Cuisine of Madagascar
Malagasy cuisine encompasses the many diverse culinary traditions of the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar
The Republic of Madagascar is an island country located in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa...

. Foods eaten in Madagascar reflect the influence of Southeast Asian, African, Indian, Chinese and European migrants that have settled on the island since it was first populated by seafarers from Borneo
Borneo is the third largest island in the world and is located north of Java Island, Indonesia, at the geographic centre of Maritime Southeast Asia....

 between 100 CE and 500 CE. Rice, the cornerstone of the Malagasy
Malagasy people
The Malagasy ethnic group forms nearly the entire population of Madagascar. They are divided into two subgroups: the "Highlander" Merina, Sihanaka and Betsileo of the central plateau around Antananarivo, Alaotra and Fianarantsoa, and the côtiers elsewhere in the country. This division has its...

 diet, was cultivated alongside tuber
Tubers are various types of modified plant structures that are enlarged to store nutrients. They are used by plants to survive the winter or dry months and provide energy and nutrients for regrowth during the next growing season and they are a means of asexual reproduction...

s and other Southeast Asian staples by these earliest settlers. Their diet was supplemented by foraging and hunting wild game, which contributed to the extinction of the island's bird and mammal
Mammals are members of a class of air-breathing vertebrate animals characterised by the possession of endothermy, hair, three middle ear bones, and mammary glands functional in mothers with young...

In terrestrial zoology, megafauna are "giant", "very large" or "large" animals. The most common thresholds used are or...

. These food sources were later complemented by beef in the form of zebu
Zebu , sometimes known as humped cattle, indicus cattle, Cebu or Brahmin cattle are a type of domestic cattle originating in South Asia, particularly the Indian subcontinent. They are characterised by a fatty hump on their shoulders, drooping ears and a large dewlap...

 introduced into Madagascar by East African migrants arriving around 1,000 CE. Trade with Arab and Indian
Indian people
Indian people or Indisians constitute the Asian nation and pan-ethnic group native to India, which forms the south of Asia, containing 17.31% of the world's population. The Indian nationality is in essence made up of regional nationalities, reflecting the rich and complex history of India...

 merchants and European transatlantic traders further enriched the island's culinary traditions by introducing a wealth of new fruits, vegetables and seasonings.

Throughout almost the entire island, the contemporary cuisine of Madagascar typically consists of a base of rice served with an accompaniment; in the official dialect of the Malagasy language
Malagasy language
Malagasy is the national language of Madagascar, a member of the Austronesian family of languages. Most people in Madagascar speak it as a first language as do some people of Malagasy descent elsewhere.-History:...

, the rice is termed vary (ˈvarʲ), and the accompaniment, laoka (ˈlokə̥). The many varieties of laoka may be vegetarian
Vegetarian cuisine
Vegetarian cuisine refers to food that meets vegetarian standards by not including meat and animal tissue products. For lacto-ovo vegetarianism , eggs and dairy products such as milk and cheese are permitted...

 or include animal proteins, and typically feature a sauce flavored with such ingredients as ginger
Ginger is the rhizome of the plant Zingiber officinale, consumed as a delicacy, medicine, or spice. It lends its name to its genus and family . Other notable members of this plant family are turmeric, cardamom, and galangal....

, onion, garlic, tomato, vanilla
Vanilla is a flavoring derived from orchids of the genus Vanilla, primarily from the Mexican species, Flat-leaved Vanilla . The word vanilla derives from the Spanish word "", little pod...

, salt
Sodium chloride
Sodium chloride, also known as salt, common salt, table salt or halite, is an inorganic compound with the formula NaCl. Sodium chloride is the salt most responsible for the salinity of the ocean and of the extracellular fluid of many multicellular organisms...

, curry powder
Curry powder
Curry powder is a mixture of spices of widely varying composition based on South Asian cuisine. Curry powder, and the contemporary English use of the word curry are Western inventions and do not reflect any specific Indian food, though a similar mixture of spices used in north India is called...

