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Madagascan Cuisine and Recipes

Madagascan Food, Recipes and Cooking

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 phenomenon.

 

 

Ancient 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 coconuts.

 

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.

 

 

Current Day Madagascan Cuisine

 

On the 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 white rice.

 

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!

 

Often 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.

 

 

Click here for lots of Madagascan Recipes

 

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