Zambian cuisine, though varied, is mostly centered around nshima, which is the country’s staple food. A variety of other foods have gained popularity when it comes to dishes being served alongside nshima. Coming from the Northern Region but famous countrywide, Mopane Worms are amongst the most loved delicacies.
The climate in the country allows different kinds of vegetables to grow. Wild vegetables are also a very common feature in Zambian cuisine. Fresh vegetables can easily be found being sold in the markets and even in the streets
With over 72 tribes and 10 provinces, one would expect a very wide variety of foods; however, the cuisine, countrywide, is centered around the same food. The major difference is the method of preparation. When it comes to the famous cassava and groundnuts snack, while some prefer roasting the cassava, in other parts of the country, frying the cassava is preferred.
One dollar in Zambia can get you up to four different types of vegetables. Of course, that will depend on where you are buying from. Wild fruits, though mostly seasonal, are also quite popular in Zambia. Mango is one of the most eaten fruits in Zambia, though it is also a seasonal fruit.
What makes Zambian cuisine interesting are the innovations surrounding some of the foods eaten. African Polony, or chikanda as it is popularly known, is possibly one of the most interesting food-related innovations in the country.
Traditional Zambian Foods:
Nshima is one of the most popular foods eaten in Zambia. A thick porridge made from mealie meal, a relatively coarse flour made from maize or mealies, serves as the staple food of the country. Having not so much taste on its own, it is always served alongside a variety of relish, and it is usually eaten with the hands. Nshima is one of the easiest foods to prepare; all it takes is mealie meal and water.
It is eaten countrywide, making mealie meal one of the most sought-after food products in the country. It is not certain which part of the country it originated from, but in some parts of the country, maize has been replaced with cassava, millet and/or sorghum meal. Regardless of these available options, mealie meal is by far the best option.
2. Ifinkubala (Mopane Worms/ Caterpillars)
This unusual delicacy is a favorite among many Zambians. Coming mostly from the northern part of the country, these delicious caterpillars make their way countrywide and are enjoyed by many. Fresh caterpillars are usually hand-picked in the rainy season between November and March. They are then drained of their inner contents and are dried to make them available throughout the year.
The high protein-containing caterpillars can either be eaten as a snack, or can be enjoyed with nshima. They are easy to prepare and can easily be found in most markets.
3. Kapenta (Dry Sardines)
Kapenta is one of the most eaten foods in Zambia. Available in most markets countrywide, kapenta usually goes by the name of the town it originates from. For example, the most popular kapenta names are mpulungu and siavonga, as these towns are the most common sources of kapenta. There is a variety of kapenta found in markets, but the common ones are siavonga and chisense. It is an easy dish to prepare, as it normally just requires to be fried, and then tomatoes and onions are added.
Though kapenta can be eaten fresh, it is mostly sold dry, as it is easy to preserve it and then sell it countrywide. It is mostly sold in markets and on the streets, in some instances.
4. Chikanda (Arican Polony)
Chikanda is one of the most famous delicacies enjoyed in Zambia. Originally common among the Bemba people of the Northern Region, this meat-like special is often referred to as African Polony. It is prepared using wild orchids, which are dried and pounded.
The pounded orchids are combined with a thick mixture of pounded groundnuts. The mixture is stirred until there is a meat-like consistency. Chili is sometimes added as a seasoning, depending on one’s preference. It can be served on its own as a snack or as part of the day’s main meal. It is also one of the common street foods sold in busy towns. It is usually sold by women who carry a large chikanda cake on their heads, advertising it to prospective customers.
5. Bushmeat (Game Meat)
Due to a large number of wildlife, game meat is a common delicacy in the country. Although game meat is no longer as readily available as it was back in the day due to enhanced wildlife protection rules, it can still be purchased legally from licensed suppliers.
The most common wild animals consumed in Zambia include Buffalo, Kudu, Impala, and Porcupine. Game meat is usually smoked and dried before it is sold.
6. Dry Fish
One way to enjoy fish in Zambia is to eat it dry. Zambia has many water bodies, making fish one of the most popular foods in the country. Dry fish is found in most markets countrywide, although it is usually sourced from provinces that have water bodies. Drying the fish not only helps preserve it but also enhances the taste of the fish.
The most common types of fish that are dried include tilapia or bream, bottle fish, cat fish, and so on. Depending on the type of fish, it is split open, mildly smoked and later sun-dried. Dry fish makes a good meal alongside nshima and different kinds of vegetables.
Samp is another popular food eaten in Zambia. Like nshima, it is also sourced from maize. However, unlike nshima, the maize isn’t finely ground. Once it has been ground into smaller pieces and the coating around the maize is off, you have your samp.
Samp can be eaten in so many different ways. It can be eaten, for example, with fresh milk, sour milk, sugar, roasted ground peanuts, or raw ground peanuts. Samp is an all-rounder. It can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or even dinner. It is also sometimes used as a cheap option for feeding a large number of people, making it popular in boarding schools.
