Whether you find yourself on the bustling streets of the capital Maputo or sunning yourself on a beach, you’ll need to keep an eye out for these dishes for a true flavour of Mozambique.
Xima (pronounced shima) is the backbone of Mozambican cooking. This staple, which is popular all over Africa, is a sort of porridge made with corn flour. White in colour and with a mild flavour, it’s an excellent accompaniment for vegetable stews or meaty dishes. Its stiff texture makes it easy to pick up with your hands and the perfect vessel for scooping up the sauce.
Piri-piri is a famously Mozambican chilli sauce and marinade used for cooking and as an everyday table condiment. As it’s also the name for the chilli itself, it’s no surprise that this sauce is packed with spicy Mozambican chillies and usually mixed with garlic, onions and oil. There are so many variations of piri-piri that you’re likely to find at least two kinds on most dining tables. As a marinade, it is commonly used for grilling chicken and prawns. Nando’s, the global chicken franchise, has built its entire brand based on this Mozambican sauce, so it’s worth trying it at the source.
Another staple in Mozambican cuisine is bread, and most neighbourhoods will have a small local bakery where people can buy fresh bread daily. It’s still a more common choice than the mass-produced bread in supermarkets. The standard roll in Mozambique is fluffy on the inside and has a slight crisp on the outside – it’s typically eaten (still warm if you can) with butter.
Feijoada is a hearty bean stew, cooked with beef, pork or both. It has a base of tomato and onion and is simmered until it has a silky texture. Usually, it’s cooked with ham hock, chouriço sausage and sometimes trotters and feet, tripe (also known as dobrada) and other offal. These ingredients give it richness from the fat and gelatine, and a strong meaty flavour. There are seafood variations of it as well, which include clams, calamari and prawns. It can be eaten with rice or xima and is a favourite for Sunday lunch, permitting enough time to digest before sleeping.
Mucapata is a starchy side dish that is something between grits and xima. Comprising mung beans, coconut milk and rice, this smashed combination of ingredients makes a tasty accompaniment to a curry or stew. Mucapata originates from Quelimane, but it’s loved all over.
Galinha asada is flame-grilled chicken usually marinated in piri-piri. However, another very popular version is galinha à Zambeziana – prepared with coconut milk and from the Zambezia region in Northern Mozambique. The taste of coconut is subtle but delicious and is a great pairing with the charcoal flavour of the grilled chicken.
Matapa is made with cassava leaves, which are first pounded and then cooked with onion, garlic and coconut milk. Cassava leaves are eaten in other African countries, especially those neighbouring Mozambique. There are various recipes for matapa all over the country, which include cooking it with peanuts, beans and seafood, such as crab and prawns. It is usually eaten with rice or xima and is widely popular.
This punchy pickle is made with unripe mangoes that are still green. The mangoes are cut and preserved in oil, piri-piri and spices, such as mustard and fennel seeds. The longer you leave it, the more pungent and spicier it becomes. Adding a little bit to your meal will elevate the flavour to a whole other level, and it can be eaten with all sorts of curries and stews. There are various kinds of achar, but the mango one is the most popular.
Mozambique has plentiful fresh seafood, from stonefish and clams to lobster and crabs. The most popular of all are prawns, which are available in all sizes and used in many dishes. Although a more expensive delicacy in other parts of the world, where they’re often found on menus, prawns in Mozambique are affordable and commonly eaten. A typical style of preparation is to grill them with piri-piri or make a prawn curry with coconut milk. Both are delicious and must-try dishes.