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Exotic meats, vibrant colors, and indigenous traditions all define Namibian food, one of Africa’s most diverse and unique cuisines.
Nambia is a proud and passionate nation, and that very much shows in the country’s food. There’s richness, heat, and plenty of flavors packed into a fascinating blend of indigenous dishes and European influence.
Gear up for a culinary journey of flair, heat, and awe, as a local writer shares 15 of Namibia’s most exciting and traditional dishes with us.
Oshithima is a popular food in the Oshiwambo culture. It is a staple food in the northern part of Namibia.
Mahangu Pap is a gluten-free porridge made from pearl millet flour. In some areas, people prefer it mixed with both Mahangu and millie/maize flour.
To prepare traditional pap, you first boil water in a large pot. Once boiling, add a thick paste of flour and water to the pot and stir until a thick texture is formed.
Finally, gradually add flour until the desired consistency is achieved.
This meal can be served with a variety of stews, including spinach and vegetable stew, beef stew, and even Kapana or Mopane worms.
Mahangu pap is a wholesome, filling dish, and one of the most important foods in Owambo life.
Oodhingu is a Namibian delicacy, initially a method of storing meat when refrigeration did not exist in the country.
Oodhingu can be made of a range of fresh meats, cut into long strips, hung out in the sun until visibly dry.
Before refrigeration, this was the most effective way to store meat for longer periods of time.
Popular dried meats in Namibia include goat, beef, or game, such as kudu and springbok.
Oodhingu is normally cooked seasoned with salt over an open fire. While eaten as dried meat, it’s also a popular ingredient in stews.
Indigenous to Southern African countries, Omboga is delicious wild spinach. It commonly grows in the Mahangu fields during rainy seasons.
As with drying meat, tribes and villages across Nambia used the same techniques to store other types of food for weeks or months at a time.
Namibian collect Omboga leaves and flowers from the fields. Once collected, the leaves are boiled, drained, and hung out in the sun to dry.
Once dried, the Ombaga are soaked in water, and then they are ready to be cooked.
Ombaga are cooked with cherry tomatoes, butter oil, chili, and seasonings, usually in a large pot over an open fire.
The resultant dish is rife with flavor and goodness! And, if you don’t want to do any cooking, you can safely eat Ombaga leaves raw.
Are you feeling adventurous and want to try something out of your comfort zone?
Should you ever find yourself in Namibia, try out this bizarre snack that is popular in the southern African regions; Mopane worms.
Caterpillars are found and collected from mopane trees during the rainy seasons, hence the name mopane worms. They are an exotic and crispy delicacy.
To make this delicious dish, you first boil mopane worms in boiling water to soften them.
Once softened, the worms are traditionally pan-fried with tomatoes, onions, and chilies, until they are crispy.
Omagungu can be eaten as a starter, snack, or with pap. Some people, though, prefer mopane worms in a stew.
They are mostly found at open markets, or bought as street food and served the local way, on a piece of newspaper.
Potjiekos, literally translating to “small-pot food”, is a Dutch-influenced dish. It popular in South Africa, and it has also been adopted in Namibian cuisine.
This dish is popular at parties and picnics. It’s cooked outdoors on an open fire in an iron three-legged pot. This pot makes all the difference when it comes to this dish.
People come together to have a great time while waiting on a pot of Potjikos to cook with a couple of drinks.
Potjiekos is a meat and vegetable dish, slow-cooked for roughly three hours before being ready to eat.
Some Namibians add vegetables later, ensuring there’s still a little crunch to them. Potjiekos is best served with freshly baked bread.
If you are a fish lover and found yourself in the Zambezi region, Zambezi bream is very much a Namibian dish you should try.
Fishermen usually fish for them throughout the night, and then they sell their fresh catch at markets in the morning.
Zambezi bream is commonly grilled with salt and spices. In Caprivi culture, it’s traditionally served with maize pap and fresh, steamed spinach.
Zambezi bream is commonly served as the catch of the day in many restaurants. Its fresh, breathtaking taste complements many dishes.
Biltongs are pieces of meat marinated with salt and vinegar, spiced, and then hung to dry for around two weeks.
Centuries ago, this was a technique used to preserve meat, use by the Afrikaner and Dutch.
Biltongs are enjoyed as a snack. You will have to try so hard not to finish the whole thing in one go, due to it’s rich, salty flavor.
Nowadays, Namibia prides itself on being known as the country with some of the best biltongs, due to the quality of meat used.
A wide range of meats are used to make biltongs, including springbok and kudu. Beef biltongs are also popular.
No South African or Namibian road trip is complete without a bag of biltongs and a bottle of sparkling water. This mouth-watering delicacy is also commonly eaten at the cinema.
Braais and barbecues are widely popular in southern Africa, and Namibia is no different.
Kapana is small pieces of succulent, grilled beef, commonly cooked with kapana spice, chili, and salt.
A “salsa” of chopped onions and tomatoes is a popular side dish to eat with Kapana. This refreshing dip enhances the freshness of the beef.
What makes Kapana special from other grilled meat is that it’s made with freshly-butchered beef. It is prepared and served directly from the grill.
