweet corn.

All sorts of veg will grow in the climate. There was even a pineapple industry, strategically located quite some distance beyond the end of the road...

The finger-food snack that I recall being (quite literally) much sought-after, a seasonal delicacy and free source of protein delivered with the onset of the rains in October, was Grasshopper. Not just raw, but live. I'm told they taste like prawns, but I'm not able to confirm that.

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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The meal for nshima is pretty hard to comeby in the US. We recently had a friend bring some from Zambia and I realized how different it was from any polenta that I had had previously. Also, spouse doesn't remember grasshoppers, but he distinctly remembers flying ants as a snack. Cdn - you better prepare your guests for this meal :)

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I will definately have to do some searching for the perfect meal to make Nshima.

You mentioned which is made from Cornmeal. Is this along the type of meal I should be looking for, something bigger with more distinct pieces, or should I be searching for more of a flour consintancy product? (Maize flour as I have read).

We don't have a massive African population here in Vancouver (atleast that I have ever seen), but we do have one area that has a larger concentration, so I will check out a few Afro-groceries in the area and see what I can come up with.

I don't think there will be any ants or grass hoppers served. Not that I would never try them, but I have no idea where one would find these products (aside from the local pet store).

If you or your spouse can give me a recommendation on a meat dish also, it would be much appreciated. Don't really care what the meat is...

Thanks so much

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The true nshima flour that the friend gave us was similar to a very, very fine polenta flour that I get from one of my Italian distributors - so more floury than mealy. And as your picture shows its white not yellow.

For grasshoppers...if you have a Mexican market that specializes in Oaxacan cuisine, they may have something although I can't imagine anything dried/canned/boxed would be good...but who knows.

And for the meat, again, not really in the repetoire as my spouse recalls, so I would go dougal's route. He experienced it there and regardless of whether it was for the locals or visitors, it was there, so think piri piri. Otherwise its basically chicken in stews.

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Thanks for the quick response Gfron.

I will let everyone know how it goes once the meal happens, and I will get some pictures posted.

Next country we'll need help on will be The Maldives!

***Now that this has been moved to the Africa forum, if anyone else has any more input it would be appreciated!***

Edited by CdnLifeguard (log)
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My spouse is visiting his parents and asked them since they lived in Zambia 12 years. A few thoughts.

1. Piri piri is Indian - meaning the Indians in Zambia make piri piri...so it is made there but not by Zambians.

2. Goat relish is very common - as a side for the enshima. Sear goat, add tomatoes, onions, season to taste and cook.

3. Cabbage and tomatoes and onions, salt and pepper, cooked and eaten with enshima.

4. Everything must be cooked over an open fire, preferably in cast iron or it just won't taste right. They universally agreed to this point.

5. There is some dried fish relish but they didn't make it much.

6. Strong black British tea with lots of sugar and milk

7. Almost no sugar in the diet except what goes in the tea.

8. The meat issue...they really don't eat much meat because they're poor, but at special occasions they'll get the goat, chicken or whatever.

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I am Zambian...and I happen to live in Vancouver.

I grew up here in Canada, but we did eat Zambian food growing up.

I will agree that you pretty much covered the cuisine in the first post.

When I went to my village in the Copperbelt last year, this is what we ate:

1.Nshima, nshima, nshima.

2. Tilapia cooked in onions and tomato and salt.

3.Ifisashi (I cook this at home all the time...with Chicken)

4. Chicken or Duck with onions and tomato and salt.

5. Fried dough (sweet and served with tea)

6. Mangoes, mangoes, mangoes!

When making Nshima in Vancouver, my family has always used Purity brand Wheatlets.

I will post some pictures from Zambia relating to the food in my next post. I just have to find them!

CdnLifeguard...let me know if you need a coach when making your dinner...I can make Ifisashi and Nshima in my sleep.

Edited by JasmineL (log)
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Here are some food related pictures from my Village...

My aunt and neice scaling fish:


The fishermen would come by every morning and try to sell us his catch:


This contraption crossing the river is used to catch fish...watch out for the Crocodiles when you go to check your nets:


This is one of the many poultry gifts I was given while visiting:


This is me standing in my maize field! I am the proud heir of a 300 hectare farm!


We saw this man making Nshima and my dad just had to get a picture...because Zambian men do not make Nshima. :rolleyes:


Every morning my little cousin's would bring me a basket full of mangoes:


Edited by JasmineL (log)
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Thanks for the all more ideas Jasmine and gfron. Also, thanks for the pictures Jasmine, really cool to see.

I think I have come up with my basic menu:

Nshima (I mean, you can't have a meal without it!)


Goat with tomato and onion (I just really want to cook goat!)

I may do a chicken dish too, if some others ideas come up....

Jasmine, you mentioned Purity brand wheatlets. Where can I find them here in Vancouver? Something I can get an Safeway/Save-On, or do I need to go somewhere a bit more specialized? For your Ifisashi, what type of greens do you use? In the markets here, all I ever really see is Kale.

Also, if you can post your Ifisashi and Nshima recipies it would be much appreciated!

Thanks for all the help so far!

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The Purity Wheatlets should be at just about any grocery store...they come in a bag...hot cereal section.

I'll give you my recipes, but I'm not a chef so don't hate me for my lame directions...

The recipe for Nshima is basically boil 3 or 4 cups of water...and then start adding wheatlets gradually...you should get a good arm work out as you stir and add wheatlets until it's very firm. It should be firm like play-dough.

Once you have a firm pot of Nshima, you put it on a plate...spread it out and put another plate on top to let it set a bit.

I'm a wimpy city girl, so I can't handle the hot Nshima on my sensitive fingers...but my relatives can eat it hot off the fire.



Chicken (whatever part you want...cubed breast, bone in thighs)

Onions (1 biggie)

Spinach (1 bunch...or a bag of the baby stuff)

Water (4 cups is a good start)

Natural Peanut Butter (I like crunchy...you will probably use 2/3 of a jar)

Tomato Paste (heaping table spoon)

Salt to taste

Cayenne Pepper to taste


Put the chicken, water, onions and tomato paste in a big stew pot and bring to a boil. Cook until the chicken is nicely poached, reduce heat. In a bowl mix some peanut butter with hot water from the pot. The goal is to thin the peanut butter so it is easier to mix in to the stew. Gradually add the peanut butter mixture back in to the pot. You want to end up with a thick broth...watery is bad...creamy is good!

Once you are happy with the texture, start adding salt and cayenne to taste. Once you are happy with the level of heat and salt...add the spinach and allow it to cook down. Give it a final taste...and your done.

It's pretty simple...add more water if it gets to thick...add more peanut butter if it's too thin.

I hope that helps!

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  • 1 month later...

Jasminet! Thank you for the pictures- I just loved them, especially you in your field! I used to love "mealie meal" as a young child and haven't had it for years and years. We sometimes would use really thick meal as bait for fishing!! A few years ago we went to Victoria falls and spent time in Zimbabwe and Zambia. We ate at a fun restaurant called the "Booma" if I recall, whoever ate a grasshopper got a certificate! There was aligator tail and Mosi lager a beer I think made from maize.

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