Madagascan Cuisine and Recipes
Madagascan Food, Recipes and Cooking
by Country - May 2004
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Often referred to as the Great
Red Island, Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world
(excluding Australia), and is located in the Indian Ocean about 250 miles
off the southwest coast of Africa.
It has a 4,828 km coastline
with a narrow coastal plain with rivers and a high plateau and mountains in
centre and a tropical climate
The mixture of mainly African,
Arab and Indonesian peoples is reflected in the culture and cuisine and add to
this a touch of European (mainly French) and you have a unique culinary
Times, History and Influences on Madagascan Cooking
Although the earliest history of inhabitants of Madagascar is a
little vague, it is believed that Polynesians started to populate the island in
earnest around 2000 years ago followed by Africans. These expert sea-farers
probably arrived there using outrigger canoes – no mean feat for those times.
What is certain, is that these first visitors had their pick of a
huge range of indigenous plants and animals to eat. Despite the richness in
terms of edible produce, it is known that the new visitors very sensibly carried
livestock and seeds from their homelands. In particular, the Africans introduce
the Zebu, a type of cattle now to be seen all over the island and sheep and the
Asians brought with them rice, which quickly became a staple food, bananas and
Naturally, farming techniques were also brought with them. One in
particular known as "tavy" which is a slash and burn method whereby the farmer
cuts down a portion of the forest, burns it then plants rice which is
subsequently irrigated by rainfall alone. When practised at its best, once the
rice is harvested, the land is left fallow for many years to recuperate.
Unfortunately in Madagascar the need for ever more food due to an explosion in
the populace, meant that the land wasn’t given the chance to be restored
resulting in large areas being laid waste, although with some work, these areas
are suitable for grazing the large amount of cattle on the island.
All in all these early settlers had a rich and varied diet. Fish
and seafood plus indigenous and introduced fruit, vegetables and livestock.
From the 9th century AD, Arab traders began to settle in parts
of Madagascar but unlike many other parts of the world, despite living in
tribes, all these peoples integrated from the earliest times, forging a unified
cultural society which is reflected in the Malagasy cuisine.
The first Europeans to visit the island were the Portuguese
c.1500 who were responsible for the introduction of plants such as the
pineapple. News of the discovery quickly reached the British and French who were
both eager to establish commercial interests on the island. It was however the
French who eventually colonised Madagascar in 1896 who not only established
vanilla, clove, coffee and sugar cane plantations on the island but, as one
might expect, culinary influences which are still evident in Madagascan cuisine.
Day Madagascan Cuisine
whole, Madagascans like their food flavoursome but simply prepared and not too
spicy. Traditionally and in most homes today, starters or special drinks are not
served at everyday meals and everything is served together on the plate and
eaten with a spoon. This main course usually consists of 1 main meat, poultry or
fish dish accompanied by vegetable side dishes and the obligatory large bowl of
Ranonapango, a drink made from burning rice, is the only beverage
traditionally served with dinner and it is not common practice to serve bread
although rice is always part of the meal…all meals!
desserts are just fruit, sometimes sprinkled with sugar and flavoured with
vanilla – a perfect way to truly appreciate the range of wonderful locally grown
fresh fruit available.
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