15 Traditional Malawian Foods In Malawi You Have To Try

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Malawi is famous as the “Warm Heart of Africa,” and rightly so. This beautiful southeastern African country is known for its warm and happy people. You wouldn’t be mistaken to assume that one of the main sources of happiness for the Malawian people is their amazing cuisine; from breakfast to festive dishes, sampling the foods in Malawi is a must.

What Is Special About Malawian Foods

Malawian cuisine is one of the few cuisines on the African continent to have remained relatively traditional. Many African countries have their cuisine influenced by foreign gastronomy. Malawi is one of the very few African countries to have kept it rather local.

It wasn’t until the late 19th century to early 20th century that foods in Malawi began to experience foreign influences. Cassava, chili pepper, and peanuts were the major ingredients to have spread into Malawian cuisine. Although these ingredients have changed the Malawian food scene to a certain degree, it has not impacted their preparation methods in any way.

Most Malawian foods are works of art. The country is known for its culinary art and culture. Locals in the country depend mainly on agriculture, which makes many of their delicacies nutrient-rich.

Popular Breakfast Foods In Malawi

Futali (Sweet Potato Mix)


It is safe to say, Futali is the poster boy breakfast of the Malawian people. This traditional delicacy is a staple in Malawi foods. It is one of the most famous meals the country has to offer. 

Made with sweet potatoes and Nsinjiro (ground peanut powder), this recipe may look simple and humble, but it is nutrient packed. 

Sweet potatoes are sliced and boiled to steam. A few minutes before turning off the heat, you add your Nsinjiro. You can also add vegetables to boost the flavor and nutritional value. Many Malawians believe breakfast is incomplete without Futali. 

Many countries in Africa and abroad have adopted the futile recipe; you can also try this in your home to have a feel of it. When visiting Malawi, remember to put Futali at the top of your checklist.

Mgaiwa Phala (Cornmeal / Rice Phala)


This is another breakfast staple in Malawian foods. It is a porridge prepared with corn flour and water, often accompanied by sugar and milk while eating. 

The corn flour is added to boiling water creating a paste-like mixture. The Mgaiwa Phala looks like custard or oat, depending on how fine the corn flour is. You enjoy this Malawian breakfast by scooping with your spoon. It is easy and quick to make; locals believe in a simple and healthy breakfast.

Although corn is a staple in Malawian cuisine, rice can also be used to make this porridge. It is called rice Phala. You can add cinnamon to give it flavor or enjoy it with fruits like bananas. 

And yes, I know what you are thinking, that sounds similar to a morning oatmeal, doesn’t it?

Nthochi (Malawi Sweet Bread)


This Malawi food is a traditional sweet bread prepared with mashed bananas, battered with butter, sugar, baking powder, flour, and eggs. Another standout ingredient of this Malawian cuisine is mashed sweet potatoes, added to the batter before oven-baking. 

Traditionally, triangle-shaped pans are used for baking nthochi bread. This bread can be enjoyed as main Malawi food, dessert, or snack; whichever way, it’s tasty and satisfying. 

Main Dishes In Malawian Foods

Malawian Nsima (Maize Porridge)

Widely considered the national dish of Malawi, this is one food that is enjoyed by every household in the country. The Malawian people believe nsima helps them strengthen their bonds as a family. Nisma is a corn flour-based porridge meal that is usually enjoyed as lunch or dinner.

Unlike Mgaiwa Phala, when preparing Nsima, you mix your corn flour with hot water and allow it to paste until it thickens. Nsima is consumed as a swallow you can mold with your hands. It is enjoyed with amazing stews like Mhkwani and Ndiwo za nyama (stewed beef). It also goes well with fish and/or meat, reflecting its versatility.

Although in some communities in the north of Malawi, nsima is regularly served with two side dishes. One dish contains meat, fish, peanuts, egg, or beans, while the other contains vegetables like cabbage, pumpkin leaves, or rape leaves. Whatever way you decide to enjoy your meal, nsima is a truly local experience you won’t forget anytime soon. 

Kondowole (Cassava Ball)


This is a traditional food of the northern Malawi people. It is made from grounded cassava mixed with hot water and allowed to paste well. It has a close resemblance to the Malawi food nsima. 

However, kondowole is stickier than nsima. Also, it has a tough and fine texture. It is normally eaten with endemic Malawian fish like Chambo and takes. You can also enjoy it with the famous Mkhwani (pumpkin leaf stew).

Some people even deep fry them to create these delish-looking fried cassava balls that are great for snacking.

Chambo (Fish In Gravy)


Chambo is another special dish in Malawian foods. This is because Lake Malawi is home to the endemic Chambo fish which serves as the main ingredient to this dish.

The fish can be enjoyed in different ways: boiled, roasted, deep-fried, or barbequed. Anything to suit your palate. One of the popular methods is to fry it and pair it with a nice gravy. 

It is usually laced with lemon to add flavor and remove any fishy smell. Chambo can be enjoyed with many other Malawian foods like nsima and rice. 

Soups And Stews In Malawian Foods

Kholowa (Vegetable Stew)

This a popular dish in Malawi made with sweet potato leaves, oil, and other healthy vegetables like tomatoes and onions. It has a rich flavor and is a common choice of Malawian food among the people due to its simplicity.

