Seven hours may seem like a long time to drive for a meal of fish and chips. But when you live in a land-locked country and you know that, at the end of the road, the fish will be fresh from the sea, the chips will be thick and crisp, and the flames of piri-piri sauce will leave an addictive, lingering tang – well then, seven hours is nothing at all. This is the thought that passed through my head as I chased a garlic-y crumbed prawn, judiciously dipped in piri-piri, with a cold 2M beer on the first night Mark and I spent in Mozambique.
We were eating at a restaurant called Solange in bustling, 100-year-old
During our week-long holiday in Beira, Pemba, and Ibo Island, one impression stood out to me most: the sense that, although the country was once among the poorest in the world, and despite enduring scars from a 17-year civil war (1977-92), today Mozambique boasts an unremitting energy and optimism. We heard it in the animated chatter that rose above the blaring music on the rooftop patio. We saw it in the fresh paint on tiny roadside stores and newly-paved roads, in women’s clothes (vibrantly-pattered wrap skirts and dresses and, in urban areas, second-hand, neon tank-tops from Brazil), in the busy hubbub of curbside bike repair shops, in the mass of little kids playing in the ocean – splashing, somersaulting, and diving for joy – and in their older siblings, strolling back and forth along the beachfront, preening and posing for their peers.
You, as a visitor, need to capture this optimism, too, and put your faith in the fact that Things Will Work Out. Because although more and more tourists are traveling to Mozambique, there are few helpful signs or maps, limited transport options for getting from point A to point B, and tourist facilities full of smiling people who can’t really help you very much. Nevertheless, Things Will Work Out. To wit:
1) When it appears you will be stranded on the
2) When your 4x4 gets a flat tire and, seconds after you notice the spare is secured by a lock, you realize that, since you borrowed the vehicle from a friend, you don’t have the key…well, a friendly man will walk by who happens to be a mechanic. He will ingeniously remove the lock without the key.
3) When you are visiting the local street market in Pemba and – for the sake of this very blog – purchase some sweets from a snotty-nosed girl who, with one grubby hand, is waving away a swarm of flies, while, with the other grubby hand, passing you your selections…miraculously you will not get food poisoning.
4) When you spend the whole week trying to order a traditional Mozambican dish called matapa, only to hear repeatedly that, although the dish appears on the menu, it was not made today…on your last night in the country you will return to Solange and gleefully discover they offer a special weekend buffet that includes not one, but two types of matapa.
5) And, finally, when you fruitlessly search market after market for cassava leaves, the critical main ingredient in matapa, eventually realizing that cassava must be something everyone grows at home rather than buys…you will make one last market stop and meet a man willing to bike 15 minutes to cut cassava leaves from his own garden and bring them to you. Which he does.
It is also the place for excellent food influenced by African traditions, Portuguese cuisine (the Portuguese claimed
I’ll feature four of
A Summary of Food and Drink “To dos”
Eat at Solange. There is amazingly varied buffet on Friday and Saturday nights for about US$12/person and a unique green piri-piri every night. (Thanks, Emily, for the tip!)
- Watch the sunset from Aquila Romana, an Italian restaurant on the far end of
- Visit the nearby JPS for Mozambican and Portuguese cuisine (matapa some nights).
- Watch the kids frolic in the ocean as you eat fish and batatas fritas on the deck of Pemba Dolphin on
- Be greeted with calls of “Salama” (“Hello”) as you explore the vegetable market in town; you can answer “Salama” in return.
- Buy some better-than-Maldon sea salt from a vendor, and check out the stalls with dried fish of all shapes and sizes, chilies, onions, tomatoes, cabbage garlic, rice and flour.
- Visit the newly-opened Cinco Portas, run by the extremely helpful and accommodating Isabelle, which offers quaint, basic rooms and serves excellent Portuguese and Mozambican food, with a strong Swahili influence, from a vibrant, open-air kitchen. If you aren’t staying there, arrange your meals with Isabella in advance so that she can make sure her team of local cooks prepares enough food.
- Watch the sunset from the courtyard at Cinco Portas while enjoying one of the local beer brands: 2M or Laurentina. The luscious, chocolaty dark version of Laurentina, Laurentina Preta, is highly recommended.
- Try a homestay with a local family – a new community tourism initiative on the island. You can arrange for your hosts to cook you lunch and dinner, and will always receive some sort of light breakfast – like these fried UFO-shaped treats made with rice, coconut and, I believe, a bit of lemon zest. Contact Ibraimo Assane at +258 825511919.
- For a splurge, stay at Ibo Island Lodge, a beautifully restored house with fantastic architecture, a great view, and fabulous staff. We didn’t stay here, but wish we could have!
If you are in interested in traveling to northern
Many thanks to Mariana (our traveling companion to and from
A day’s catch –
The old market –