Single Quarters in the capital city of Namibia, Windhoek, is popularly known for the best Kapana in Namibia. You can watch talented chefs cook the meat in front of you.
Kapana can also be enjoyed with pap or fat cakes and a refreshing cold drink.
Known as “Oukuki’ in Oshiwambo or “Vetkoek” in Afrikaans, fat cakes are made by deep-frying dough into sweet brown bread balls.
Theses cakes are popular in the northern part of Namibia. Children enjoy them as a delicious snack.
They are also a renowned street food in various Namibian cities. Fat cakes are inexpensive, sweet, and incredibly filling, especially when served with a bowl of potato soup, dried meat, or Matangara.
The dough for fat cakes is prepared the day before and left overnight. Once the dough is ready, sugar is added.
The mixture is then added to hot oil, in small portions, until each pouring of dough fries into a delicious fried cake ball, with a moist and fluffy texture.
Oshigali is made by first soaking white beans in water for around an hour. Once moistened, the beans are squeezed out of their peels and placed in a pot.
The beans are then cooked over an open fire or in a pressure cooker until mushy, turning into a puree. Some Namibians add salt and paprika to enhance the taste.
Oshigali is served drizzled in Marura oil. Served with pap, this typical Namibian dish is wholesome and so flavorful.
Oshiwambo pancakes started out as a humble grain-based food in Namibian villages. Today, it is enjoyed in restaurants across the country.
Traditionally, this Namibian food was prepared for children that faced long walks to school every morning.
Eaten for breakfast and as a snack, it was a simple and filling way to give children energy for the day.
Freshly pounded Mahangu flour is used to make Oshikwiila. The flour is mixed with a pinch of salt and sugar in a bowl.
Marula kernel paste is also added to the mixture. The concoction is then mixed with water to create a moist batter-like paste.
Oshikwiila are cooked in a greased pan. They are wholesome, rich, and delicious, and an important Namibian food.
Namibian cuisine is not complete without Boerewors. The name is derived from Afrikaans/Dutch, which translates to “farmer’s sausage”.
Boerewors are course-ground sausages, originating from Europe and first introduced to Africa via South Africa and Namibia.
Boerewors is made from mostly minced beef, salt, and vinegar. Various spices are added to the mixture, then packed inside the sausage casing.
Lamb, pork, or a mixture of both, are other popular meats used to make Boerewors.
Boerewors can be barbecued on an open fire grill, pan-fried, or baked in an oven.
A famous battered barbecue bread and potato salad are commonly served with this dish at a good outdoor picnic.
Matangara is an edible part of an animal stomach, which is cleaned and turned into a wholesome Namibian dish.
Namibian tripe is commonly from a cow or goat. This part of the meat is enjoyed while fresh, as the tripe is rinsed thoroughly until they are squeaky clean.
The tripe is then cooked slowly with little water, and it forms the core ingredient of a hearty stew.
This dish is a common food at Namibian restaurants. It’s served with pap or fat cakes, and it is also sold by vendors as street food.
Matangara is also commonly added to Potjiekos pots. Namibians love this dish when the meat is tender.
Marathon chicken has a sweet and unique reasoning behind its name. The term ‘marathon’ literally refers to the running of a marathon.
This is because chickens in Namibian towns and villages are often left to roam freely.
Children are often asked to catch the chicken to be cooked. Hence, a running marathon would ensure, as the children of the town or village attempt to catch the chicken as it runs.
This dish is typically prepared on special occasions, or for guests. As beef and goat are commonly eaten meats, chicken is regarded as more of a treat.
Marathon chicken consists of a whole chicken, slow-cooked in a pot with little water, over an open fire.
Once the chicken is tender, it’s served with a variety of sauces and drizzled with Marula oil. It pairs well with rice, pap, or potatoes.
Owawa are seasonal wild mushrooms, that grow on and around termite mines after the first summer rains.
These giant mushrooms are usually sold at the roadside by food vendors during their blooming season.
They are always high in demand as they are a delicacy that Namibian people passionately love to enjoy.
Owawa grows to an enormous size, often up to 50 cm in diameter. It can be cooked and eaten in a number of ways.
Owawa in stews is common, but my favorite way of preparing Owawa is pan-frying it in butter and salt, then serving it with white rice and beef stew.
This seasonal, desirable dish is common in the central and northern regions of Nambia. It can be difficult to find, but so delicious if you try it.
There’s a unique and humbling connection to nature in Namibian foods, that few other cuisines can compare to.
From seasonal plants to game meats, some of the recipes we looked at in this article have been cooked by indigenous people for centuries.
Namibian food often focuses solely on one core ingredient, then enhances its flavor with various oils, cooking techniques, and spices.
Wholesome, rich, and infused with plenty of earthy flavors, Namibian food is as fascinating as it is flavorful.
So before we leave Namibia, one final time here’s the full list of all the foods covered in this article.
Be sure to have this list of Namibian foods handy when you visit so that you can try one or more of these popular dishes.
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Contributor: Justice Haikela is a travel writer from Tsandi, Namibia. She blogs and writes for publications across a range of travel topics, including Namibian culture, history, and cuisine.
Images licensed via Shutterstock
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