International Cooking: Food from Madagascar

I finally reached the ‘M’ countries, and there are a lot of them! I started with food from Madagascar, which I knew absolutely nothing about before this week!

Madagascar is an island country off the southeastern coast of Africa. It is made up of the large main island, from which the country takes its name, and many smaller islands. It is the fourth-largest island and the second-largest island country in the world.

Madagascar split from the Indian subcontinent around 90 million years ago, so native plants and animals were able to evolve isolated from the mainland. This resulted in Madagascar becoming one of the world’s 17 megadiverse countries, hosting many species that are found nowhere else.

It is thought that Madagascar was first settled around the first millennium AD by people who came from present-day Indonesia, most likely via canoe. Bantu people came from East Africa around the 9th century, and various other groups followed.

During the early 19th century, the majority of the people living in Madagascar were united and ruled as the Kingdom of Madagascar. In 1897, the monarchy ended due to France annexing the country.

In 1960, Madagascar gained independence and underwent a few changes in government before becoming a constitutional democracy.

Madagascar today is classified as a ‘least developed country’ by the UN. It has grown economically since the early 2000s, but there is a high income disparity meaning the quality of life for most people remains low.

What Do People Eat in Madagascar?

Madagascar’s cuisine reflects the country’s diversity due to migrants from Africa, Southeast Asia, Oceania, India, China, and Europe.

Rice has long been the most important staple in Malagasy cuisine and is typically served with every meal. Over the years, other grains such as maize and tubers such as cassava have become more widespread.

One of the more important meat sources is the zebu, a type of cow that originated in South Asia and was introduced to Madagascar around 1000 AD. Pork, chicken, and seafood are also common.

A variety of vegetables are common at most meals, particularly leafy greens such as cassava leaves. A common seasoning combination is ginger, garlic, onion, and chili. One Redditor told me that ginger is in everything in Madagascar!

Fresh fruit is common as a simple dessert after a meal, but French pastries and cakes are also very popular across the whole island. Madagascar is known for its cocoa and vanilla, and although a lot of it is exported, these are used in various sweet and savory dishes.

What I Made

Scroll down to read about other popular Malagasy dishes I didn’t make!

Mofo Sakay (Spicy Bread)

Mofo Sakay (Spicy Bread)

I love any kind of bread, particularly fried bread, and especially when it’s an interesting savory version. There are many variations of these fritters in Madagascar, but this version has leafy greens and chili mixed into the dough.

This dough got its rising power from baking powder, so I didn’t have to wait for it to rise (the recipe actually specified baking soda, but I used powder instead since there wasn’t anything acidic—aside from the tomato which I didn’t think would count—so I thought powder was a better option). Aside from flour, water, baking powder, salt, and pepper, this dough had curry powder, chopped spinach (watercress in the original recipe), chili, green onions, and tomato.

Once the dough was ready, I dropped spoonfuls into hot oil and let cook until done.

These fritters may not have been neat but they were very good. I might make these again, though probably not so often since they are fried!

The recipe I used is from International Cuisine.

Romazava (Meat Stew with Greens)

Romazava (Meat Stew with Greens)

I knew I had to make romazava since it’s considered Madagascar’s national dish. It’s made from a combination of meats (most likely whatever is available at the time) and leafy greens, seasoned with garlic, ginger, onion, tomato, and chili.

I started by browning some chuck roast, then I added tomato, chili, onion, garlic, and ginger. After cooking for a few minutes, I covered the pot and let everything cook for about half an hour. Then I added a chicken thigh and cooked a bit longer.

Finally, I added a combination of kale and mustard greens and once they had wilted down sufficiently, the stew was ready.

I served this with rice as is common in Madagascar. I know it doesn’t look that pretty but it actually tasted pretty good!

The recipe I used is from National Foods; I just made a few modifications such as leaving out the pork and using different greens.

Vary Amin’anana (Rice Soup with Greens)

Vary Amin’anana (Rice Soup with Greens)

This is a popular stew made mostly from rice and leafy greens, and it’s commonly eaten for breakfast. Often it will be served with eggs or meat.

I cooked some onion, tomato, garlic, and ginger, then added kale. After a few more minutes, I added the rice, water, salt, and pepper, and let everything cook until the rice was done. That was it!

Mine turned out a lot less soupy than the recipe photo, but it tasted good. I ate it with a boiled egg on the side.

The recipe I used is from Camp Fihavanana.

Hen’omby Ritra (Simmered Beef)

Hen’omby Ritra (Simmered Beef)

This is a simple dish consisting of beef simmered with ginger, garlic, and tomato until tender.

I seared some chuck roast, then added ginger, tomatoes, and garlic (no onion this time!) and let everything cook for a few minutes. Then I added water and let it cook until the beef was tender.

To finish, I whisked in a cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce a little. I don’t know how authentic that part is but I think it was a nice touch.

I served this with rice and sautéed vegetables. Although this was very simple, I thought it was delicious!

This recipe came from Amy’s Cooking Adventures.

  • Ravitoto – crushed cassava leaves cooked with garlic and fatty pork.
  • Mofo gasy – a traditional breakfast bread made from rice flour and sugar. They are cooked in a special pan to make small, slightly domed cakes (they are often referred to as ‘Malagasy pancakes’).
  • Ron’akoho – chicken soup made from a certain species of local chicken. It is typically seasoned with fresh ginger, and vegetables may be added towards the end of cooking.

Final Thoughts

I was pleasantly surprised by the food from Madagascar; it was all quite good! My favorite was probably the mofo sakay, which I found difficult to stop eating.

I’m taking a couple of weeks off but when I come back, I will be cooking food from Malawi.

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