History of Malagasy cuisine…

History of Malagasy cuisine…

Rice, eaten three times a day, is the staple food of the Malagasy. It is invariably boiled. This is reflected in a Malagasy proverb: ‘Vary sy rano dia iray ihany: an-tsaha tsy mifanary, an-trano miaraka ihany’ (‘Rice and water are one, always together in the fields and in the home’).

Originally, the Malagasy took a single dish at mealtimes: rice accompanied by meat stewed in vegetables, seeds, root plants, “brèdes” (leafy vegetables and aromatic herbs). From the end of the 19th century, with the introduction of foreign crops to the country, condiments and spices as well as other dishes such as pickled vegetables and tomato rougail became part of the Malagasy diet.

In general, the Malagasy eat organic food. The flavour of the plant and animal products they use comes from the island’s natural abundance and the characteristic cooking methods used. Since Madagascar became independent in 1960, the growth of industry has led to the cultivation of richer, more varied culinary tastes, although this development is mainly confined to the cities, which account for 20% of the total population of around 20 million.

As a result, the methods used to prepare traditional dishes such as romazava, ravitoto and vary aminanana have improved. Diets vary from region to region, and dietary prohibitions govern both ingredients and cooking methods. Taboos and misconceptions are still a factor in the relative poverty of many local cuisines.

Crustaceans such as crab, crayfish, shrimp, camaron, lobster and squid are now used in local gourmet dishes, while freshwater fish still plays an important part in the typical Malagasy diet. The famous ranovola, a traditional hot drink based on burnt rice, is increasingly being supplanted by wine and soft drinks.

Depending on the season, tropical and even European fruits are served at the end of the meal.


What is this abundant yet little-known country?

Its ancient name was ‘The Green Island’, a reference to the vast forests that cover over 60% of its area. But demographic pressure over the last three decades has shaken the seeming immutability of this natural bounty, as encapsulated in the ancestral proverb ‘Na ho lany aza ny ala atsinanana’ (‘Even the eastern forests will never be exhausted’). Ecotourism in all its dimensions has now become the driver for the preservation of the environment.

Given its huge size—at 592,000 km2 it is as large as Benelux and France put together—and its natural resources, Madagascar, the land of the sun where the living is good, has a rightful claim to be considered the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’.

This vast island was occupied then deserted by the pirates, who had no idea that it was teeming with treasures—treasures of a natural kind such as the native flora and fauna, marine and mining products and so on.

The first inhabitants of this part of the world, discovered in 1500 by the Portuguese, were ‘Vazimba’. Settlers subsequently came from the Arab countries, Asia and Africa, all entering the racial melting pot on the island.

As island-dwellers, despite their different origins, the local people have shaped their own unique identity through the diversity of their cultures, and even more importantly through their common language, Malagasy.

As firm believers in fihavanana (fraternal, conciliatory and inclusive togetherness), the Malagasy, known for their warm smile, their hospitality and their sensitive natures—wonderful qualities that need to be protected from the vicissitudes of the island’s politics—are proud of who they are, both as part of the African community and within the global context.


Useful links for travelling to Madagascar:

Continents insolites: www.continents-insolites.com

Comptoir de Madagascar: www.comptoirdemadagascar.com