, or, less commonly, other spices or herbs. In parts of the arid south and west, pastoral
Pastoralism or pastoral farming is the branch of agriculture concerned with the raising of livestock. It is animal husbandry: the care, tending and use of animals such as camels, goats, cattle, yaks, llamas, and sheep. It may have a mobile aspect, moving the herds in search of fresh pasture and...

 families may replace rice with maize, cassava
Cassava , also called yuca or manioc, a woody shrub of the Euphorbiaceae native to South America, is extensively cultivated as an annual crop in tropical and subtropical regions for its edible starchy tuberous root, a major source of carbohydrates...

, or curd
Curds are a dairy product obtained by curdling milk with rennet or an edible acidic substance such as lemon juice or vinegar, and then draining off the liquid portion. The increased acidity causes the milk proteins to tangle into solid masses, or curds. The remaining liquid, which contains only...

s made from fermented zebu milk. A wide variety of sweet and savory fritter
A fritter is any kind of food coated in batter and deep fried. Although very similar to a doughnut it differs in the fact that it requires some base ingredient beyond the dough it is cooked with.-Anglo-American fritters:...

s as well as other street foods are available across the island, as are diverse tropical and temperate-climate fruits. Locally produced beverages include fruit juices, coffee, herbal and black
Black tea
Black tea is a variety of tea that is more oxidized than the oolong, green, and white varieties.All four varieties are made from leaves of the shrub Camellia sinensis. Black tea is generally stronger in flavor and contains more caffeine than the less oxidized teas. Two principal varieties of the...

 teas, and alcoholic drinks such as rum
Rum is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugarcane by-products such as molasses, or directly from sugarcane juice, by a process of fermentation and distillation. The distillate, a clear liquid, is then usually aged in oak barrels...

, wine and beer.

The range of dishes eaten in Madagascar in the 21st century offers insight into the island's unique history and the diversity of the peoples who inhabit it today. The complexity of Malagasy meals can range from the simple, traditional preparations introduced by the earliest settlers, to the refined festival dishes prepared for the island's 19th-century monarchs
Merina Kingdom
The Merina Kingdom was a pre-colonial south-eastern African state that dominated most of what is now Madagascar. It spread outward from Imerina, the central highlands region primarily inhabited by the Merina ethnic group with a modern and historic political capital at Antananarivo and a spiritual...

. Although the classic Malagasy meal of rice and its accompaniment remains predominant, over the past 100 years other food types and combinations have been popularized by French colonists
French people in Madagascar
There is a small but recognizable community of French people in Madagascar, of whom the vast majority are born in Madagascar and are descended from former French settlers and colonists who settled in Madagascar during the 19th and 20th centuries brought by Francois Delouche...

 and immigrants from China
Chinese people in Madagascar
Chinese people in Madagascar form Africa's third largest overseas Chinese population. , roughly 40,000 to 60,000 lived on the island. They constitute a minority ethnic group of Madagascar.-History:...

 and India
Indians in Madagascar
Indians in Madagascar form a community of roughly 25,000 individuals according to the statistics of India's Ministry of External Affairs; other estimates of their population range from 15,000 to 30,000. Among them are 867 non-resident Indians, with the rest being locally-born descendants of early...

. Consequently, Malagasy cuisine is traditional while also assimilating newly emergent cultural influences.

Prior to 1650

Austronesian seafarers are believed to have been the first humans to settle on the island, arriving between 100 and 500 CE. In their outrigger canoe
Outrigger canoe
The outrigger canoe is a type of canoe featuring one or more lateral support floats known as outriggers, which are fastened to one or both sides of the main hull...

s they carried food staples from home including rice, plantain
Plantain is the common name for herbaceous plants of the genus Musa. The fruit they produce is generally used for cooking, in contrast to the soft, sweet banana...

s, taro
Taro is a common name for the corms and tubers of several plants in the family Araceae . Of these, Colocasia esculenta is the most widely cultivated, and is the subject of this article. More specifically, this article describes the 'dasheen' form of taro; another variety is called eddoe.Taro is...

