Eating out in Zambia is a rich and exciting experience, with many different styles and hundreds of great restaurants to choose from in all the major cities and towns. Its native cuisine is based on nshima, a cooked porridge made from ground maize, and it features heavily in most meals. However, food in Lusaka and other Zambian tourist resorts is not restricted to traditional Zambian cuisine, and food from all over the world can be found. Fast food chains are also rising in popularity due to convenience and their family oriented style.
Food and cuisine in Zambia includes both vegetarian as well as non vegetarian dishes.
Our Zambia restaurant guide below will tell you all you need to know about food and cuisine in Zambia. Get acquainted with the local produce by shopping in the local markets before heading out to taste the authentic flavours fused together to perfection in one of the many great restaurants in Zambia.
Nshima is a cooked porridge made out of ground maize. Zambia's traditional cuisine is based on this dish. Nshimi is also eaten in Zimbabwe and South Africa, where it is known as sadza and mealie-pap, respectively. The consistency of nshimi at breakfast is thin and it is eaten with sugar. It is made thicker for lunch and dinner, somewhat like mashed potatoes. During the bigger meals, nshimi is eaten with a delicious relish, usually made of dried fish, or meat and tomatoes.
Make it a point to taste nshimi during your stay in Zambia. It is usually made on request at safari camps, but is easily available in the small restaurants around town. Such restaurants often have a very limited menu: nshimi and fish, nshimi and chicken, nshimi and meat! The nshimi here is invariably very well made.
Hotels, lodges, and camps that are frequented by international visitors serve international meals. In fact, the fine quality of the food prepared in such isolated bush camps leaves visitors quite stunned. The biggest problem you are likely to face during a safari in Zambia is fighting the temptation to overeat!
If you plan to drive around Zambia and cook your own meals, it is best to buy your supplies in one of the larger towns such as Lusaka. The Shoprite stores here have revolutionised shopping and they are sure to have everything you are likely to need. In the smaller towns without Shoprite stores, the choices are limited to popular local products. You will easily find bread, fish, flour, meats, rice, soups, and many tinned vegetables. No doubt very nutritious, but the selection gets rather boring after a week or two.
Like most other countries in the region, beer in Zambia is of two types: opaque and clear. Clear beers, comparable to European lagers, are popular among visitors and affluent Zambians. They are always served chilled. Lagers brewed by the Zambian subsidiaries of South African Breweries are Castle, Rhino, and Mosi. They are of good quality and easily available.
Zambia has one craft brewery that produces Zikomo Copper Ale, Safari Stout, Dr. Livingstone's Lager, and Baobab White. Fruit from the baobab tree is used to brew Baobab White.
Beer bottles have a deposit scheme, just like soft drink bottles. The contents cost about US$0.80 or Kw4000 at a shop and about US$1.30 or Kw8 000 at a hotel bar. Imported brands such as Amstel, Holsten, and Windhoek cost about two times more than the local brands.
The not-so-affluent Zambians drink opaque beer, also called Chibuka after the market's leading brand. This version of beer is the commercial form of traditional beer and is usually made out of sorghum and/or maize. An acquired taste, this beer is sour and porridge-like. Much cheaper than lager, a litre carton costs about US$0.40 or Kw2000. Locals often buy a bucket of the beer and share it among a group of drinkers. Visitors rarely drink this beer; you could of course give it a try just to entertain your Zambian friends.
It is important to remember that the flavour of traditional opaque beer often changes as it ferments. You can have ‘strong beer' or ‘fresh beer'. If you have any doubts about the bar's hygiene, be conservative and stick to pre-packaged brands such as Mukango, Chibuka, Golden, Chinika, or Chipolopolo.
Soft drinks are available easily, a fact that is highly appreciated when the weather gets very hot. Other than the ubiquitous Coca-Cola, the choice of soft drinks is rather limited. Coca-Cola costs around US $0.30 or Kw1500. It may cost a little less in a supermarket and a little more in a café. Diet drinks are rare, especially in rural areas. Not really a surprise, since malnutrition is a major problem in Zambia.
Before leaving a city, it may be a good idea to buy at least one bottle per person. It will prove to be priceless. It is difficult to buy full bottles of soft drinks in rural areas without exchanging them for empty bottles. This is mainly because of the costs involved in producing bottles, and the ‘deposit' scheme, which is around US $0.30 or Kw1500 per bottle. The other option is to wait till you finish your drink and leave the empty bottle - this can get inconvenient if your bus halts just for a few minutes.
The main towns usually get purified water unless there is a breakdown, or a shortage of chlorine, or some other issue. Locals drink tap water and are quite immune to the mild bugs that may be present. If you plan to stay long, it is worth getting used to the tap water, although the first few days may have to be spent near a toilet! However, for a stay that is not longer than a couple of weeks, it is safest to drink only boiled, bottled, or otherwise treated water.
Most of the lodges and camps set up in the bush use borehole water. The water from these underground sources varies in quality but is usually bug-free and quite safe to drink. It may sometimes taste sweet, sometimes salty or a little alkaline. Ask a local if it is safe for an un-acclimatised visitor to drink the water. Follow their advice.