The island of Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world and is nicknamed ‘The Great Red Island’ due to its rich red tint in the soil. This diverse island has both fauna and flora that is unique and can only be found here, but another global treasure that can be found on the island is the food which is simple and often unique yet tantalizing.
Below we introduce you to the culinary style of cuisine in Madagascar, before showing you which foods you should try including Madagascan street food, traditional meals, desserts and more. We then share with you our favorite places to dine in the country – exceptional eateries producing Madagascar’s best fare.
A Combination of Exciting Culinary Styles
At the core of most Malagasy cuisine is rice, so much so that you can even get a rice flavoured drink made from overcooked rice. The drink is called ranonapango and can be compared to rice wine but is not boozy.
Another staple to take note of is meat prepared with vegetables in a mix of herbs and leaves in savory dishes, be it a light lunch or an indulgent dinner. We are going to take a deep dive into the stitching together of various culinary styles which has blessed us with classic Malagasy cuisine. Before diving into the street food, traditional Madagascar cuisine, and restaurants you must try, first we show you the different food influences that have created modern day Madagascar cuisine, and some of the trademark dishes they brought.
The ethnic heritage of Madagascar is interesting in that geographically it is very close to the African continent; however, the Malagasy consider themselves to be strongly Austronsian rather than African.
This could be the legacy that early settlers from Indonesia left behind. The foods that they introduced on the island were rice, plantains, ginger, sweet potatoes, pigs, chickens, and so much more.
Madagascar is a francophone nation due to the French colonial rule that lasted between 1896 to 1960. Over the course of this period, the following French delights were adopted into the Malagasy palate: baguettes, cream horns, croissants, hot chocolate and many other sweet treats.
A form of foie gras known as composē is a local speciality adapted from the French style of cooking and consists of pasta and vegetables mixed into a salad with liver.
From the east of Africa, we see the introduction of cattle, goats, sorghum and groundnuts. The introduction of cattle and goats brought dairy into Madagascan diets, which was later used by the French in the creation of yummy desserts. Their breed of cattle is called Zebu Cattle which has a distinct hump on the chuck of the cow. This type of beef is not as tender as American Beef, hence cooking it had to be adapted for long stewing times.
The need to stew the beef culminated into a stew called Lasopy, which is beef (or any other type of meat) mixed with various vegetables and is served with crackers or fresh bread.
There is a notable Chinese community on the island, and the debut of Chinese delicacies was seen at the dawn of the 20th century after the influx of Chinese labor. New dishes that locals could try were fried rice, fried noodles, eggrolls, hum bao and much more.
By the 1880s Indian traders were settling around the trading posts, and generations later a substantial population had grown to inhabit the northwest coastal areas. Biryanis, and notably samosas became a mainstay in the island. As such, samosas in their own right are an easy to purchase street food snack in Madagascar.
Street Food and Traditional Dishes in Madagascar That You Must Try
Street food in Madagascar sold at small eateries or stalls are known as hotely and gargottes respectively. Depending on the location that you find yourself at, various ingredients will be used, slightly changing the flavour profile.
The food is not characterized as spicy, unless you ask for it to be served that way. Instead, it has lots of herbs, spices such as ginger, cloves, vanilla and root vegetables.
As mentioned above, one plentiful snack you can find everywhere are samosas, which are triangular shaped, crispy and can be either vegetarian or filled with meat. They are fun to eat due to their size and can be addictive if you are not careful!
Mofo gasy is a pancake which is mildly sweet and chewy on the inside and served at breakfast. It is typically accompanied with fruits, maple syrup or cream.
Dried fish is another quick salty snack that is good on the go. Fish curing is a tradition that the Malagasy relied on to preserve their catch. Fish is plentiful and you can never leave the island without trying some of the fresh catch. Or why not some kitoza, which is dried and smoked beef.
Filling Madagascan Meals
To recharge your batteries, go for lunch and ask for stir fried pork served with crab and rice. Depending on where you eat out, you can either experience a Chinese or African interpretation of the dish. This meal is locally called Foza sy hena-kisoa.
