Mozambique’s cuisine stands out amongst the monotonous beans/maize meal/beef stew types of traditional cooking that predominate in most of southern Africa.
A tasty triumvirate of Eastern, African and Portuguese flavors, coupled with an abundance of seafood and tropical fruit, make for one of Africa’s tastiest food cultures, one which is best explored in the capital, Maputo.
Cafés, bistros and restaurants spill out onto sidewalks and palm-fringed promenades here, where eating good food is firmly a part of this southern European-influenced culture. Most restaurants serve a Portuguese-Mozambican fusion of seafood (think juicy prawns, grilled fish and calamari and crab) with local tropical ingredients such as cashew nuts and coconut, with a hint of Arab influences in the fragrant curries and chamussas (fried pastry filled with crab, fish or meat).
The most popular Portuguese dishes are prawns or chicken cooked in piri piri sauce – an intensely spicy mix of chillies, garlic and vinegar, and prego rolls – white bread rolls filled with thin piri piri-marinated steak. There’s a Portuguese bakery on just about every street, carrying on a delicious tradition of baking bread and pastries every day. Pasteis de nata, sweet baked egg custards inside flaky pastry, are particularly good –– and the ones at Nautilus Café have the perfect balance between soft custard and crisp pastry.
The best place to get a taste of Maputo’s fantastic seafood is the lively Fish Market. The fresh catch from the day – everything from lobsters and calamari to prawns and fish – is displayed on wooden tables. Pay for your choice by weight and then head over to one of the nearby rustic plastic-chairs-and-tables restaurants set around a courtyard, and have them cook it for you in a sauce.
For fine dining, there’s no shortage of upmarket eateries, which comes as no surprise in a city full of expats. Under swaying palm trees tuck into an array of creative and delicious seafood dishes at Zambi as langoustine sashimi, light and crispy crab chamussas, seared tuna steak or the locals’ favorite – grilled prawns. The melt-in-your-mouth garlic bread here is also a winner, as are the desserts – think cashew nut tart and chocolate cake with Amarula (a sweet, creamy African liqueuer) ice cream.
Manjar dos Deuses doesn’t have Zambi’s beach views but it makes up for its streetside setting with impeccable food, excellent service and a stylish, low-key ambience. For a city full of great seafood restaurants, this one stands out for its particularly delicious prawns – have them in a fragrant, creamy Mozambican curry flavored with coconut and coriander or barbecued at your table. Barbecued dishes are the signature here: waiters prepare an outdoor charcoal barbecue and cook your meat or seafood as you like it. Mango mousse and frozen hot chocolate tart are delectable, but the caramel fondant, with an oozing warm caramel filling deserves a special mention.
The most expensive restaurant in town, Delagoa, is unsurprisingly found in Maputo’s most expensive hotel, the Polana Serena. Sit outside on the veranda overlooking the ocean and manicured gardens of the lavish hotel rather than in the slightly outdated Art Deco-style interior, and feast on French-Mozambican dishes such as flambéed crab with cashews nuts in a crab bisque and caramelized pineapple mousse. Just don’t forget to dress smartly – the restaurant requires men to wear suit jackets.
Disappointingly, not many restaurants in Maputo offer traditional African food. The places to go to get a taste are the restaurants at the craft market in the Parque Dos Continuadores opposite the Polana Serena Hotel, and Piri Piri, which, along with their perennially popular piri piri chicken, serves a delicious crab matapa – stewed cassava leaves cooked with peanuts, garlic and coconut milk with crab in the shell.
If you need a break from grilled prawns and chicken, try Bel Piatto, an Italian restaurant that has homemade pastas as good as any you’d have in Italy, as well as an extensive, well-selected wine list. Choose from creamy risottos, ravioli or gnocchi and traditional Italian sauces, some with local ingredients, such as panzerotti with Parmesan and cashew nut sauce, and Portuguese-inspired twists such as inspired “pecador do Diabo” – tomato, garlic, onion, bacon, cream and spicy piri piri.
Another Mediterranean highlight is Café Dhow, a stylish eatery in a beautifully decorated converted house that serves up Greek café-style food such as phyllo parcels, salads, filled baguette sandwiches and spanakopita pies, as well as delicious homemade iced teas. Go for a long lunch and take in the sunset sitting in the peaceful garden – try and book the shaded couch at the next pool – with its sweeping views of dhows sailing in Maputo Bay. Next to the restaurant is a fabulous décor shop filled with art, statues, scarves, jewellery and beautiful wooden furniture – probably the best place in Maputo to shop for high quality souvenirs.
For more casual eating, Mundo’s is a lively pub and sports bar with an outdoor terrace on busy Julius Nyerere Avenue that draws locals, expats and tourists alike for its no-fuss unpretentious, tasty food. It’s also a great spot for families, with a children’s play area outside. Alongside typical pub fare of the burger and steak-egg-and-fries variety, Mundo’s offers what locals reckon are the best pizzas in town – thin, crispy bases and interesting toppings (pears and gorgonzola; ribs and pineapple) make for a winning combination.
To accompany all the spicy flavours of its cuisine, Mozambique has some of Africa’s best beers. Dois M (pronounced doysh-m) is a tasty thirst quencher, while Laurentina Preta is an award-winning full-flavored stout with caramel undertones. Caipirinhas, those punchy concoctions of rum, lime and sugar, are the city’s most popular cocktail, and The Docks at the century-old Clube Naval on the edge of the sea is the place to knock back a few passion fruit-flavoured ones at sunset.