Top 20 Most Popular Foods in Botswana
Botswana is a landlocked country located in Southern Africa in which 70% of its land is the Kgalagadi desert; it is bordered by Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
The vast expanse of flat terrain is home to 2.3 million people, the majority of whom belong to the Tswana ethnic group. A significant minority, known as the San, are regarded as the first inhabitants of Southern Africa, and still live out a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Amid the balmy and arid weather conditions, Batswana satiate themselves with a diet consisting primarily of meat, starches and grains, and indigenous plants.
The nation was a protectorate under Britain until 1966, and, like many colonized countries, its cuisine has been tinged with a British touch whilst holding true to its origins.
Let’s take a look now at an assortment of foods relished by the Batswana people.
Meat, specifically beef, plays a vital role in Tswana culture; it is present at all types of gatherings and is served in a variety of ways. One popular way that it is served all around the country is seswaa, which is slow-cooked beef. The most common cuts are the shoulder, rib, rump and neck. All parts of the cow are used, but often cooked separately as they vary in toughness.
Seswaa is traditionally prepared in a three-legged cast iron pot over a sweltering flame; the meat fills most of the pot and is slow cooked in water and lots of salt for an average of five hours. In the rural parts of Botswana, seswaa preparation begins in the morning, cooking throughout the afternoon to be eaten finally at night, with an occasional stir along the way. The result is a comforting stew, with pieces of beef that melt in the mouth.
When a cow is slaughtered, its parts are assigned to different types of preparation, consumption and storage. The making of Segwapa, better known as biltong or beef jerky, is a popular method of preservation and consumption of beef that happens in the winter.
Most Batswana make it in their homes, especially in rural areas where there isn’t any refrigeration to preserve meat. Strips of meat are doused with vinegar before they are lathered in a bed of salt and spices which include coriander, cloves, and black pepper. In comparison to jerky, Segwapa comes in all shapes and sizes: shredded, thick, and stick-thin.
Mogatla, meaning “oxtail” in Setswana, is a stew that is savored all across Botswana. It could be regarded as a national comfort food because of its deep ties with Botswana’s culture.
Most Batswana get their income from rearing and selling cattle, and they tend to save the less expensive cuts, such as the tail, for special occasions. Oxtail can take longer to cook, as half of its weight is bones and it has tougher meat, but once the juices and flavors of tomatoes, onions, broth, and bay leaves have been absorbed, the result is a delicious stew which is devoured in a matter of moments.
Menoto is Setswana for “chicken feet”. You can find many Batswana biting down on this gnarly snack during lunch hour as it is a common street food.
They are usually roasted over a barbeque after being seasoned and spiced. Many people enjoy them hot. Menoto can also be cooked down into a stew to make the most of their gelatin. In restaurants they are served in large portions due to their lack of meat. They are also sold at butcher’s and food stores nationwide.
Batswana have a very peculiar sense of humor, so much so that they’ve dedicated an entire piece of meat to women: a cow’s tongue referred to as leleme la kgomo in Setswana.
It is traditionally prepared like other pieces of meat, however it must be eaten by a woman as Tswana women are said to talk a lot! Folk tales don’t specify if the cow tongue is a remedy to cure chatiness, but, lore aside, roasted beef tongue delivers a warm and delicate taste that many Batswana enjoy.
Dibete means “livers” in Setswana. Both chicken and beef livers are thoroughly enjoyed and accompany many carbs. Not only are livers packed with nutrients, they make for a great stew which is often devouerd with phaletshe (see 14) or steamed bread.
Ironically translated to mean “shoes”, ditlhako are the cooked hooves of cattle. Batswana certainly don’t like wasting food, and enjoy this piece of meat slow cooked till tender, with most of the gelatine having gone into the soup. This delicacy thrives because of its added health benefits such as strengthening the joints and aiding skin elasticity.
8. Koko ya Setswana
Unlike its tender-fleshed relative purchased in markets, the Setswana chicken lives an active, free-spiritied life, lending it a leathery texture and rubbery chew. An intensive slow cook for two to three hours in boiling water will soften it up nicely.
Only after the slow cooking, is this chicken properly seasoned and served. Since Tswana chicken aren’t sold commercially, they are sold alive and must be salughtered, plucked, and prepared by hand, taking the word “traditional” to a whole new level.
When the British arrived on Tswana soil, they introduced a variety of ingredients and baked goods that took on their own twist, quickly became mainstays of Botswana cuisine. Diphaphatha are stove top muffins, similar to English muffins, and are known for their distinctive browning on both sides. Unlike English muffins, diphaphatha take less time to prepare, and require fewer ingredients and utensils.
They are traditionally cooked in cast-iron pans over an open flame, and are enjoyed with fillings both sweet and savoury at any time of the day.
Another twist on a British treat is mapakiwa, a hybrid of a scone and a bun with the texture of a brioche roll. Once baked, they are brushed with butter, which gives them an appetizing glaze.
Full-flavored and made from flour, butter, and eggs, mapakiwa are enjoyed as a teatime dessert, served with a generous helping of jam and more butter! For a twist, you can raisins or pieces of apple.
