The best traditional food in Madagascar

Traditional Food in Madagascar: Hearty Dishes & Delicious Street Food

Madagascar is an island nation renowned for its unique biodiversity and vibrant culture. Nestled in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa, the world’s 4th largest island has a multifaceted heritage. And thus, traditional food in Madagascar is a blend of flavors influenced by Southeast Asian, African, Indian, and European culinary traditions.

Rice is the base for virtually every meal in Madagascar, accompanied by an array of seafood harvested from the island’s extensive coastline and a bounty of tropical fruits cultivated in its lush landscapes. Moreover, the street food in Madagascar provides a convenient and delicious experience into the local culinary traditions, making it popular for both residents and tourists alike for its affordability and authenticity.

Whether you’re exploring the bustling markets of Antananarivo or enjoying the serene landscapes of the Malagasy countryside, these are some of the foods in Madagascar that you should try.

You will see the word Malagasy used frequently below. Malagasy is the term that refers to anything related to Madagascar, its people, cuisine, culture, or language.

Table of Contents

Characteristics of Typical Food in Madagascar

Food in Madagascar reflects a unique blend of influences from Southeast Asia, Africa, India, and Europe, owing to the island’s history and the diverse communities that have settled there. The cuisine is marked by the use of fresh, local ingredients and a variety of flavors that range from mild to spicy. Here are some of the basic characteristics of food in Madagascar:

  1. Rice is a Staple: Rice is a staple food in Madagascar and is consumed at almost every meal. It is often served as the main dish, with accompaniments known as “laoka” which can be meats, vegetables, or legume dishes.

  2. Variety of Proteins: Malagasy cuisine incorporates a wide range of proteins, including zebu (a type of cattle), pork, chicken, fish, and seafood. These proteins are often prepared with rich sauces made from spices and local ingredients.

  3. Use of Leafy Greens and Vegetables: A variety of leafy greens and vegetables are used in Malagasy cooking, reflecting the island’s agricultural diversity. These can include cassava leaves, watercress, and various types of beans and legumes, which are often prepared as part of the laoka.

  4. Flavorful Spices and Aromatics: Garlic, onions, ginger, and turmeric are commonly used to flavor dishes. The influence of Indian cuisine can also be seen in the use of curry and other spices.

  5. Street Food Culture: Street food is an integral part of Malagasy cuisine, offering an array of options from grilled meats to fresh fruits and a large variety of both sweet and savory fried snacks.

  6. Sustainability and Resourcefulness: Traditional Malagasy cuisine emphasizes the sustainable use of ingredients and resourcefulness, with dishes often making use of the whole plant or animal to minimize waste.

Where To Try Traditional Malagasy Dishes

Hotely Gasy: These small, often family-run restaurants serve traditional Malagasy dishes at affordable prices. Eating at these places will give you a taste of local cuisine as made for locals.

Street Food Stalls: Street food is an integral part of Malagasy culinary culture. Vendors typically offer specific types of food meant for quick consumption. Items to try range from snacks like mofo gasy (rice cakes) and samosas to full meals like grilled meats and seafood. 

Local Markets: Visiting local markets allows you to see the fresh ingredients that form the basis of Malagasy cuisine. Some markets also have food stalls where vendors may prepare traditional dishes in large pots.

Traditional Malagasy Restaurants: For a more upscale dining experience, look for restaurants that specialize in Malagasy cuisine. These establishments often offer a broader selection of dishes prepared with a bit more refinement but still retaining the authentic flavors.

But the best way to experience Malagasy cuisine is to be invited into someones home for a meal!

Hearty Dishes of Madagascar

Romazava

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Romazava is a traditional food that is often known as the national dish of Madagascar.
Romazava

Romazava is a hearty stew made from beef, pork, or chicken, combined with a variety of leafy greens that are native to Madagascar. These greens can be brèdes mafana (peppery leaves that can mildly numb the mouth), cassava leaves, or any other available greens. These ingredients are simmered together with water, onions, tomatoes, garlic, and sometimes ginger, resulting in a rich, flavorful broth that is both nutritious and comforting.

It is one of Madagascar’s most iconic dishes, and is often considered a national dish, embodying the flavors and ingredients that are central to Malagasy cuisine.

Ravitoto sy Henakisoa

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Ravitoto is simmered cassava leaves that are often served alongside (pork
Ravitoto

Ravitoto and Henakisoa are both traditional dishes from Madagascar, showcasing the island’s unique culinary heritage. 

Ravitoto refers to a dish made from cassava leaves that are cooked with coconut milk or water and sometimes garlic and onion to add flavor. The cassava leaves are first ground into a paste, which is then simmered until it reaches a thick, stew-like consistency. This dish is often served as a side or as the base for other ingredients.

Henakisoa translates to pork in Malagasy, the national language of Madagascar. One popular way to prepare it is by cooking the pork with garlic, onion, and sometimes tomatoes or ginger. It can be prepared as a stew or fried after marinating.

When combined, Ravitoto sy Henakisoa (cassava leaves with pork) is a beloved traditional Malagasy dish. The rich, fatty flavors of the pork complement the slightly bitter, hearty texture of the cassava leaves, creating a dish that is both flavorful and nutritious. This dish is often accompanied by rice, making it a complete meal.

Note: In the Malagasy language, “sy” means “and” so if you see this then the items are served together 

Voanjobory sy Henakisoa

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Voanjobory is another name for Bambara groundnuts, a type of legume native to Africa that is highly valued for their protein content and resilience in arid conditions. They play a significant role in Malagasy cuisine, offering a source of protein and nutrients in a country where such resources can be scarce. 

When cooked until soft, bambara groundnuts have a texture and taste that complement meat dishes well, and commonly served with beef or the same style of pork listed above.