, and water yam. Sugarcane, ginger, sweet potatoes, pigs and chickens were also probably brought to Madagascar by these first settlers, along with coconut and banana. The first concentrated population of human settlers emerged along the southeastern coast of the island, although the first landfall may have been made on the northern coast. Upon arrival, early settlers practiced tavy (swidden, "slash-and-burn
Slash and burn
Slash-and-burn is an agricultural technique which involves cutting and burning of forests or woodlands to create fields. It is subsistence agriculture that typically uses little technology or other tools. It is typically part of shifting cultivation agriculture, and of transhumance livestock...

" agriculture) to clear the virgin coastal rainforest
Rainforests are forests characterized by high rainfall, with definitions based on a minimum normal annual rainfall of 1750-2000 mm...

s for the cultivation of crops. They also gathered honey, fruits, bird and crocodile eggs, mushrooms, edible seeds and roots, and brewed alcoholic beverages from honey and sugar cane juice.

Game (food)
Game is any animal hunted for food or not normally domesticated. Game animals are also hunted for sport.The type and range of animals hunted for food varies in different parts of the world. This will be influenced by climate, animal diversity, local taste and locally accepted view about what can or...

 was regularly hunted and trapped in the forests, including frogs, snakes, lizards, hedgehogs and tenrecs, tortoises, wild boars, insects, larva
A larva is a distinct juvenile form many animals undergo before metamorphosis into adults. Animals with indirect development such as insects, amphibians, or cnidarians typically have a larval phase of their life cycle...

e, birds and lemur
Lemurs are a clade of strepsirrhine primates endemic to the island of Madagascar. They are named after the lemures of Roman mythology due to the ghostly vocalizations, reflective eyes, and the nocturnal habits of some species...

s. The first settlers encountered Madagascar's wealth of megafauna, including giant lemurs
Subfossil lemur
Subfossil lemurs are lemurs from Madagascar that are represented by recent remains dating from nearly 26,000 years ago to approximately 560 years ago. They include both living and extinct species, although the term more frequently refers to the extinct giant lemurs...

, elephant bird
Elephant bird
Elephant birds are an extinct family of flightless birds found only on the island of Madagascar and comprising the genera Aepyornis and Mullerornis.-Description:...

s, giant fossa and the Malagasy hippopotamus
Malagasy Hippopotamus
Several species of Malagasy Hippopotamus lived on the island of Madagascar but are now believed to be extinct. The animals were very similar to the extant Hippopotamus and Pygmy Hippopotamus...

. Early Malagasy communities may have eaten the eggs and—less commonly—the meat of Aepyornis maximus, the world's largest bird, which remained widespread throughout Madagascar as recently as the 17th century. While several theories have been proposed to explain the decline and eventual extinction of Malagasy megafauna, clear evidence suggests that hunting by humans and destruction of habitats through slash-and-burn agricultural practices were key factors. Although it has been illegal to hunt or trade any of the remaining species of lemur since 1964, these endangered animals continue to be hunted for immediate local consumption in rural areas or to supply the demand for exotic bush meat at some urban restaurants.

As more virgin forest was lost to tavy, communities increasingly planted and cultivated permanent plots of land. By 600 CE, groups of these early settlers had moved inland and begun clearing the forests of the central highlands
Central Highlands (Madagascar)
The Central Highlands, Central High Plateau, or Hauts-Plateaux are a mountainous biogeographical region in central Madagascar. They include the contiguous part of the island's interior above 800 m altitude...

