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Unlike Americans, most Zambians eat basically the same thing every day. But, with about 70 different ethnic groups, there is also quite a bit of variety in what that “basically the same thing” looks like. Usually Zambians consume a large amount of some kind of cooked starch. For most Zambians that consists of white corn meal (which they call maize), cooked in boiling water and served with the consistency of thick mashed potatoes. A common name for this is nshima. In parts of the country where corn cannot be easily grown, Zambians substitute casava. Rice is another option, though it is more expensive and is more likely to be served to guests or on special occasions.

The nshima should be served with one or more side dishes, as nshima by itself is seen as not really a meal. The side dishes are generally called “relish.” These dishes might consist of cabbage, onions, and tomatoes cooked in oil, various kinds of greens, and meat, if available. Meat is generally expensive and is not eaten every day. This meal is basically the same for lunch and supper. For breakfast, the nshima is often more the consistency of cream of wheat (not as thick) and is eaten with a spoon.

Traditionally, a meal is eaten with one’s fingers. A chunk of nshima is rolled into a ball using your right hand, dipped into a relish, and then placed in the mouth. Eating is serious business and usually people do not talk much while eating.


Fish is a common source of meat, as rivers and lakes are plentiful in Zambia. Chickens are common in rural areas and will be prepared for guests or special occasions. Goats and the occasional pig may also be eaten. In olden days, cattle were a source of wealth and would only rarely be slaughtered, so beef was not a traditional part of the Zambian diet, though this has changed today in urban areas with all the butcheries. Traditionally the men would have hunted wild animals, but that is no longer possible as most game is only to be found in national parks. In addition, Zambians enjoy various “protein delicacies” but that varies by kin group, however. The Nyanja-speaking groups enjoy green grasshoppers, most enjoy mopane worms, and almost everyone enjoys termites!

There are a number of local fruits and vegetables available seasonally. These include mango, papaya, pineapple, banana, sweet potato, various kinds of squash, and peanuts (or groundnuts).