10 Best Dishes to try in Zambia

What I loved the most about eating in Zambia, was how all Zambian dishes were made with simple non-sophisticated ingredients, created with passion and skill.

Every time I entered a Zambian restaurant or home, the married flavors of herbs, garlic, and mouthwatering fish got hold of my senses and created the perfect eating environment, without even seeing the menu first. If this is your first time in Zambia, don’t forget to read my guide for the best things to do in the capital city of Lusaka.

10 Zambian Dishes to try:

Nshima (Maize Meal)

Zambian Dishes to try
Image: Bream (freshwater fish from Zambia) and Nshima

Rich in carbohydrates, Vitamin A & B, Iron, and Zinc. Maize Meal is the staple food of Africa. Made by grounding dried white maize kernels, which are sifted until there are no lumps then added to boiling water to thicken into a stiff porridge-like texture. Its accessibility, affordability, and ability to be stored without refrigeration is one of the reasons you will find the dish in almost every African country. Known as “Nshima” in Zambia, “Pap” in South Africa, “Ugali” in Kenya, “Akamu” in Nigeria. The dish is can be served with warm milk as porridge (also known as Kajese in Zambia) for breakfast or accompanied with green leafy vegetables and/or meat, as lunch or dinner. It can be served hot, cool, fried or barbecued.

In the USA there is a similar dish named grits and polenta in Italy.

African Spinach / Green Leafy Vegetables

African greens come from a vast variety of plants, often mistaken as weeds and dismissed as peasant food. The crops are easy to grow, inexpensive and there are beliefs that they have medicinal benefits. African greens are often sold in markets and roadside stalls as a source of income.

Leaves are commonly picked after the plant has started to fruit. Fresh leaves are pounded and mixed with onion, tomatoes and cooking oil. Alternatively, leaves can be sun-dried and stored for future use. African spinach is commonly served with Nshima on its own and/or with meat if it’s available.

Types of African green vegetable dishes:

Chibwabwa (English: Cucurbita maxima / Pumpkin Leaves)

Chibwabwa is a relish made from fresh pumpkin leaves. Pumpkin leaves taste like collard greens and can be eaten raw in a salad or puréed into a soup. In Zambia, the most popular way to eat pumpkin leaves is to clean, chop and sauté the leaves in olive oil with tomatoes, onion, and garlic.

The leaves are rich in calcium, protein, and vitamin C. The older and bigger pumpkin leaves are bitter and it’s recommended to pick the smaller leaves when making Chibwabwa. Being high in antioxidants, they are beneficial for healthy skin, bones, and your immune system.

*Suitable for: Vegetarians, Vegans & Non-Vegetarians

Kalembula (English: Ipomoea batatas / sweet potato leaves)

Kalembula is a relish made from sweet potato leaves that are cleaned, chopped and blanched then drained, pounded and sautéed in a pan with cooking oil, onions, and tomatoes until the leaves are wilted. Kalembula is served with Nshima and meat.

Sweet Potato leaves are edible and can be consumed both raw and cooked. Raw leaves have a bitter taste and cooked leaves taste like spinach. Sweet Potato leaves are popular during rainy seasons, and they are moderately rich in Vitamin C and a good source of protein, calcium, and iron. Sweet potato is popular in Zambia, most consume it boiled and served plain or baked in a peanut sauce.

*Suitable for: Vegetarians, Vegans & Non-Vegetarians

Delele (English: Abelmoschus esculentu / Bush Okra)

Zambian Dishes to try
Image: Nshima and Delele

Delele is thick and succulent leaves that yield a slimy sauce very similar to that of okra pods. To make delele, you must boil two cups of water in a pot, add a teaspoon of Bicarbonate of Soda, diced onions and tomato. Let it simmer for 10 minutes when the pot overflows then it is ready to be served. Delele pairs well with cardamom, turmeric, garlic, onion, pepper, rice, sausage, beef, chicken, and pork. It tastes like pepper when it’s raw and less bitter when cooked.

*Suitable for: Vegetarians, Vegans & Non-Vegetarians

Kapenta Stew (English: The Tanganyika sardine)

These 7-10cm long freshwater fish originate from Lake Tanganyika in Zambia. The fish are caught at night using paraffin pump lamps to attract them into the nets. The fish are left out in the sun for 24-48 hours to dry then pan-fried with onion and tomatoes in cooking oil and served with Nshima. Due to the decline of Kapenta population, it’s illegal to fish for Kapenta in shallow water.

*Suitable for: Non-Vegetarians

Katapa (English: Cassava / Manihot esculenta)

Cassava roots are a popular starchy vegetable and the leaves are rich in protein and vitamin A. Cassava roots have a white or cream color when raw, the roots must be soaked in water for 24 hours before being pan-fried with cooking oil until golden brown and crispy. The roots have a grainy texture similar to potatoes and are often served as fries or pancakes.

*Suitable for: Vegetarians, Vegans & Non-Vegetarians

Infinkubala (English: Gonimbrasia belina)

Zambian Dishes
Mopane Worms

Infinkubala is known as Masonja or Mopane worms actually caterpillars from the Emperor moth (Gonimbrasia belina), which lives and feeds on the colophospermum mopane tree that only grows in Southern Africa. The worms are found clinging onto trees after the rainy season. The worms are picked off the trees, then slimy green fluids are squeezed out and the worms are left out to dry in the sun. They can be eaten dry, as a crunchy snack like potato chips, or cooked and drenched in tomato and onion sauce then served with Nshima for lunch or dinner. Infinkunala contains three times the amount of protein as beef and the delicacy is available all over the world with the industry estimated to worth over 2 million dollars.

*Suitable for: Non-Vegetarians

Umukoyo (English: Non-alcoholic Maize Drink)

Umukoyo is a maize drink made with leftover Nshima, roots of Munkoyo tree (Rhynchosia venulosa) and water. The ingredients are mixed together in a pot then and the drink is served cold with a teaspoon of sugar (optional). Umukoyo has a thick, creamy and gritty consistency (from the maize) and looks like a milkshake.

*Suitable for: Vegetarians, Vegans & Non-Vegetarians

Chibwantu (English: Alcoholic Maize Drink)

Chibwantu is prepared with the same ingredients as umukoyo but instead of having the drink immediately, it is prepared over a fire in a cast-iron vessel. The pot is covered with a lid and blanket (to retain heat) and stored in a warm place for three to five days where it will ferment and become an alcoholic drink that can be kept for prolonged periods of time and is usually the drink of choice at an event like weddings, funerals, and other gatherings. Chibwantu has a distinctly sour like the taste.

*Suitable for: Vegetarians, Vegans & Non-Vegetarians

Chikanda (African Polony)

While most people admire Orchids for their elegance, color, and fragrance. In the Southern African region, orchids are particularly important for their tubers which are edible and mostly used to flavor meat sauces. They are also traded within and across the countries. In Zambia, orchid tubers are grounded and added to boiling water combined with baking soda and ground peanuts and chilies. The mixture is then cooked to a solid, meatloaf-like consistency.

*Suitable for: Vegetarians & Non-Vegetarians

The orchid tubers are also used to make Salep in Turkey (a hot creamy (hot chocolate like) drink made with orchid bulb powder.)


Travel Insurance for Zambia

Use travel insurance while visiting Zambia so you are covered for theft and medical expenses. There are a lot of adventurous things to do near Victoria Falls, and it’s best to have peace of mind while driving, hiking and trying some of the best food in the world.


Find out why I recommend World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.

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