Akoho sy voanio, which means Christmas food is another popular dish and is chicken coconut stew that is served over rice.
Voanjobory sy hena-kisoa, is a pork and groundnut pot mix that is nutty, rich and earthy and is also a festive meal. We have a secret for you. You don’t have to wait until December to have these meals, you might as well have Christmas in July when you visit Madagascar as they’re eaten year round!
In the northwest region of the nation, the people of the coast have made something unique to them, achards. These are fruit or vegetable pickles that are seasoned and then preserved in either oil or vinegar. The flavour can be sweet or pleasantly sharp and tasty when paired with fish. This is pretty unique to Madagascar cuisine and well worth trying.
Ranonapango is a famous drink, but an acquired taste. Another beverage to gulp down is one made from vegetable tubers which are fermented.
Of course, why not try some Madagascan rum under the sun, with notes of vanilla expertly crafted for your enjoyment. Locally made beer is also available on the island. The local brew is a pale lager called Three Horses Beer (THB in short), and has been brewed since 1958.
Generally speaking, the infrastructure of Madagascar is poor and as a health warning it is advised that you drink bottled water instead of tap water.
Bokoboko is a dessert with a fun name to say out loud, but it’s even more fun to eat! It resembles a donut and can be plain, covered in cinnamon sugar, glazed in honey or have a chocolate filling. To some traveller’s surprise and our delight, bokoboko is actually eaten during breakfast. Now that’s a sweet twist.
Notable for its vanilla exports, most Malagasy cooking has hints of vanilla and desserts are no exception. Praise worthy treats that we like include the fruity Clafouti which is a cherry custard, koba akondro which is a soft steamed cake with notes of banana, groundnuts and honey. Bonbon tamarind is a sweet yet sour ball shaped sweet that is sprinkled with sugar for good measure.
Madagascar Cuisine: Our Insider Recommendations
Here are our top picks of places to eat from if you’re looking for the best cuisine Madagascar has to offer:
Restaurant de la Mer: This is a reasonably priced restaurant situated at Nosy Be which specializes in African and French fusion foods. It has fantastic terrace views of the so-called big three: Nosy Tanikely Bay, Russes Bay, and d’Anda tokotoko Bay
Hotel Seoul & Restaurant: Located in the capital city, this restaurant serves up BBQ Asian food, particularly Korean style dishes. The prices are moderate and the meals hearty.
La Chocolaterie Robert: This dessert cafe can be found in the capital city and offers all things fine chocolate. Freshly baked cakes can be purchased, as well as chocolate slabs, which are great gifts to bring back for friends or family, giving them a taste of Madagascar’s capital or Antananarivo.
Restaurant Le Rêve: This European influenced grill in Antsirabe serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. It has Wi-fi and takeaway facilities, however they currently only accept cash.
How Much Does Madagascar Cost?
The average cost in Madagascar is relatively low due to the fact it’s an impoverished nation.
Hotels: A one week stay for two adults, no children can range between $50 for budget places to $1000 for high end resorts. Most hotels will include breakfast, but always make sure to check before booking in.
Rentals: if you go for this option always book 3 to 6 months in advance. Prices range from around $25 upwards per night. Most are usually self-catering.
Transportation: If you want to feel like a local Malagasy then you can try out public transportation. A single use ticket for a bus costs $0.13 and per month $5.95. If you take a cab, it will cost you an estimated $2.10 per mile. Rental cars are available, especially in the capital Antananarivo.
What About Visas?
You will need a travel visa to stay in Madagascar which can be valid for a period between 30, 60 and 90 days. There are two ways to obtain this visa:
- You can apply for a single-entry traveller’s visa which is called a ‘eVisa’ from the Madagascan Embassy prior to making travel arrangements.
- The other option is to pay for a visa upon arrival using USD or Malagasy Ariary.
A 30-day traveller’s visa can cost about $37 dollars and a 60-day visa $45, but credit cards are not accepted.
*Please note that those prices are subject to change due to exchange rates. Always check before making travel arrangements.