What to Eat on Holiday in Madagascar
Trying out the local dishes is all part and parcel of any trip abroad and it’s no different when on holiday in Madagascar. Although there are strong French influences in Malagasy cooking (Madagascar was a French colony from 1896 to 1960), most dishes are rice based and on any drive through rural Madagascar, and even in the suburbs of the capital Anatananarivo, where there’s water you’ll see rice paddies. Rice or ‘vary’ is often eaten three times a day, so no surprise then that the national dish, Ramazava, is based on rice. This popular dish is cooked in one single pot, often on an open fire, with rice added to a sizzling mix of beef, greens, tomato, onions and ginger.
Rice paddies dominate the landscape in the central highlands of Madagascar
A quick poll at our London office however, shows that our Madagascar team unanimously vote ‘fish in coconut sauce’ as the most tasty, traditional dish. Anywhere on Madagascar’s coastline visitors will find that seafood dishes predominate. And Madagascar has a lot of coast – it’s the fourth biggest island in the world with a tropical coastline of 3000 miles, a mix of idyllic white sand beaches, rocky headlands and lush vegetation.
Local Malagasy Fishermen
Our second favourite dish is chicken with vanilla sauce. Over 80% of the world’s vanilla is produced in Madagascar, and whilst most is exported to the USA, many local dishes, both savoury and sweet use the spice. Vanilla is actually a Mexican orchid and it has to be hand pollinated as the insect that naturally pollinates it, a specific type of stingless bee, is only found in Mexico. After saffron, labour-intensive vanilla is the second most expensive spice word-wide. Madagascar together with its Indian Ocean neighbours, Reunion, Mauritius and the Seychelles, are collectively called the Vanilla Islands.
One last ‘must try’ is Ravitoto, a dish made from a spinach-like green leafy green vegetable, often cassava leaves, which are ground up and boiled with small pieces of fatty pork and ginger root. Cassava leaves can taste a little bitter, so this dish needs to be boiled for quite some time, and either a little sugar or coconut milk can be added. Eat it with hot rice of course!
The quality of fresh fruit and vegetables in Madagascar is remarkable, even though there is little use of pesticides as yet, and whilst the individual fruit may look smaller than we are accustomed to, in many cases the taste is considerably richer. On the west coast the mango season is October to November, and the same time of the year on the more humid east coast it’s lychee season. There can be a massive surplus of both in season, with stalls lining the roadside villages. So expect delicious fresh fruit at every meal and follow the locals who use a handy twig to floss their teeth after dinner.
Freshly grown mango
Don’t miss the opportunity to try the mangosteen, our favourite of all Madagascar’s exotic fruits. The outside is purple with a bright white edible inside, shaped rather like a tangerine. It only grows close to the equator and is our contender for the accolade of ‘tastiest fruit in the world’. We aren’t the only ones who have taken a shine to this delicious fruit; legend has it that Queen Victoria offered £100 to anyone who could bring her fresh mangosteen.
Our Madagascar holiday team here at Rainbow Tours are passionate about all things Malagasy and believe that travel should involved the local community, so that visitors receive the very best welcome and genuinely experience the real Madagascar. Food can serve as a window into understanding other cultures better and sharing a meal is a great way to promote conversation and forge real relationships.