Wherever you are in Botswana, there is always someone selling these little parcels of deliciousness. Matemekwane are dumplings flavored with herbs and spices, and are served with dips and soups. They can also be stuffed with meat or vegetables, and folded then fried till golden. Remarkably tasty and daintily sized, it’s no wonder they’re such a crowd pleaser.
This treat is another crowd pleaser, for natives and tourists alike. Magwenya are deep-fried donuts sold everywhere in Botswana at all hours of the day.
A phenomenal magwenya hides its flavor, working equally well as a sweet or a savoury snack, always enjoyed with a drink. Magwenya are eaten with anything and everything, ranging from kidney and livers, all the way to jams and jellies. They can even be stuffed with French fries!
Also known as “slap pap” for its pouring consistency, motogo is the Setswana name for soft porridge, commonly eaten at breakfast. To make it, a small amount of sorghum and millet powder are stirred steadily with boiling water to avoid lumps until the mixture begins to thicken and bubble. Instead of using fresh sorghum powder, some people ferment the sorghum in water for weeks to create a bitter substance called tiing. A few tablespoons are taken from the portion of tiing and cooked in boiling water until the mixture thickens and bubbles.
Tiing has a stronger smell than normal motogo, but many enjoy its bitterness, which can be offset with a few teaspoons of sugar. Motogo is also enjoyed with milk, peanut butter and jam mixed in.
Phaletshe, pronounced “pah-leh-cheh” and also known as pap or papa, is a starch that is fundamental to Southern African cuisine. Pap meal is made by grinding dry maize into a fine powder, which is then cooked in boiling water with salt added to taste. The prep requires intense mixing in order to avoid lumps. You can tell how strong someone’s arm is by the consistency of their phaletshe!
Batswana can be picky about their pap; some like it smooth with a dash of butter mixed in; giving it a yellow tinge. Some like their phaletshe coarse and moldable in order to use their hands when eating it. This staple of Botswanan cuisinse is commonly served with stew and vegetables.
Bogobe is another staple, but unlike phaletshe, is more native to Botswana than any other Southern African nation.
Bogobe is made out of powdered millet or sorghum and cooked in boiling water. Varieties include bogobe jwa lerotse, which is made by incorporating a lerotse melon into the sorghum mix.
When eaten raw, a lerotse melon tastes similar to a cucumber, and it gives the bogobe its famous light-orange skin, which is a crowd pleaser at weddings. Bogobe jwa legala is another variant, cooked in milk for a creamier texture. Both are enjoyed with seswaa and indigenous vegetables.
Inspired by the Afrikaans term stampmielies, stampa consists of dried maize kernels that have been chopped and crushed, but not to the extent of powdering them. The chunks of maize are pressure cooked, sometimes with custard powder for a creamier taste, until they reach a porridge consistency.
Afterwards, the Stampa is seasoned with salt, turmeric, and chicken or beef stock. When beans are added, the dish is called dikgobe. It is one of two starches that are acceptable at funerals, the other being bogobe.
An indigenous vegetable found on many plates is morogo. Its dark green textured leaves make it easy to identify, and it comes in several varieties that differ in taste.
The most commonly eaten type of morogo is morogo wa dinawa. It is available in retail stores, but can be easily grown in one’s own backyard. Morogo wa dinawa are spinach leaves frequrntly found growing among bean plants. They have a very subtle taste, and are usually flavored with onions and tomatoes.
Another notable variety of morogo is morogo wa thepe. Unavailable in shops and supermarkets, this Morogo grows on the outside of cattle kraals. Should you spot this spinach leaf, you will have hit the motherload! Once harvested, it is dried or cooked immediately. It has a bitter taste that goes down really well with most carbs.
In addition to gem squashes and gourds, Batswana enjoy the occasional lephutsi as a vegetable accompaniment to dishes. Maphutsi means “squashes” (both butternut and pumpkin), and they are successfully grown and harvested on the parched soil of most rural homesteads. They are cut into chunks and steamed, then lightly seasoned and served along with a carb and meat. In urbanized parts of the country, maphutsi are eaten mashed, steamed or roasted, and flavored with cinnamon, sugar and butter.
Madila is fermented milk and yogurt. It is readily available at celebratory events, and is very popular. Many small businesses in Botswana sell it by the bucketload. And how is it made?
First, cow’s or goat’s milk is left to mature for up to a month. Afterwards, most of the whey from the milk is extracted, and the creamy curds are collected. In the past, madila was made in a lekuka, which is a leather sack.
20. Kabu le Manoko
Sitting alongside the heavy dishes, kabu and manoko are two light snacks enjoyed by natives. Comprising of roasted corn kernels, kabu are lightly salted so as not to distract from the smokiness of the charred kernels, which dry for two to five days before they are packaged. Manoko are the name of the familiar “8-shaped” peanuts. They are boiled in salty water until tender, or sometimes in their shells then eaten once cooled. These snacks are grown, prepared and sold by many spaza shops in townships and villages.
Having come to the end, it is evident that Botswanan cuisine treasures grain and cherishes beef, but also integrates its values, culture and history, into its food. Tough meats, boundless breads, and filling grains have kept its people satisfied and thriving proving that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.