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Fresh ingredients, exotic meats, and indigenous recipes all define Zimbabwean food, some of the most unique and fascinating dishes in Africa.
Zimbabwean cooking and many techniques date back thousands of years, with some still used to this day.
Zimbabweans are passionate and resourceful in their approach to food, maximizing flavor from even the simplest of ingredients.
So prepare to be wowed as we take a trip to the heart of Africa with a local writer, and look at 17 traditional and popular dishes that define this beautiful country.
Traditional and Popular Zimbabwean Foods To Try
1 – Maizemeal – Sadza/Isitshwala
Maizemeal is one of the most common and popular Zimbabwean foods. Sadza is a carbohydrate staple, eaten in many homes across the country.
It is eaten with a variety of stews and relishes such as collard greens, beef, chicken, or pork stews, and even Mopani worms.
It is commonly made from maize meal. However, it can also be made from a variety of grains such as sorghum and millet.
Sadza is made by mixing the maize meal with hot water, simmering it until it thickens, then adding more to form a thick paste. You generally eat it with your hands rather than using utensils.
2 – Porridge – Bota/Iyambazi
A diluted form of maize meal, sorghum, or millet sadza is called Bota. It is made by adding hot water to the maize meal and letting it simmer for 30 minutes until it thickens.
It can be flavored with peanut butter, margarine, salt, and sugar. Elevated versions of this meal involve the use of fresh cream.
Bota is traditionally seen as a children’s meal, although adults can enjoy it too.
It is commonly served as the very first meal of the day. This is to help fuel people who head out to the fields in rural areas, with breakfast coming later on.
3 – Yellow Watermelon with Sun-Dried Maize – Umxhanxa
It is a seasonal dish often served in winter after harvest time. It is often eaten for lunch.
Umxhanxa is made by taking a yellow watermelon, known as iJodo, sun-dried maize, and sugar.
The maize is boiled with water until the hard grains soften, which usually takes up to two and a half hours.
The yellow watermelon is skinned and sliced, and all the seeds are removed. Then, it’s boiled for 30 minutes. It is then beaten, and the iJodo and maize are combined with sugar.
4 – Peanuts, Maize and Beans Dish – Mutakura/Mangai
Mutakura is a wholesome mixed dish of maize (Chibage), peanuts (Nzungu), bambara nuts (Nyimo), cow peas (Nyemba), and sometimes sugar beans.
When just a mixture of peanuts and maize, it is called Mangai. It is similar to South Africa’s Umngqusho.
Mutakura is a very nutritious meal as it has both carbohydrates and proteins. It is made simply by soaking all the ingredients overnight, mixing them together, then boiling for several hours or until soft.
Mutakura can be eaten as a lunchtime meal or supper, with or without meat. Some Zimbabweans will even eat it at breakfast with a cup of tea.
5 – Yams – Madhumbe/Magogoya
Yams are a truly versatile ingredient. They can be eaten in a number of ways, most commonly boiled and eaten at breakfast or as a side dish.
As a lunchtime snack, yams can be lightly fried after a low simmer for a few minutes.
Madhumbe can also be ground into powder. This powder can be mixed with Sazda and served with meat, sour milk, or collard greens for a wholesome and delicious meal.
Madhumbe flour is also a favorite for making healthy bread.
6 – Insects (Locusts, Aphids, Termites) – Hwiza, Harurwa, Ishwa/Imbhombo, Inhlwa
Insects are a good source of protein, and Harurwa and Ishwa are found in large quantities throughout the rainy season in Zimbabwe.
Most insects are caught at night, as they are attracted to various light. Many Zimbabweans event collect insects right by their doorstep.
Hwiza are caught during the day, and mini traps can be set up to catch them. These insects are caught (usually by children), cleaned, and then prepared by frying in a lightly oiled pan until crunchy.
They are eaten with Sadza and can be dried to be eaten later, too. This popular Zimbabwean food can also be eaten as a tasty afternoon snack.
