Whether you’re on a shoestring budget or have come to indulge yourself, the food in Madagascar is one of the highlights of the trip. Except breakfast. The sparse continental-style breakfasts have been uniformly underwhelming, causing our bellies to rumble with hunger long before what we would normally consider the lunch hour. Traditional Malagasy cuisine is well-spiced – a welcome change from Kenya – and hot food lovers will enjoy the ground chili peppers that keep the salt and pepper shakers company on every table. The real highlight, however, is sampling the French-inspired delicacies that are a holdover from colonial days.
Driving South from Tana, we stopped for lunch in Behenjy, a tiny village whose claim to fame is its status as Madagascar’s foie gras capital. We stuffed ourselves silly, trying three different kinds of foie gras, but the meal paled in comparison to the lunch we had in Fianarantsoa two days later. Roland described the restaurant he recommended as a hunter’s delight, with many dishes not typically served at other eateries. The specials list confirmed his assertion, wanting only an eye of newt to complete a recipe typically found inside a witch’s cauldron.
After carefully scrutinizing the menu, which was bound in crocodile skin, S ordered a salad. D gave her a withering look to convey that she was batshit-crazy for passing up this gastronomic opportunity and proceeded to order the bat, which arrived stewed in its entirety, down to the wings. D also ordered frog legs while S chose a duck pate to accompany her salad. Once we started eating, S momentarily lamented not being adventurous enough to sample the crocodile in special “Panda” sauce, the latter referring to the name of the restaurant, not the animal. However, she atoned for it by not only trying a frog leg, but liking it enough to order a plate of her own. Quite respectable for someone who eschewed meat for over a dozen years.
We have also tried several typical foods, including romazava, a meat and vegetable stew that is spiced with ginger and considered the country’s national dish; mofogasy, Malagasy bread made from rice flour; and koba – the sweet mixture of rice flour, bananas, and peanuts that is sold on the street in giant rolls wrapped in leaves. The Malagasy are a rice-eating people, so it’s not surprising that the grain finds its way into a variety of foods. They are also meat lovers, with grilled sausage frequently proffered to the passengers of taxi-bes, the island’s small buses, whenever they stop in a countryside village. We have lain off the questionable-looking sausage, but have been served zebu steaks with clockwork regularity in its place. Madagascar has vineyards, but the wine is execrable. A much more pleasant alternative is the infused rum, flavored with vanilla (for which the island is famous), chocolate, or a variety of fruits.