Kholowa is also versatile. It can be eaten alone, but it is better enjoyed when supporting other main dishes like Kondowole and nsima. 

Mkhwani (Pumpkin Leaf Stew)

This is one of the many amazing and special delicacies of Malawian foods. Mkhwani is a pumpkin leaf-based stew. Maize and pumpkin are ever-present vegetables in Malawi foods. 

Unsurprisingly, one of the main stews is made from pumpkin leaves. Like other stews, you can add different fruits and spices to the pumpkin leaves to enrich your stew.

Typically, Malawians add tomatoes and Nsinjiro (ground peanut powder) to the stew to give more flavor and nutrients. You can enjoy it with rice and nsima.

Other proteins like fish and meat can also accompany the stew. If you want to enjoy the local African experience, then you should definitely try Mkhwani.

Malawi Foods – Snacks, Light Dishes, And Street Food

Mandazi (Puff-Puff)


This is one of the most cherished snacks in Malawi. Interestingly, Mandazi is one of very few Malawi foods made from a non-native ingredient. It is a local Malawian dough snack, prepared with all-purpose wheat flour, baking powder, yeast, sugar, egg, peanut, and milk. 

After mixing, the dough is fried in hot oil. It assumes a fluffy texture and has a golden-brown color. Like many snacks, Mandazi is best enjoyed when served with tea or juice. You can find Malawian women selling Mandazi in street stalls.

Kachumbari (Malawian Salad)


Kachumbari is a special salad dish in Malawian cuisine, but it is not native to Malawi alone. This is a meal consumed in many African countries, especially those around the great Lake Malawi. You can find various variations of Kachumbari in countries like Tanzania and Uganda. 

Kachumbari is prepared with fresh tomatoes, chili pepper, and onions. You can enjoy the salad alone or eat it as a side dish with a main course like nsima or rice. 

Zitumbuwa (Banana Fritters)


Zitumbuwa is one of the cheapest yet most nutritious snacks in Malawi. Although it is considered a core Malawian food, mitumba is a snack made from banana dough, corn flour, and many healthy spices. 

The dough is fried in hot oil. It is served with sugar and butter and is best enjoyed when eaten hot. There is no must-follow recipe to make mitumba. As such, you can find different variations of this snack nationwide. 

Desserts And Sweet Foods In Malawi

Mbatata (Sweet Potato Cookies)


If you want to try a traditional cookie that is popular in Malawian cuisine, then Mbatata is for you. This soft and spongy cookie makes for a convenient sweet dessert.

Beyond how sumptuous it tastes, it also has a beautiful orange appearance. This is due to its richness in carotenoids, which helps boost your eyesight and immune system.

Pound Cake


Pound cakes are pretty international and easy to make. This is no exception in Malawi since they are very customizable and versatile. 

Typically made with flour, baking powder, sugar, and eggs, they can be a simple fare. However, locals also take advantage of their fresh produce and add other ingredients like bananas to bring a different twist to this classic dessert in Malawi.

It has become an integral part of the Malawi food scene; it is one of the many enjoyed snacks in this southeastern African country.

Iconic Drinks In Malawian Foods

Malawian Tea


This is one country where tea is a special tradition that goes beyond every regular drink in the country; tea is a major element of Malawi foods. Here is an interesting fact about Malawi. It is the second-largest exporter of tea in Africa. 

This should give you an idea of how massive the Malawian tea is. A cup of this warming beverage is great for washing down all the delicious food or pairing with sweet desserts. There are plenty of opportunities to savor a nice cup of tea in Malawi, but also consider getting some back with you as souvenirs. 

Thobwa (Sweet Beer)

Thobwa is one drink you can find across the country of Malawi, enjoyed by all, both young and old. It is also popular in other African countries like Zambia.

Thobwa is called sweet beer by Malawians. It is a fine drink prepared with maize and sorghum or millet. When taken, this fermented cereal drink has a milky appearance and a grainy texture.

Despite its name, Thobwa is actually a non-alcoholic drink. However, you’d be imagining why it is called sweet beer, right? When you allow the drink to settle and ferment further for about 5 to 6 days, it takes another form. It becomes more (beer). 

As it is a beloved food of Malawi, it can be found all year round in the country. But the highest consumption of this drink is always during September to November (the hottest months in the country). 

Thobwa also holds a special meaning to the Malawian people. It is a celebratory drink served at weddings and every other special ceremony. In addition, it is also commonly used to welcome visitors. 

In major towns and cities, Thobwa is served in recycled plastic bottles. However, locals in the villages enjoy drinking it from clay bowls and pots.


Discovering Traditional Foods In Malawi

Malawian cuisine is one of the best you can find in the southern part of the African continent. If you’re a culinary explorer, be sure to enjoy the gastronomy of this beautiful African nation. 

With the country having a decent agricultural sector, they have amazing natural foods you can explore. From grains, vegetables, herbs, and fruits, you can never get enough of Malawian foods. 



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Welcome To NomadsUnveiled
This is Rax. For over a decade, I have traveled to over 60 countries - from a budget backpacker to a business traveler, expat and then a digital nomad. You can find insights and perspectives from myself and other world travelers that will inspire your journey of discovery.


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