7 – Sour Milk – Hodzeko/Maasi
Hodzeko is a traditional Zimbabwean meal, dating back to the Khoisan people of prehistoric times. Back then, sour milk was consumed with honey and sorghum Sadza.
Traditionally, and in some rural areas today, it was fermented and cured in a clay pot known as a Hodzeko, hence the dish’s name.
Nowadays, Hodzeko production is commercialized, and Hodzeko is sold in most supermarkets. It is eaten with Sadza as a lunchtime meal, as a snack, or even as a dessert with added sugar.
It is lauded for its nourishing ability and its health benefits. Hodzeko is regarded as a great protein source and also provides beneficial fats and bacteria.
8 – African Wild Mushrooms – Hohwa/Amakhowa
Part of the termitomyces family, Nhedzi (a type of African wild mushroom), earns its name because it is farmed underground by termites.
It is common during the Zimbabwean summer months when it pops out of tree barks and is collected.
However, collectors must be careful to collect only from specific trees. This is because it can become poisonous when found on trees such as the gum tree.
Hohwa are bursting with flavor and can be eaten in various ways. Wild mushroom soup is very common in Zimbabwe. These delicious mushrooms can also be lightly pan-fried and served with Sadza, rice, or pasta.
9 – Offals (Beef Tripe) – Matumbu/Ezanga Phakathi
Matumbu is very much an acquired taste. It is usually eaten as a tasty relish, or it can be barbecued to eat as a delicious snack known as Gango.
Matumbu can include tripe, intestines, testes, liver, and kidney. The offals are prepared by boiling the meat for several hours, then adding it to a tomato and onion soup.
Zvinyenze is also a delicacy where the intestines are wrapped around the tripe. These dishes are most often eaten with Sadza at lunch, or as a hearty main, washed down with an ice-cold beer.
10 – Mopane Worms – Madora/Mancimbi
This edible caterpillar is a type of emperor moth and gets its name from feeding on Mopane tree leaves. They are found mainly in the Matebeleland area of the country.
When harvested (i.e. picked from the trees), these insects are squeezed to clean their intestines out. They can be eaten freshly picked or dried in the sun.
If they are dried, you must first boil them to soften them. They can then be fried and eaten as a snack or made into a stew to eat with Sadza. Madora are readily available in most supermarkets, and can even be found canned.
11 – Cow Heels – Mazondo/Amanqina
This is one of the more iconic Zimbabwean dishes, and it is enjoyed by all age groups. Traditionally, it is served with Sadza and collard greens.
The preparation of Mazondo is time-sensitive, as it involves boiling the cow heels for several hours. The heels are brought to a slow boil. Then, salt, black pepper, and garlic are added.
Finally, chopped onion and tomato are added to create a rich and delicious stew. As this dish takes time, and a lot of electricity, most families cook it over an open flame.
12 – Pumpkin Pudding – Nhopi/Inhopi
Pumpkin pudding is traditionally seen as a meal for young children. It is a porridge of sorts and is made from mashed up pumpkins, water squash (Shamba), mealie meal, and peanut butter.
While it is a naturally sweet dish, sugar can be added to further sweeten the taste. It is a light meal and can be served as dessert, snack, side dish, or lunch.
Fresh cream and cinnamon are commonly added to pumpkin pudding to add some depth to the flavor.
To make pumpkin pudding, Zimbabweans boil the pumpkin and water squash together in a medium-sized pot.
The mixture is then mashed to a desired consistency and cream, butter, and peanut butter are added before serving.
13 – Dried Greens (African Spider Flower Leaves) – Mufushwa Wenyevhe/Ulude
Dried African spider flower leaves are a form of collared greens that are not farmed but instead grow like weeds. The plant is referred to as African cabbage, and it has a tangy, slightly bitter taste.
Mufushwa are packed with goodness like iron, vitamins A, C, calcium, and phosphorus. The leaves are prepared by first being dried, then boiled in water.
Peanut butter is commonly added to enhance the flavor. It is often enjoyed for lunch or dinner with Sadza, and it is traditionally a meal eaten in rural areas.
