Malawi was a spur of the moment trip but the best place to get the magic pulled out of you. As a child, I was always in awe of that character in the movie who would just up and leave, get onto the flight and see the world when they felt home wasn’t working for them that week. However, the reality of that action when you have an African passport and are on a student budget, it’s kind of hard to make that leap so booking this trip, the stars were aligned perfectly.
Firstly, I had enough savings from my previous years of work to book a return flight 3 days before departure and I was lucky to get it at about R3700 on Kenya Airways (Ksh26,000 give or take). Secondly and most importantly, have at least one friend who lives in the country because accommodation is one of your biggest budget drainers.
So yes, flight, accommodation and a visa-free country mean you’re three-quarter way there on your spending plan. Then there’s food! I personally love food and your trip could go either way depending on the country of choice. Food and dining out in new places can cost you but some of the best tales are from arriving in a new town after getting lost for 2 hours to find every kitchen closed except the one at the deepest darkest corner of the village. Yes, it may not be a 5-star experience but in those circumstances, it sure hits the spot!
When I travel on a budget, I keep my meals to the minimum which would mean eating twice a day. I am more of a brunch supper type of girl and treat myself to two guilt-free indulgent meals. The latter means dining fancy and seeing what the country’s restaurant scene has to offer. Here are my three food experiences that will be great on your next road trip through Malawi.
Supermarket snacks are your friend
When you’re driving across the country, you always get your basics: water, fruit, any other form of liquid (Malawi gin anyone?) and snacks, lots of snacks! Most people say that Southern Africa has the best snacks across the continent.
I’m not going to say yes or no but here are the few that tickled my tastebuds.
- The first is their locally made cool drink known as SOBO. Malawi was hot and humid, so a cold cherry plum SOBO was refreshing and my guilty pleasure during the whole trip. It’s way better than Fanta blackcurrant and I assume what cherry soda tastes like. I loved it and I’m thinking about it right now.
- They also have a variety of corn-puff treats as maize is their staple food. For those who prefer something salty and bordering on the taste of noodles ‘Kamba Puffs’ is your best choice. They are “Ndiwokoma Modabwits’ or unbelievably delicious as the locals would say. Have a drink handy if you don’t do too well with lots of salt.
- I tend to have a bit of a sweet tooth so I gravitated towards ‘HipHop’ puffed corn in milky caramel which was basically magic on my tongue and makes you want to have a little dance. You can have them by themselves, when you’re low on sugar or with a cup of coffee, trust me this is a great combination.
Roadsides have plenty to offer for the liberal-stomached foodie, however, in Malawi, it’s very tricky. Street food is time-based and best tried with a local as they would know where’s the best and safest place to try something. You’ll have a selection of sweet and savoury. In the mornings between 8-10am, you can indulge in mandasi which are round fried doughnuts just like the mandazis in Kenya. If you’re lucky you can try ones with a sweet potato filling (yum!). Around midday to late afternoon, kanyenya which is barbecued meat or fish can be seen by the small markets on the roadside. Lastly, if you’re in the southern parts of Malawi at the right time, you could be open to mice on a stick or fried ngumbi (African termite). I was quite disappointed we did not have a chance to try this but that’s what road trips are you win some you lose some.
On that note, back to the deepest darkest part of the village… relying on google maps in rural Africa can have mixed results and is a sure way to miss your dinner and closing time at the local gas stations. This is how we ended up desperate for what seemed like a good food tale but instead over salted dried pieces of meat and chicken with the staple nsima.
Treat yourself to something fancy
We were lucky to dine at 2 different Sunbird hotels during our trip. Our first introduction to the Malawian restaurant food experience was a late lunch by the beach at Sunbird Livingstonia Beach hotel. We enjoyed the famous prawn cocktail, chambo (a Malawian tilapia fish soaked in garlic, onion, lemon sauce, covered in flour and grilled to give it a crispy exterior), chicken kwasu kwasu which can be translated to chicken yum yum, a chicken dish mixed in mango spices and served with mango atchar and lastly some sweet desserts that were a hit or miss on our table. The second Sunbird was in the city of Blantyre, the morning of our departure to Lilongwe. We ate like Queens at the typical breakfast buffet put on by good hotel chains. The selection was sumptuous – eggs made to order, the beautiful scent of freshly brewed Malawi coffee and lots of baked bread. The fruit selection was sweet and vibrant.
A highlight of the food experience was cosying up to the views of the tea plantations at Satemwa and sipping on their exotic tea blends with some rich chocolate brownies to go with. Malawi is simple with a beauty that lurks just beneath the surface.
Read more in our May issue available in both print and online