Thus, Voanjobory and Henakisoa are legumes with pork. And similarly, the dish is served with rice.

Hen'omby Ritra

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Hen’omby ritra is another traditional Malagasy dish, with hen’omby meaning beef and ritra meaning dry. Thus, the dish translates to “dry beef” and refers to the method of preparation that involves slow-cooking beef until it is very tender and has absorbed all the flavors of the spices and seasonings added to it, with most of the liquid reduced.

This method of cooking results in a concentrated, intense flavor and a texture that is both tender and slightly chewy.

The beef in Hen’omby ritra is typically zebu meat, a breed of cattle that is prevalent in tropical countries, including Madagascar, India, Africa, and parts of South America. It is then seasoned with a blend of local spices, garlic, onions, and sometimes tomatoes or ginger, depending on regional variations or family recipes.

The dish showcases the Malagasy culinary tradition of using simple ingredients to create deep, rich flavors. Like the above dishes, it is served with rice.

Vary Amin'anana

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Vary amin’anana is a porridge that translates literally to “rice with greens.” The greens can include a variety of local leafy vegetables, such as cassava leaves, moringa leaves, or any other available greens. Sometimes things like sausage, kitoza (thinly sliced dried meat), or even dumplings are added depending on personal preference.

The rice and greens are cooked together, along with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and sometimes ginger or other spices, to create a flavorful and hearty stew. 

It is best eaten hot and can be enjoyed for lunch or dinner.

 

Akoho sy Voanio

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Akoho sy Voanio is a traditional dish in Madagascar made with chicken and coconut milk.
Akoho Sy Voanio

Akoho sy Voanio is a cherished Malagasy dish that marries the flavors of chicken (akoho) with the rich creaminess of coconut milk (voanio). This beloved recipe is a testament to Madagascar’s ability to blend simple ingredients into a dish with profound depth and comfort. 

The chicken is slowly simmered in coconut milk, infused with aromatic spices such as garlic, ginger, and sometimes turmeric. This results in tender meat that is bathed in a flavorful, silky sauce. The addition of tomatoes and onions enhances the complexity of the dish, adding a subtle acidity and sweetness that balance the richness of the coconut milk. 

Akoho sy Voanio is often served with rice, which perfectly complements the creamy sauce, making it a satisfying meal that captures the essence of Malagasy cuisine.

Street Foods in Madagascar

Mofo Akondro

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Mofo Akondro are Banana Fritters, a popular snack in Madagascar.
Mofo Akondro

Mofo akondro is a banana fritter that is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Akondro means banana in Malagasy and mofo translates to bread, making the direct translation “banana bread” but it is more akin to a fritter.

The dish is made by mashing ripe bananas, which are then mixed with flour, sugar, and sometimes yeast or baking powder to create a batter. The batter is then deep-fried in oil until it becomes golden brown and crispy on the outside. Mofo akondro is often enjoyed as a street food for a quick snack or sometimes for breakfast, offering a sweet and satisfying treat that showcases the natural flavors and versatility of bananas.

You can find them at any street vendor in the early afternoon or at any time in a market known as a “tsena”.

Koba

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Koba: The National Street Food Of Madagascar
Koba

Koba is a traditional sweet treat that is widely consumed across Madagascar. It’s a dense, cake-like snack made from a mixture of ground peanuts, rice flour, and bananas. Sugar or honey is added for sweetness, and sometimes vanilla or other flavorings are incorporated to enhance the taste. This mixture is wrapped in banana leaves and then slowly cooked or steamed for several hours, often overnight. A long cooking process is essential for developing Koba’s unique texture and flavor.

The result is a sticky, sweet, and filling snack that can be sliced and served as a dessert or a hearty treat. It is commonly sold by street vendors and at markets throughout Madagascar, often enjoyed as a snack during travel or as part of celebrations and gatherings.

Mofogasy

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Mofo Gasy (sometimes referred to simply as Mofo) is a type of Malagasy rice cake or pancake that is typically enjoyed for breakfast and served with coffee or tea. It has a slightly sweet taste and a fluffy texture.

Menakely

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Menakely are similar to doughnuts or small pancakes, made from a batter that includes rice flour or wheat flour, sugar, and sometimes coconut milk, then deep-fried until golden. They are a popular breakfast item or snack, known for their sweet flavor and light, airy texture.

Other Street Snacks

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Ramanonaka: A type of fried dough or fritter that can be eaten throughout the day. It is fried until golden brown and can be either sweet or savory, depending on the recipe.

Sambos: Malagasy samosas filled with meat, vegetables, or fish, and deep-fried, making them a perfect savory snack.

Mofo Sakay: Spicy bread rolls made with flour and spiced with green chili peppers, offering a savory and spicy snack.

Brochettes: Skewered and grilled meat (often zebu beef) served with spicy sauce or condiments, a popular choice for a quick meal.

Voyavoy: Fried sweet potato balls, sometimes mixed with flour and sugar, offering a sweet and filling treat.

Malagasy Beverages

Ranon'apango

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Ranon’apango, often abbreviated as Rano Vda or simply RPG, is a traditional Malagasy beverage made from burnt rice water. It is a simple yet cherished drink, deeply rooted in Madagascar’s culinary traditions.

To make ranon’apango, water is added to the residue left at the bottom of a pot in which rice has been cooked and slightly burnt. This mixture is then boiled, allowing the water to absorb the flavors and nutrients from the rice. The result is a rich, slightly toasted-flavored beverage that is often served at room temperature or cooled, typically with a meal.

Ranon’apango has a distinctive taste and offers a refreshing and economical way to quench thirst, making use of something that would otherwise be discarded. Moreover, it is believed to have health benefits, such as aiding digestion.