Have you ever tried crickets? Perhaps dried whole fish on sticks? Well in Madagascar, you can do just that!
Located off the southeast coast of the African continent, Madagascar is a destination that lies off the beaten path, attracting travelers who are looking to explore a different side of Africa. And one of the most fascinating ways to immerse yourself into the Malagasy culture is on a culinary tour through village markets.
Depending on where you are in Madagascar, you might find markets that are based outdoors, constructed with sticks, clay, or brick with a sheet or umbrella used as a roof for each vendor or you might find a warehouse-type construction that is filled with vendors selling their goods (no stalls). But whichever market(s) you explore, you’re sure to have quite a unique cultural experience!
During a recent trip to Madagascar, we explored a market just outside of Isalo National Park that offered everything from slabs of meat to live chickens, and gardening tools to women’s dresses.
Just picture it:
Upon entering the market area there is a woman who uses a vintage, hand-crank sewing machine to sew a children’s sweater. As you pass the wood- and cloth-stalls you see a stall with hot wheel cars, dolls, batteries, and other small toys and electronics. A few ways down is a stall that sells a wide range of spices, including dried chilies, vanilla, and other curious spices. The stall also offers cooking oil, fruit juice, and other bottled goods in recycled plastic water bottles. One thing is for certain—used plastic water bottles are in high demand in Madagascar.
Across the way is a blanket with a wide variety of metal tools laid out. At first glance you think they are dentist tools or other torture devices of some kind, but at a closer view, you notice they are gardening and harvesting tools that are handmade. The next row of stalls you travel down is the “meat section,” if you will. Here there are rows of stalls with stone / concrete counters that are displaying huge cuts of meat, while other cuts of meat hang from hooks. The aroma is not the most delightful.
You take a moment to look at the people around you and notice that all the locals are doing there daily shopping, socializing, or working, while the kids run around and play, and stray dogs lay on the clay roads, soaking in the heat of the sun. This is just another day in their lives and it’s a beautiful thing to be a part of.
After you’ve had your fill of starring at raw meat and women carrying live chickens on their heads, you venture down the vegetable stall areas and come across a pile of crickets and a pile of dried fish. You think “yum!” Or not . . . !
Trying the food at these local markets can be a little too adventurous for some and might not sit well with you if you’re not used to it. But all of the accommodations that we use and restaurants that we recommend provide you with high quality food and dining experience. All of our recommended accommodations and restaurants offer something for everyone, including vegetarian options, seafood dishes, zebu (beef), and chicken. And because rice is a staple in the Malagasy diet (in fact, they eat rice for all three of their meals during the day!), many of the dishes you’ll come across do feature rice.
When you are on the coast of Madagascar, such as the Nosy Be Archipelago, you’ll find seafood to be a common dish. All of the seafood is caught fresh and includes shrimp, prawns, king fish, crab, and calamari.
And if you’re a beer lover, you’ll really enjoy the Madagascar-made beer, Three Horses Beer (referred to as THB by the locals). Rum is also made locally in Madagascar. Various flavors are added to the rum by soaking the rum with certain spices, fruits, etc.
Some of the major food and goods exports of Madagascar include prawns, shrimp, cocoa, coffee, vanilla, and rice. In fact, stores such as Williams-Sonoma sell vanilla from Madagascar!