14 – Tanganyika Sardine – Matemba/Kapenta
These tiny fish are found in Zambia, Malawi, and Zimbabwe. They look like anchovies, but they have a salty taste due to the high amounts of salt used in the drying process.
Tanganyika sardines are usually sold sun-dried, then rehydrated during preparation. They are so small they are eaten as they are, without gutting or cleaning.
The sardines are delicious in stews or eaten straight from the pack as a snack.
Desserts, Snacks, and Drinks
15 – Maize Meal Drink – Maheu/Amahewu
Maize is a central part of Zimbabwean cuisine, and it can be found in mains, desserts, and drinks. This refreshing non-alcoholic drink is so popular, in fact, that it has been commercialized.
Traditionally, Maheu was made from fermenting leftover Sadza or from a porridge paste. It is a drink of choice for many as it is easy to make while being inexpensive.
Historically, Maheu was drunk by workers in the fields to give them energy, as it is a starchy drink.
The brewing agent is known as Chimera (malted Rapoko) and can lead to the drink becoming alcoholic if left long enough.
To make Maheu, you simply add water, chimera, and sugar to leftover Sadza, and then let it rest in a warm place. After a day or two, it will be ready and will have a layer of froth.
16 – African Beer – Masese/Umqomboti
Brewing has a rich history in Africa, dating back long before Europeans came to the continent. Various influences include both traditional methods and European influences.
The most common type of Zimbabwean beer is sorghum beer, sometimes called opaque beer. It can be found commercially under names such as Chibuku and can be brewed rurally.
Beer is an important part of many spiritual traditions. It is often brewed for practices such as memorials or rain-making ceremonies as a gift to the ancestors.
Masese is made by mixing maize meal, sorghum, starter, brown sugar, and water, then allowing the mixture to ferment. The longer it ferments, the stronger the drink.
17 – Roasted Maize – Mhandire/Umumbu
Roasted maize is a wholesome and tasty snack, especially during the harvest season.
Visions of sitting around a fire while roasting maize and sometimes nuts are invoked when many Zimbabweans think of this snack.
Roasted maize is common in rural areas but can be found in many households in suburban and urban areas too.
Making it is a simple process. Mhandire is made by soaking the maize overnight, or sometimes several days, to soften the grains.
Once softened, the maize is placed in a pan with salt and roasted until golden brown. It is a simple and delicious Zimbabwean dish, enjoyed as a snack or dessert.
Zimbabwean Foods Summary
Zimbabwean food’s unique connection to ancient tradition and natural ingredients make it a truly fascinating African cuisine.
It is a testament to the resourcefulness of the indigenous people that recipes and foods people made centuries ago have survived through the ages.
Traditional Zimbabwean cuisine is earthy, fresh, and at one with Mother Nature.
One final time, before we leave the heat and color of Zimbabwe, let’s take another look at all foods covered in this article:
- Maizemeal – Sadza/Isitshwala
- Porridge – Bota/Iyambazi
- Yellow Watermelon with Sun-Dried Maize – Umxhanxa
- Peanuts, Maize and Beans Dish – Mutakura/Mangai
- Yams – Madhumbe/Magogoya
- Insects (Locusts, Aphids, Termites) – Hwiza, Harurwa, Ishwa/Imbhombo, Inhlwa
- Sour Milk – Hodzeko/Maasi
- African Wild Mushrooms – Hohwa/Amakhowa
- Offals (Beef Tripe) – Matumbu/Ezanga Phakathi
- Mopane Worms – Madora/Mancimbi
- Cow Heels – Mazondo/Amanqina
- Pumpkin Pudding – Nhopi/Inhopi
- Dried Greens (African Spider Flower Leaves) – Mufushwa Wenyevhe/Ulude
- Tanganyika Sardine – Matemba/Kapenta
- Maize Meal Drink – Maheu/Amahewu
- African Beer – Masese/Umqomboti
- Roasted Maize – Mhandire/Umumbu
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Author: Charmaine Kahiya is a researcher and writer from Harare, Zimbabwe. She is passionate about her native cuisine and culture, sharing insight and knowledge through her writing.
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