Ifisashi is a general term used to describe any food that is mixed with groundnuts. There is a wide variety of ifisashi, which include different kinds of vegetables being mixed with ground peanuts. Ground peanuts can also be combined with mealie meal to make porridge as well as samp to enhance its taste.
9. Kandolo (Sweet Potatoes)
Kandolo is another one of the most popular foods in Zambia. Grown in most parts of the country, this favorite is usually available from January to July. As their name suggests, these potatoes are sweet and can be eaten in many different ways. They can, for example, be fried, peeled and boiled, boiled in their jackets, roasted, grilled, baked, or mixed with peanut. Like samp, sweet potatoes are also an all-rounder; they can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner, depending on how they are prepared.
10. Tente (Amanita Zambiana)
Tente is a very popular type of wild mushroom, which is usually available between October and January. The slimy mushroom is usually enjoyed throughout the country. Its short season doesn’t prevent it from being a top favorite. The large umbrella-like mushroom is often sold on the streets and in markets. Before it can be cooked and enjoyed, it requires thorough cleaning as its upper membrane attracts sand.
Lumanda is a very popular vegetable in Zambia. It is mostly enjoyed for its sour taste. It not only comes with a sour taste but also with health benefits such as controlling hypertension. It is usually prepared in two ways. On the one hand, it can be prepared by simply adding tomato and onion, and on the other hand, ground peanuts can be added to bring a whole different taste.
12. Impwa (Aubergine)
Though it has a slightly bitter taste, the egg-shaped vegetable is one of the most enjoyed delicacies in Zambia. It is often served with nshima, other vegetables, and meat products.
It is grown throughout the year and is found in most parts of the country. It also serves as a natural source of vitamin B, which is much needed for the body. It can also be added to other vegetables, such as pumpkin leaves, cassava leaves, and even to certain types of mushroom.
13. Bondwe (Amaranth Leaves)
Bondwe is a vegetable that can be considered to be a weed, as it grows just about anywhere possible. Due to its easy availability, bondwe is another popular vegetable eaten in all parts of the country. Though differing in types, bondwe is usually prepared in the same way. It is often soaked in hot water to remove the bitter taste, then mixed with tomato and onion. It also serves as a good source of vitamin K.
14. Chibwabwa (Pumpkin Leaves)
In Zambia, not only are pumpkins eaten widely, but their leaves provide for a very popular vegetable. Chibwabwa is a vegetable that is eaten countrywide. In the past, this vegetable was mostly available between October and March during the rainy season but owing to its demand farmers have taken to growing this vegetable all year round.
The dark green leafy vegetable offers high nutritional benefits. It can be prepared in just 10 minutes. However, it takes some time to remove the fiber from the stalk and the leaves.
15. Katapa (Cassava Leaves)
Katapa, also known as cassava leaves, are another popular vegetable in Zambia. Although this vegetable takes a bit of time to prepare in comparison to other vegetables, it has a very unique taste. It is sometimes combined with impwa and is usually served with nshima. The taste of the cassava leaves is very different from that of the cassava itself. Cassava leaves, though found countrywide, are mostly popular among the Bembas who are the major cassava growers in the country.
16. Delele (Okra)
Prepared using baking soda, delele is mostly loved for its slimy texture. There are various types of okra eaten in Zambia. The most common type is ladyfingers.
This type of okra can be found in most parts of the country, and it is easy to grow. Bush okra, which is in the form of leaves, is also another type of okra that is enjoyed. Though mostly eaten fresh, okra can be dried and pounded before cooking. It is usually served with nshima and other types of relish. Okra can be prepared in less than 15 minutes.
17. Cassava and Groundnuts
Cassava and groundnuts, or tute ne mbalala as this snack is commonly referred as, is another popular snack sold on the streets in Zambia. The cassava, which is usually dry, is soaked in water until it becomes soft before it is roasted over a brazier.
The cassava goes well with roasted groundnuts, and the combination is sometimes compared to that of chicken and chips. It is normally sold at small makeshift markets, bus stops, and places that tend to have heavy foot traffic.
18. Roasted Maize
When talking of street food, you cannot leave out roasted maize. It is one of the most enjoyed snacks available on the streets. In the past, maize was usually available after the rainy season. However, it has become popular all year round in recent times, making roasted maize available at all times. It is usually sold by women on busy roads.
When it comes to street food, vitumbwa is by far one of the most popular in Zambia. The famous breakfast food is made from wheat flour. Either baking powder or yeast is used in the preparation of vitumbuwa. They are usually served hot as they leave the large pot of boiling oil. Vitumbuwas are usually sold in very busy areas such as near schools, offices, bus stops, and places that attract lots of customers.
Michopo is a snack popular amongst alcohol lovers. Beef or goat meat is grilled kebab style. It is sold near bars, taverns, bus stops, and so on. Unlike most of the street food listed, michopo is mostly prepared by and sold by men.