Madagascar: Menus & Recipes from Africa




Madagascar, "The Great Red Island" as it is often called, is officially known as the Malagasy Republic. It is the fourth largest island in the world and is a land of sheer beauty. Ringed by golden beaches and date- palm trees, the interior varies from grassy plateaus, to volcanoes, and impenetrable equatorial forests. It is lush with a great variety of fruits such as mangos, grapes, peaches, peals, pineapples, avocados, and lichee nuts. All about are colorful flowers in abundance: orchids, violets, and mimosa.

Tananarive, the capital, is a picturesque city with narrow sloping streets and houses that seem to cling to the hillside. The open market, characteristic of all of Africa, is most exhilarating. There you will find the long black vanilla beans sold in little packets to be used in many ways. but mostly in flavoring fruit. A large portion of the crop (120 million vanilla beans) makes its way to the U.S.A. every year from Madagascar. Everywhere you see scallions, turnips, tomatoes, and a variety of green vegetables. And there is always plenty of fish.

The people of Madagascar are mostly Malayan Polynesian with some admixture of Indian, Arab, African, and European. Despite the variety of races one language is used throughout the island, Malagasy; the second language is French. Rice is the staple of the island and is served three times a day. Most of it is home grown.

You can recognize the influence of the French in the food, which is not as highly spiced as in most of Africa. While the curry is much like that of Malaysia, subtle and not overpowering, it is just different enough to be interesting. Most recipes call for a smidgen of red hot pepper, called Sakay, and it is generally served separately so that one can control the amount to taste.

The manner in which beef- Varenga- is treated is worthy of note. Beef is cut in small pieces, simmered until done, shredded, and then roasted until it is browned. It is surprisingly delicious and a good way to use left-over cooked beef.

How a Dinner is Served in Madagascar

The true Malagache serves his meal, as is done in most parts of Africa, on a mat on the floor. Everything is put down at the same time--but in the cities individual plates are used and the utensil is a large spoon (no knives or forks are used).

Dinner is a simple affair. There are no preliminaries such as snacks, hors d'oeuvres, cocktails, or drinks. Guests are brought to the dining area and served directly. Today, you will find the Western influence appearing more strongly, and dining areas are being increasingly adopted.

Malagaches like their food simply prepared, flavorful, but as we have said, not highly spiced. Fruits and vegetables are utilized at their freshest, and it is not uncommon to start a meal with vegetable soup and then to serve two or three vegetables with the entree. The beverage that goes with the meal is Ranonapango, a drink made by burning rice--yes, actually burning the rice and adding water to it. (The recipe is given on page 93.)

The entree might very well be a chicken or fish curry, and it is usually one of the three rice meals each day. In Malagasy curries are prepared a little differently than in other countries. A Malagache curry is included in the recipe section.

The dessert is usually fruit, flavored with vanilla. Some call Madagascar the Vanilla Island as they call Zanzibar the Spice Island. The fruit is not only prepared with vanilla, but more vanilla is added to it when it is served.

Malagasy tea, their own special brand (not available here), completes a most nutritious meal.

How You Can Present a Malagasy Dinner

It might be more authentic to serve this menu on mats placed on the floor, but in the cities of Malagasy dinner would be served at a table. For the Malagasy meal, use bright yellow tablecloths and matching napkins--on a round table, if possible, to express the feeling of friendliness.

Place the napkin on a white service plate and top each napkin with a large bright flower. An iris or any flower that resembles the orchid family would be ideal but a large daisy or other flower will also serve.

The centerpiece is a bowl of fresh fruit interspersed with some of the same flowers that adorn each plate. Dishes are plain white or solid colors.

Start with the Lasopy, the veal vegetable puree, thick and hearty and served in earthenware bowls.

The Varenga, beautifully browned shredded beef, arrives in the oven- proof dish in which it was baked and is set on a trivet. A large bowl of Vary Amin Anana, steaming hot vegetables, and the Lasary Voatabia, tomato and scallion salad, are set on the table at the same time. It is not common practice to serve bread or rolls, but be sure that a large bowl of white rice is part of the dinner.

Ranonapango, the burned-rice drink would be correct to serve with the dinner, but you might want to substitute cold lemonade or ice water. Your guests will find the dessert delicious. If you cannot obtain the fruits suggested in the Salady Voankazo (fresh fruits with lichee nuts), use any fruits that are available. Sugar them lightly and sprinkle pure vanilla extract over the fruit.

Serve tea or coffee in the usual manner.

The Malagache dinner is one of the easiest to prepare and to serve. And it is utterly different!

Menu from Madagascar







    Shopping List for Eight


    3 Ibs. veal bones
    4 Ibs. boneless chuck
    1 Ib. soup meat

    Gourmet shop

    1 small can lichee nuts

    Fruits and Vegetables

    3 Ibs. tomatoes
    1 Ib. potatoes
    1 bunch carrots
    1/2 Ib. turnips
    1/2 Ib string beans
    1/2 Ib. mustard greens
    1/2 Ib. spinach
    1 bunch watercress
    2 bunches scallions
    1 lemon
    1 fresh pineapple
    1 cantaloupe
    3 thick-shinned oranges
    1 box strawberries


    1 bottle pure vanilla extract
    2 Ibs. white rice
    1 box soda crackers



    This is truly a great soup; loaded with vitamins and minerals and low in calories. Any combination of fresh vegetables and meat bones may be used, but do not add pulses (dried beans, peas, and lentils). Nor is potato, rice, or any other starchy vegetable in the Lasopy, which is a true vegetable puree simply flavored with meat bones.

