Part of the fun of visiting a different country is trying out the traditional foods and flavours the country has to offer; and the tourists who have high standards when it comes to food won’t be disappointed with what Botswana is serving. Although the foods the tourists will be more familiar with are available in major towns and cities, the lodges, hotels and restaurants offer traditional style dishes of international standard.
Visitors to Botswana will quite easily find restaurants, bars and fast food joints that serve the international favorites in urban areas, but in the more rural and less developed areas in Botswana, the food becomes more basic – and that’s not to say the locals compromise on taste. While many of the locals in the bigger towns also enjoy the ‘tourist’ food as a treat, many prefer to cook traditional dishes in their homes.
Traditional Botswana meals will often include pap or sadza, a stiff maize-based porridge, which is usually accompanied by some form of stew to provide the protein. Locally grown fruit and vegetables are available in abundance, including the fruit of the marula tree, their delicious wild spinach (morogo) and watermelons, which are thought to have originated in Botswana.
Botswana’s national dish is a stew called seswaa, which is made usually with beef but can also be made with goat meat. The meat is boiled with onions and pepper for about two hours, before being pounded with salt for flavour and then shredded. It is normally served on pap, which is made by stirring ground maize meal into boiling water until it makes a thick paste and then leaving it to cook. Morogo, the local wild spinach, is often served with the dish.
Beef is the most popular meat in Botswana, followed by goat, which is often stewed. Chicken is also popular and many households will keep hens for both eggs and meat. The Tswane people normally eat their biggest meal in the day at lunch and have a snack or light meal for supper. A popular breakfast food is bogobe, which is made by pouring sorghum or millet flour into water and cooking it. It is normally served with milk and sugar but can also be eaten with meat and vegetables as a main meal, taking the place of pap.
Along with the wealth of fruits and veggies available from the markets that have been grown locally, Botswana also grows many peas and beans, which provide the locals with protein when meat is scarce which can be often in the developing country, so pulse-based dishes are also popular. Due to the European influence in the bigger towns, rice is becoming more popular than it used to be but is still considered to be more associated with the European community.
Vetkoek, an Afrikaans influence, is also popular because it requires very little. Bread dough is allowed to rise and is then deep fried in oil and the effect is almost like a bagel with no hole in the middle. The vetkoek is normally cut open and filled with curried mince or any other filling and can be used in sweet or savoury dishes.
Braai’s, or barbeques, are also popular in Botswana and can be used to celebrate a special occasion or just a gathering of friends or family. Traditionally, men cook the meat outside on an open fire and women prepare pap and gravy and normally a salad to go with it. Oxtail is another favorite for special occasions and has become a more regular meal as the population emerges from poverty.
Only the most daring of visitors are brave enough to try the most exotic Botswana cuisine has to offer: the Mopani worm. The beautifully colourful caterpillars are dried or cooked into a stew and are definitely a local delicacy.
Trying out the food in a different country or culture can be exciting and adventurous, and can even be one of the best parts of your holiday. Even if you don’t like it, at least you’ll be able to say you tried.