Top 20 Foods, Desserts and Snacks from Mozambique
There are three thoughts that come to mind when talking about Mozambican cuisine: “I’ve never had anything like it,” and “Anthony Bourdain couldn’t get enough of it.”
While local Mozambican food often flies under the radar, it is far from boring. From spicy curries to hearty stews and flavorful hot sauces, its cuisine is basically a historical footprint of the Bantu region, with influences from the Indian, Persian, Ethiopian, and Arabic cuisines.
Ethiopian traders frequented the country in the late medieval period, while from the 1500s to 1975, Mozambique was a Portuguese colony, which also left a mark on the local cuisine.
Aside from the easy access to seafood, locals create many dishes with leafy greens, cassava (mandioca), coconut, tropical fruits, and chicken or goat (for meat options). These foods, for the most part, will grow through subsistence farming. So, depending on the region and climatic landscape, we will find slight variations of the country’s household favorites as a consequence.
The general rule of thumb when traveling to Mozambique is finding the nearest restaurant by the beach and ordering freshly caught fish or tiger prawns that are grilled with lemon, garlic, salt, and pepper. Mozambique has been known for centuries as “The Pearl of the Indian Ocean” and back in the day, wealthy travelers from around the world would stop by to enjoy the array of seafood paired with beautiful views and a cold McMahon beer.
But Mozambique has more to offer than delicious seafood. Let’s take a look at the most popular foods in Mozambique.
Mozambican Side Dishes
Whatever establishment you go to, you are sure to find the same options for sides: white rice, vegetable rice, a simple green salad, and fries. However, if you step into any Mozambican household or a restaurant that serves good local meals, you quickly learn that these two staples work with literally any of the dishes showcased on this list.
This side dish is basically the African take on grits. The corn is traditionally refined with a big smashing tool called Pilao, then once grounded into flour, it’s cooked with water until it reaches a thick consistency.
2. Arroz de Coco (Coconut Rice)
This is a great option for when locals want to eat more indulgent and oily curries. Many coastal provinces are big on coconut rice…or coconut in general.
To make this dish, it’s as easy as adding freshly squeezed coconut milk when your white rice is halfway done. The resulting dish really stands out, so perhaps for the average person, it might be a good idea to pair it with grilled meat and steamed veg.
Mozambican Grilled Dishes
In true Southern African style, Mozambicans love barbecuing their meats and seafood on coal. People can be seen every weekend along the beach of Costa Do Sol ordering fish or chicken from one of the several grills stands on there.
However, the “tempero” or marinade is what gives the standard of the local barbecue. A mixture of salt, pepper, lemon, and some white wine vinegar are essential to make a proper grill base.
3. Frango com Piri-Piri (Peri-Peri Chicken)
Some people may recognize this name from several chain restaurants, but this dish has a long-standing legacy from the spice trade when the chili plants took off in Mozambique’s local climate.
By simply adding crushed peri-peri to the local “tempero” and marinating the chicken in it overnight, a fantastic tangy and hot meat is ready for the grill. This marinade is in fact so foolproof that can be used on grilled prawns as well.
4. Frango a zambeziana (Zambezia Chicken)
This is a very simple yet popular dish in Mozambique, which originated in the Zambezia Province. After making the “tempero,’’ (this time, replacing the vinegar with olive oil) coconut milk is added to the marinade.
When grilling on a low fire, the remains of the marinade should be used continuously to coat the chicken in order to have extra moist meat.
This fish is very cheap and similar to sardine. People enjoy grilling and eating it during a picnic on the beach since the bones are so delicate that you can actually chew through them. For this fish, no side dish is needed. The marinade is used at a minimum and yet it is still so flavorful that ordering one serving is never enough.
Mozambican Stews and Curry Dishes
The majority of the country’s dishes consist of curries or stews combined with coconut milk and/or ground peanut. While a few of the following meals are usually cooked with a specific protein, it is not uncommon to switch it around and use a different option. eg: dried shrimps, chicken, beef, calamari, or any other kind of fish.
Curries and stews are not only enjoyed on a day to day basis, but also at huge celebratory events with buffets, like birthday parties and weddings.
6. Caril de Amendoim
In Mozambique, locals buy whole peanuts for a very low price and use them in several dishes. The common practice is to smash them with a “Pilão” until they turn into a flour. This curry originated in the northern part of Mozambique.
7. Caril de Carangueijo
This dish is one of those staples that tell a very sad tale of today’s seafood market in Mozambique. Like many local curries, this one is particularly packed with grated coconut, sunflower oil, and spices. However, the main feature is the crab.
Several dishes in Mozambique, which are reliant on their seafood quality, have suffered a huge hit and are even hard to make nowadays due to the mass export to China. Big crabs, tiger prawns, and groupers used to be very easy to buy from local fishermen but now, in a few areas, it’s almost impossible.
Chacuti is an Indo-Portuguese culinary dish from Goa, Damão, and Diu, which originated in the Portuguese State of India. It is often made with chicken, goat, or beef, and can also be prepared with fish. It is also sometimes called xacuti.
It includes a variety of ingredients, such as coconut, saffron, cumin, cloves, ginger, paprika, cinnamon, almond kernels, garlic, black pepper, chili peppers, coriander, mustard seeds, broth, vinegar, and salt. The meat is cut into pieces and fried in a saute with mustard.
The sauce is prepared separately with broth, almonds, and coconut blended with a hand blender. In the end, this sauce and the remaining ingredients are added to the meat. The result is a dish with a thick, dark brown, not very spicy sauce. It’s usually served with white rice or “apas”, Indian bread.