    In a 4-quart pot:

    Simmer: 3 Ibs. VEAL BONES

    2 qts. WATER
    2 Tbs. SALT, for 1 hour with cover on.

    Add: 3 CARROTS, peeled and cut in three pieces

    1 small TURNIP, peeled and cut in chunks
    6 to 8 SCALLIONS, cut in large pieces
    1 cup TOMATOES, cut in quarters
    1/2 tsp. BLACK PEPPER.

    Simmer for about 1 hour or until vegetables are tender.

    Remove the veal bones.

    Put the vegetables through a sieve or vegetable mill to make a puree.

    Serve thick and hot from a soup tureen into soup bowls with or without crackers.


    In a 4-quart saucepan:

    Combine: 4 Ibs. BONELESS CHUCK, cut in 1-inch pieces.

    1 quart WATER
    2 Tbs. SALT
    2 cloves GARLIC, minced finely
    1 cup ONION, sliced.

    Cover and bring to a boil; simmer gently for 2 hours or until meat can be shredded with a fork.

    Add water if necessary to keep meat at simmering point.

    Shred the meat by cutting it into thin strips. Meat should come apart easily.

    Transfer the shredded meat and sauce to a greased 9 x 12-inch baking pan (oven-proof).

    Roast at 400' for 30 minutes until it is nicely browned across the top.

    Garnish with 3 or 4 PARSLEY SPRIGS and bring to the table on a trivet.

    Serve with white rice.


    In a 4-quart saucepan:

    Saute: 1/2 Ib. BONELESS CHUCK cut in 1/2-inch cubes in

    2 Tbs. OIL until meat is brown on all sides.

    Add 1 TOMATO cut in 1/2-inch chunks.

    Cook with the beef for 10 minutes.

    Add: 1 bunch SCALLIONS, cut in 1-inch pieces.

    1/2 Ib. MUSTARD GREENS, cut in small pieces
    1/2 Ib. SPINACH, cut in small pieces
    1 bunch WATERCRESS, cut in small pieces.

    Saute stirring occasionally with cover on until vegetables soften.

    Add: 2 cups WATER (or enough to cover vegetables) and

    1 cup RICE
    1 Tbs. SALT
    1/2 tsp. PEPPER.

    Cover tightly and simmer slowly until rice is thoroughly cooked and all the liquid is absorbed.

    Correct the Seasoning to your taste.

    Serve with hot pepper Sakay as a relish to accompany Lasopy.


    In a 1-pint bowl:

    Combine: 1/2 cup CRUSHED RED PEPPER

    2 cloves GARLIC, crushed.

    Add 4 Tbs. OIL or enough to make a mush.

    Place 1 to 2 Tbs. Sakay in tiny butter dishes or pass in a bowl.


    In a 1-quart bowl:

    Combine: 1 cup SCALLIONS, finely diced

    2 cups TOMATOES, finely diced
    2 Tbs. WATER
    1 tsp. SALT
    few drops TABASCO SAUCE.

    Stir lightly and chill.

    Serve approximately 1/3 cup per portion in small sauce dishes.


    Vanilla gives an unfamiliar bouquet and unusual flavor to fresh fruits.

    In a 2-quart glass or china bowl:

    Combine: 1 cup FRESH PINEAPPLE, cut in 1-inch dice

    1 cup CANTALOUPE, cut in 1/2-inch dice
    1 cup ORANGES, peeled and very thinly sliced
    1/2 cup STRAWBERRIES, sliced.

    Mix the fruits so that they are well blended.

    Pour 1/2 cup CANNED LICHEE NUTS across top of fruit.

    In a 1-pint saucepan:

    Combine: 1/2 cup SUGAR

    1/2 cup WATER
    1/4 tsp. SALT
    2 Tbs. LEMON JUICE.

    Bring to a boil and boil hard for 1 minute.

    Add 2 Tbs. PURE VANILLA EXTRACT to the syrup.

    Pour the piping hot syrup over the fruit.

    Chill in refrigerator for 1 hour.

    Fill a small cruet or sprinkler bottle with PURE VANILLA EXTRACT.

    Bring the Salady to the table in the bowl along with the cruet of vanilla.

    Fill individual compote dishes with the fruit.

    Sprinkle a few drops VANILLA over the fruit as it is being served.


    This is one of the favorite foods of Malagasy. Dried beef is cut in strips and broiled over a charcoal fire. If you would like to make it, purchase round steak cut 1/4-inch thick. Cut the meat in pieces about 4 inches x 2 inches, thread the strips on a fine strong cord and hang the cord up as you would a small clothesline. The meat will become quite dry in a few hours. Put the strips over a charcoal brazier so that the meat dries to a crispness but does not burn. Remove the meat immediately from the fire as it crisps. This is a great delicacy in Madagascar. It is usually eaten with a watery cornmeal mush for breakfast.


    These are another treat in Malagasy. They are served as a vegetable and may be added to your Malagache dinner. See recipe, page 186.


    This is the burned-rice beverage which is an important part of the meal. Malagache cooks double the quantity of rice they require for the meal. When it is cooked, they remove most of the rice from the earthenware pan. The remainder (a layer about 1/2-inch thick) is heated until it is burned and acquires a characteristic aroma. At that point boiling water is poured over the rice to the top of the pan. It is cooled, strained, and chilled. This beverage is used in place of water on the island.

    Extracts from: Bea Sandler. The African Cookbook. Diane & Leo Dillon (Illust.). New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1993.

    To order a copy of The African Cookbook, please contact:

    The Carol Publishing Group
    600 Madison Avenue
    New York, NY 10022

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