Food in Malawi

Food in Malawi


The staple food of Malawi is ‘nsima’ (pronounced en-see-ma), a form of thick porridge prepared with maize flour. Most Malawians participate in subsistence farming and fishing, and its lifestyle has shaped the nation’s dietary preference; nsima is rich in carbohydrates and Malawians feel it keeps them strong. It is usually eaten twice a day at lunch and dinner. Nsima is never eaten on its own. It is served with an accompanying food, called ‘relish’, known locally as ‘ndiwo’ or ‘dende’.

In the poorer regions of Malawi, the relish is usually comprised of only vegetables (typically cassava leaves, sweet potato leaves, bean leaves, pumpkin leaves, mustard leaves, rape leaves, kale leaves or cabbage), but in the wealthier areas, fish or meat is used (goat meat, chicken and beef are popular).

Maize is one of Malawi’s most important crops. After harvest, maize is typically ground up into flour, which is then used to make nsima. Two common types of maize flours are used;

  1. Ufa woyera – white maize flour which has the outer kernel shell seed germ pounded off leaving just the starchy part.
  2. Ufa wa mgaiwa – brown maize flour which has the whole kernel. This flour is rougher in texture and more nutritious than the Ufa woyera.


Geographically, Malawi sits on the shore of the vast Lake Malawi which is the third largest lake in Africa and is abundant with fish. Fresh fish from Lake Malawi is the country’s speciality, and the most famous fish loved by both locals and foreigners is chambo (a species of the tilapia family and similar to bream). People also consume mpasa (like salmon), usipa (like sardines), batala (butterfish), and kampango (similar to catfish).


Malawians may enjoy the local plain doughnut, called ‘mandasi’ for dessert. Fruits are plentiful, including mangoes, bananas, papayas, oranges, and pineapples.

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