About the Food of Botswana

Photo courtesy of the CIA World Factbook

Today is a great day. While learning about the food of Botswana, I raised my eyebrows at least five times. I love days like that. Plus, I almost convinced my husband we were going to be eating worms.

That’s right. Worms.

You should have seen his face.

The people of Botswana prize Mopane worms as a national specialty. This unusual delicacy is actually a caterpillar who earned its name by feeding on the local Mopane tree. The worms are eaten fresh, dried, or canned with tomato sauce or hot sauce. Most families are able to harvest them from the trees near their homes. Luckily we don’t have any Mopane worms in our backyard, so we won’t be eating any for this week’s Global Table. Keith is relieved, to say the least. I hope you’re not disappointed.

Speaking of points… take a look at this thing!

Mopane Worm Photo by Arne Larsen

In general, meat is saved for special occasions, including beef, goat, and chicken. Preparation is simple – pieces of meat are slowly simmered with onion until very soft, then pounded into small pieces. The taste of the resulting “chunky gravy” depends on the cut of meat. The higher the fat, the richer the flavor.

Most meals include stewed produce such as spinach, pumpkin, squash, tomato, cabbage, or beans. Availability varies by region.

Falkirks (pots) used for special occasion stews. Photo by Arne Lawson

Both vegetables and meats are eaten with the African staple pap, a stiff maize or cornmeal porridge that resembles soft polenta. Maize is grown in Botswana, making pap a viable option for all households. The porridge is usually scooped up with fingers and then dipped into the stew or sauce for flavor.

Next to no information is available about prepared desserts in Botswana. If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll have to settle on fruit this week. In fact, I was surprised to learn that Botswana may be the original home of the watermelon. This juicy fruit – present at nearly every family picnic I’ve ever been to – is said to originate in the dry Kalahari Desert which spans Botswana, South Africa, and Namibia. Juicy watermelon is perfect refreshment in scorching hot weather and has the added bonus of not needing refrigeration for storage.

A variety of tasty drinks are available in Botswana. You will find tea from the bush called rooibos tea, English tea – from Botswana’s days as a British protectorate, fruit juice, soda, home-brewed beer, and commercial beer.

Photo Courtesy of CIA World Factbook


    • globaltable says

      Interesting – that second link with the bowl – I just don’t know if I could do it… Funny how culture conditions you to have these likes and dislikes. If we were raised on them, we wouldn’t be bothered at all.

  1. I just read No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, and it took place in Botswana! Can’t wait to see what you cook. 😀

    • globaltable says

      Neat! I wish I had more time to read… with this blog and a one year old… well, I’m lucky to get dressed every day 🙂

  2. You missed out on the Mopani ‘worms’! They are delicious when shallow fried and eaten as a snack. Better with beer than peanuts!

    A minor point. No one in Botswana would speak of ‘fufu’. The term ‘pap’ is usually used for the staple maize meal porridge to which you refer.

    • globaltable says

      Thanks for this point Adrian. Is it also called sadza or nsima? Let me know what is preferred and I’ll update the post. I appreciate your input 🙂

      • That’s right it’s Nsima in Malawi, Nshima in Zambia and Sadza in Shona. In Botswana it is commonly called ‘pap’ as in most of South Africa.

        The overcooked, incredibly salty stew called setswa is also very popular in Botswana. In Zambia the meat that accompanies food is referred to as ‘relish’ which is confusing for most Europeans and North Americans.

        • globaltable says

          Thanks Adrian. Relish does seem to be a funny term – I suppose because when we use the term, it implies just a small amount.
          Anyway, you certainly know a lot about the region’s cuisine! I count myself lucky that you found our web site 🙂 Keep in touch.

  3. Kay from Toronto says

    That’s it! I have been telling people for years about my experience in South Africa at a large buffet dinner that represented all the major tribes of the entire African continent. The party with me wanted me to try everything — “My grandmother used to make that!” “That one is our favourite!” etc. as they piled my plate high for me. The only thing I did not try was the bowl of what I thought were grubs, in a light vinaigrette. So now I know. It must have been the Mopane Worm representing the Botswana area. Thanks.

    I absolutely love your blob, BTW.

  4. L'Abeille says

    When my daughter was in university she did 6 months’ field study in Botswana. In one of the first lessons, the teacher passed around a bag of dried mopani worms and the students had to evaluate their facial expressions while eating them–no rude squinting, just gracious-guest looks of pure delight. Take that, picky eaters!

    During her time in the village, every day her home-stay father would say “Well, Rebecca, shall we get a watermelon from the garden?” and she’d eat half of it. She was in heaven–this girl who eschews water and obtains all her hydration from melons and cucumbers. Only on returning to Canada did she remember being warned that watermelons aren’t necessarily free of water-borne bacteria…

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