International Cooking: Food from Malawi

It was difficult to find food from Malawi to make this week! I didn’t get any help from Reddit because I wasn’t approved to post in the Malawi subreddit, so I was left with the limited information I could find myself.


Malawi is a landlocked country in Southeastern Africa, bordered by Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique.

The region was first settled around the 10th century by migrating Bantu groups, and was colonized centuries later by the British. They named it the ‘British Central African Protectorate’, but it was renamed ‘Nyasaland’ in 1907.

In 1964, Nyasaland gained independence as a Commonwealth realm, and was renamed ‘Malawi.’ Two years later, their Prime Minister, Hastings Banda, converted the country into a one-party presidential public, becoming president. In 1971, he was declared president for life, and a few decades of his highly repressive dictatorship followed.

A multi-party system was introduced in 1993 and Banda was defeated in the general election the following year. Malawi continues to have a democratic, multi-party republic today, with peaceful transitions of power.

Malawi is one of the world’s least developed countries, with a low life expectancy and high infant mortality. The government has faced many challenges in its efforts to improve the economy, education, healthcare, and environmental protection. However, in recent years, Malawi has not been as dependent on outside aid and has seen progress in achieving its goals.

What Do People Eat in Malawi?

Staple foods in Malawi include rice and porridge made from ground maize, which are usually served with meat, beans, and/or vegetables. This is a typical Malawian lunch or dinner.

Fish from Lake Malawi such as chambo (a type of tilapia), usipa (similar to sardines), and mpasa (similar to salmon) are commonly eaten.

Some other important components of Malawian cuisine include tea, coffee, sugar, potatoes, sorghum, cattle, and goats.

What I Made

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

Rice Phala (Rice Porridge)

Rice Phala (Rice Porridge)

This is one of two popular breakfast porridges in Malawi; the other is known as ‘mgaiwa phala’ and is made from maize. Rice is easier for me since I always have it on hand, so that’s the version I made. It’s usually sweetened with sugar.

I cooked the rice on the stove with water and a little salt. When it was nearly done, I stirred in some milk, butter, and sugar, and after a few minutes it was ready.

I added strawberries to my phala, which may or may not be traditional, but I wanted to add some color and nutrients.

I thought this tasted pretty good, though I’d prefer it as a dessert since I really need more protein for breakfast!

The recipe I used is from Honest Cooking.

Curried Fish

Curried Fish

This dish is typically made with chambo, which is the local name for a type of tilapia endemic to Lake Malawi. I really don’t like the taste of tilapia, so I used cod instead and prepared it the same way.

Before I could make this dish, I first had to make a Malawian curry powder and fruit chutney.

For the curry powder, I lightly toasted some spices and ground them in my spice grinder. This included dried chilies, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, poppy seeds, brown mustard seeds (which I used instead of black), cumin seeds, and cloves. When those were ground, I added ground turmeric and cinnamon. and that was the curry powder done.

For the chutney, I rehydrated some dried apricots by soaking them in water. Then I added them with the soaking water to a saucepan with chopped peaches and red onion, along with raisins, sugar, ground chili, ground coriander, and salt. The recipe called for fresh peaches but they weren’t quite in season so I used frozen instead. I simmered the chutney for around an hour, and then I was ready to make the dish.

I seasoned the cod with salt and lemon juice, then coated it in flour and pan-fried for a few minutes on each side. I set the fish aside and began to sauté some onion.

After a few minutes, I added some of the curry powder. I did not use it all, even though it looks like the recipe was telling me to add the rest after a few minutes, since it seemed like it would be way too much. Judging by the end result, I think this was a good decision.

I added some chopped carrot and green bell pepper, then after a few minutes added water and let everything simmer for a bit.

Next, I stirred in some of the fruit chutney and added the fish. I let that sit for just a few minutes to make sure it was warmed through.

I served this over white rice. It was a very flavorful dish; I was actually surprised at how much I liked it. This is lucky because I still have chutney and curry powder left over, and I’m going to have to use them in some way.

The recipe I used for this is from The Food Dictator.

Kachumbari (Tomato, Cucumber, Onion, and Chili Salad)

Kachumbari (Tomato, Cucumber, Onion, and Chili Salad)

This is a simple salad popular all over East Africa, also known as ‘tomato and onion salad.’

I made this by combining chopped tomatoes, red onions, jalapeños, cucumber, and fresh cilantro, and adding minced garlic and lime juice. The dressing was made from garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, honey, parsley, salt, and pepper.

This was pretty good, but I knew it would be since I’ve made many similar salads throughout this challenge. I think this is just a winning combination and that’s why it’s common in so many countries!

The recipe I used here is from African Bites.

  • Mgaiwa phala – a breakfast porridge made from maize and sweetened with sugar.
  • Nsima – maize porridge, served with meat, beans, and/or vegetables.
  • Mandzasi – Malawi’s version of fried dough! Often seasoned with cardamom.
  • Mkhwani – pumpkin leaves cooked in peanut sauce.
  • Nthochi – as far as I can tell, this is just the Malawian name for banana bread.

Final Thoughts

The food this week was quite good; I actually really enjoyed the curried fish!

Next week, I will be cooking food from Malaysia.

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