Sampling Traditional Foods in Zambia

An Authentic Taste of Africa

I think that one of the reasons people travel the world is so they can experience life in a whole different manner than they're used to. Naturally, this involves discovering new tastes and sampling or feasting on traditional foods prepared in that region. Thes best place to visit if you want to bust your taste buds to a whole new kind of level is my hometown Lusaka, Zambia.

Welcome to Lusaka, Zambia

There's been some debate about where exactly on the African map Zambia is located; Central or Southern Africa. Nevertheless, it is accepted by many that it is part of Southern Africa and that it is landlocked with a population of around 16 billion people. The official language in Zambia is English, which is not surprising considering it was once a British colony. There are currently 73 official local languages with Bemba, Chewa, and Tonga being the most spoken. Zambia is known on the international tourist market for being home to the mighty Victoria Falls as well as the source of the fourth longest river in Africa, the Zambezi. Lusaka is the capital city of Zambia, the largest and fast developing city in the country. Some time back, traditionally prepared local foods in Lusaka could only be found in the compounds, for the hard working lower classes but the trend has changed tremendously over the years. A lot of such restaurants have mushroomed all over the city, including the low-density areas where many of the middle-class folks are found.

Local Zambian Restaurants

Nshima with Village Chicken There are a lot of restaurants that serve traditional foods and some of the ones I have visited are;
  • Hot on Coals Restaurant in Woodlands
  • Ku Matebeto in Thornpark area
  • Dodo's Ku Matebeko Bauleni Restaurant
  • Mama G's in Longacres
  • Wayaya Restaurant and Bar in Kabulonga
  • Heritage Trails in Kabulonga
  • Mikiti Kitchens in Longacres
  • Broads Back Packers

Varieties of Local Vegetables

There are a number of local vegetables eaten in Zambia and these range from domestic to wild. Beans are one of my favorite vegetables and they come in many types, brown, white and yellow, white and black and so on. However, the leafy vegetables are the most common as it is recommended in most Zambian homes to serve main meals with greens. Some of these vegetables have been given traditional names such as;
  • Nyemba (Leaves of green beans)
  • Zumba (Not quite sure what these are)
  • Chibwabwa (Pumpkin leaves)
  • Kanuka  (The name literally translates to 'smelly.' This vegetable has strange smell that is neither pleasant nor foul. It just, smells).

Fresh Leaves of Green Beans

Nyemba Vegetables In Zambia, one does not need to wait a long time to harvest from their green beans garden, Even before the beans mature, the leaves of the beans are used as relish and can be prepared in many different ways; fresh or dried, with or without pounded groundnuts. No one ever calls them green beans leaves, they are known by a vernacular name, Nyemba. When prepared dry and plainly with just tomatoes and oil, these leaves have a somewhat chewy feel in the mouth. The taste is very distinctive from other common vegetables but also delicious.

 Lumanda in Pounded Groundnuts

Lumanda used to grow in the wild before people in the village grabbed hold of its seed and started growing it domestically. It too can be prepared plainly or with pounded groundnuts. Lumanda is always served as an accompaniment to nshima as it has a runny texture like that of wild Okra and requires one to place their ball of nshima in hand in a specific way if they're to scope it from the plate.

Boiled and Fried Okra

Fried Okra     Okra This vegetable is of a runny texture when boiled and prepared with tomatoes. Just like Lumanda, it is also served with nshima although some local folks prefer drinking it from the plate to avoid the hustle of scooping it onto the nshima due to its form. The best way to avoid fighting with it is to fry it instead. Both versions are delicious in their own form and if you want, just for the fun of it, you can eat them both simultaneously but just don't let anyone catch you doing that!  

Sweet Potato Leaves

Kalembula Sweet potato leaves are called Kalembula by the local people. Not all sweet potato leaves are eaten as vegetables. There are mainly two types of leaves that grow from different types of sweet potatoes but the ones used as vegetables are the thin-like type whose roots rarely produce actual sweet potatoes but if they do, they are normally very small both in size and little in quantity. This type is grown specifically for its leaves.

Cassava Leaves

Katapa Cassava leaves are locally known as Katapa. Preparing Katapa is physically tasking as well as time-consuming due to the hard texture of the leaves. To soften them up, they have to be pounded for a while and then sieved before finally cooking.  It is because of this taxing nature that Cassava leaves are served in very few restaurants. However, when thinks of the delicious and unique taste, it is definitely worth hunting for this vegetable in local restaurants.

Varieties of Local Meat

If there is one thing that Zambia does not luck, it is indigenous meat! Most of these are known by funny local names so if you are the adventurous type and looking to share a good laugh with the local people, you could try requesting the following when you hit a local restaurant…and please do try to keep a straight face while asking for these;
  • Mbeba (this is a bush mouse, eaten mostly by Zambians from the East)
  • Ntete (this is a special type of grasshopper mostly found during the rainy season)
  • Inswa – (A special type of fly that comes out in the night during the rainy season)
  • Mafulufute (A type of creature found under the ground, appears only after the first rains)
If you are the serious type and just want to eat and go, I have some recommendations for you too.

Grilled Fresh Fish or Tilapia

Grilled Fish   You can have this on it's on but it is normally served with nshima in restaurants and comes with assorted vegetable side dishes. You can also go for boiled or fried fish as well, they all taste unbelievably great! My personal recommendation is the grilled brim fish, you can never go wrong with this one. Other types of fish you can order are;
  • Boiled dry fish
  • Buka Buka Fish
  • Sardines (locally known as Kapenta)

Boiled Village Chicken

Village Chicken This is the free-range type of chicken called village chicken by the local people because it was mostly found in the remote parts of the country known as villages. Unlike the Broiler breed type of chicken, this type has very hard bones and meat as a result of its diet and free-range environment it is raised. We like to refer to it as the Zambian Turkey.

Beef Offals

Offals Beef offals are not as awful as they sound. They are usually thoroughly cleaned and they taste very well. Surprise the servers at the restaurant by asking them to add more 'bibles' when preparing your offals order. The 'bible' is the part that has a page-like structure, like a Bible. This is the best piece of meat for me in this order because of its unique texture and unforgettable taste.

Trotters and Hooves

Hooves These two have a somewhat similar taste and texture so unless you are allergic to pork, then your definite choice would have to be the hooves. Meat lovers can also go for the local beef stew, grilled T-bone, steak as well as goat meat.

Some Local Words to Use at Restaurants:

  • Mulibwanji: How are you?
  • Nilibwino: I am fine.
  • Nizingati: How much?
  • Zikomo: Thank you


Anisha is a free spirited girl that likes to think of herself as a Jack of all trades. She loves to play with words and disappear into her imagination every now and then. The world is her stage, life is the plot, and everything and everyone around her plays their part in unravelling the full story.