As far as vegetables are concerned, you can have beans, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and rice. For meats, you can have chicken, pork spare ribs, pork belly, pork ear, pork feet, and various types of beef. All these ingredients make up a very strong dish, which is ideal in the cold winter weather.
10. Feijoada à Moda Ibo (Ibo style Feijoada)
Feijoada is a common name given to dishes from the cuisines of the Lusophone regions and countries such as Portugal, Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, East Timor, and Macau. It consists of a bean stew, usually with meat, and is almost always accompanied with rice.
It is a dish that originated in northern Portugal and is now one of the most popular Portuguese dishes, with various versions in the former Portuguese colonies.
So when having a typical Portuguese feijoada in Mozambique, it tends to be on the more expensive side as it includes chorizo, black sausage, chicken, and beef. However, the island of Ibo has a local take where the meat is replaced with shrimps and fish, and the commonly used brown/black bean is replaced with the red-eyed bean.
Mozambican Leafy Dishes
The foods that form part of the daily diet in African villages are often based on the use of traditional vegetables, which represent an important part of the diet, thanks to their content of protein, vitamins, and minerals.
In sub-Saharan Africa, about 800–1000 traditional leaf species grow, many of them little known: some are left to spread naturally, others are cultivated on small plots, with traditional techniques passed down through the generations. The leaves can be eaten raw (in salads), cooked (like spinach, or in the form of curry), or dried and shredded.
Matapa is, in Mozambique, a dish made with piled cassava leaves, cooked in a sauce based on ground peanuts and coconut milk and seasoned with seafood, which can be shrimp (fresh or dried) or crab.
The cassava leaves, preferably the youngest ones, are ground together with garlic and chili until they make a cream that you put to boil (without water); when the cream is almost dry, you add chopped tomato and onion and the seafood and let it boil until the flavors are well mixed.
Finally, add the coconut and peanut milk and let the dish boil, stirring constantly; then let it simmer.
Cacana (Kakana) is a crawling plant with a bitter taste and in extreme cases, it is compared to chloroquine. It has medicinal qualities, and is tossed in boiled water and then used for cleaning the blood and kidneys.
It also serves as food, prepared with peanut flour, like Matapa. Its fruits, Tihaca, are also a delight, prepared with peanuts or with egg.
This is hands down the most popular dish in Mozambique (particularly the south). There is even a song about it! This plant originated from Central America and it’s very cheap and easy to grow. In several African countries, the leaves are eaten raw or, more often, cooked like spinach, or dried to preserve them for a long time.
The biggest reason why families have this as their main dish is that it’s so quick to cook. In a pan, saute finely chopped onion with peanut oil, then add tomatoes cut into small cubes and let this cook. Then, add well-washed tseke leaves, cover with water, and cook for about 15 minutes.
Badjias are fried snacks, typical of Indian cuisine, but also very popular in Mozambique, where they are usually made with Nhemba Bean flour and sold on the street along with bread, to serve as “matabicho,” or breakfast. The flour is mixed with yeast, salt, piled garlic, Indian saffron, and sometimes other seasonings.
In India, or in other countries where large communities of Indians live, the snack is called “bhajji” and is often served in restaurants, in the shape and size of tennis balls, made of onion pieces covered with a well-seasoned batter. In Mozambique, it is common to eat badjia with bread, as a sandwich.
The samosa is a specialty of Indian origin. In Portugal, you can find minced meat versions (mostly beef and pork). In Mozambique, given the large population of Goan origin, chamuça is also a very common pastry.
16. Gulamo Jamo
Gulab jamun, or gulaab jamun, is a sweet made from powdered milk that is very popular in South Asian countries. The Mozambican version of this delicate dessert is very easily found as street food or in small bakeries. It resembles the Brazilian “bolinhos de chuva”.
It is made of wheat flour, eggs, condensed milk, and baking powder or baking soda. The little balls are fried in hot oil, coated with melted sugar, and sprinkled with grated coconut.
17. Bolinhos de Sura
With a large number of palm trees, the region of Inhambane is suitable for the production and commercialization of sura because it is a juice extracted from the palm and prepared with local ingredients. Sura producers sell to retailers. As the price is still considered low, the product is affordable.
In the Inhambane region, family and friends often meet where sura is sold. When returning from the sea, fishermen try to relax with the alcoholic drink. When a visitor arrives, they are always served sura as a “welcome.” It is consumed the most along the coast.
Sura dumplings are made with wheat flour, but the main ingredient is the sura alcoholic drink. The tip is to eat them as a snack with tea or juice. Inhambane and Maxixe are the cities that produce the most sura dumplings and even sell them outside of Mozambique.
Mafurreira is a tree whose seed can be used industrially. It is very common in southern Mozambique and Angola. This tree can be used to make boats. However, it also contains little dark orange fruits with black dots that are commonly used in Mozambique to make a hearty dessert.
After soaking it in water overnight, the soft mafurra is squeezed using one’s hands until the white creamy goodness is separated from the seed. After drizzling with sugar, lemon, and refrigerating for an hour, a filling tropical dessert is enjoyed by children after a long day of playtime.
19. Doce de Mandioca
This dessert can be served hot or cold and should be made a few hours in advance. It is one of the tastiest traditional sweets of Mozambique, and most children can’t resist it. It’s made with coconut milk and cinnamon, perfect to eat for breakfast and as dessert. And the most important thing is that it’s very cheap to make!
A very popular dessert that originated in Portugal and can be found served at any festivity. A simple yet tasty egg flan, it is usually served plain or with dried fruit.