. Rice was originally dry planted or cultivated in marshy lowland areas, which produced low yields. Irrigated rice paddies
Paddy field
A paddy field is a flooded parcel of arable land used for growing rice and other semiaquatic crops. Paddy fields are a typical feature of rice farming in east, south and southeast Asia. Paddies can be built into steep hillsides as terraces and adjacent to depressed or steeply sloped features such...

 were adopted in the highlands around 1600, first in Betsileo
The Betsileo are a highland ethnic group of Madagascar, the third largest in terms of population, numbering around 1.5 million and making up about 12.1 percent of the population. Their name means "The Many Invincible Ones" which they chose for themselves after the failed invasion of Ramitraho...

 country in the southern highlands, then later in the northern highlands of Imerina. By the time terraced paddies emerged in central Madagascar over the next century, the area's original forest cover had largely vanished. In its place were scattered villages ringed with nearby rice paddies and crop fields a day's walk away, surrounded by vast plains of sterile grasses.
Zebu, a form of humped cattle, were introduced to the island around 1000 CE by settlers from east Africa, who also brought sorghum
Sorghum is a genus of numerous species of grasses, one of which is raised for grain and many of which are used as fodder plants either cultivated or as part of pasture. The plants are cultivated in warmer climates worldwide. Species are native to tropical and subtropical regions of all continents...

, goats, possibly Bambara groundnut
Bambara groundnut
The Bambara groundnut is a member of the family Fabaceae. According to some authors it is Voandzeia subterranea, but others place it in Vigna. The plant originated in West Africa...

, and other food sources. Because these cattle represented a form of wealth in east African and consequently Malagasy culture, they were eaten only rarely, typically after their ritual sacrifice at events of spiritual import such as funerals. Fresh zebu milk and curds instead constituted a major part of the pastoralists' diet. Zebu were kept in large herds in the south and west, but as individual herd members escaped and reproduced, a sizable population of wild zebu established itself in the highlands. Merina
The Merina are an ethnic group from Madagascar. The Merina are concentrated in the Highlands and speak the official dialect of the Malagasy language, which is a branch of the Malayo-Polynesian language group derived from the Barito languages, spoken in southern Borneo. Their ancestors, the...

 oral history tells that highland people were unaware that zebu were edible prior to the reign of King Ralambo
Ralambo was the ruler of the Kingdom of Imerina in the central Highlands region of Madagascar from 1575 to 1612. Ruling from Ambohidrabiby, Ralambo expanded the realm of his father, Andriamanelo, and was the first to assign the name of Imerina to the region...

 (ruled 1575–1612), who is credited with the discovery, although archaeological evidence suggests that zebu were occasionally hunted and consumed in the highlands prior to Ralambo's time. It is more likely that these wild herds were first domesticated and kept in pens during this period, which corresponds with the emergence of complex, structured polities
Polity is a form of government Aristotle developed in his search for a government that could be most easily incorporated and used by the largest amount of people groups, or states...

 in the highlands.

Foods were commonly prepared by boiling in water (at first using green bamboo as a vessel, and later clay or iron pots), roasting over a fire or grilling over hot stones or coals. Fermentation
Fermentation (food)
Fermentation in food processing typically is the conversion of carbohydrates to alcohols and carbon dioxide or organic acids using yeasts, bacteria, or a combination thereof, under anaerobic conditions. Fermentation in simple terms is the chemical conversion of sugars into ethanol...

 was also used to create curds from milk, develop the flavor of certain dried or fresh tubers or produce alcoholic beverages from honey, sugar cane juice or other local plants. The techniques of sun curing (drying
Drying (food)
Drying is a method of food preservation that works by removing water from the food, which inhibits the growth of microorganisms and hinders quality decay. Drying food using sun and wind to prevent spoilage has been practised since ancient times, and was the earliest form of food curing...

), smoking and salting
Salting (food)
Salting is the preservation of food with dry edible salt. It is related to pickling . It is one of the oldest methods of preserving food, and two historically significant salt-cured foods are dried and salted cod and salt-cured meat.Salting is used because most bacteria, fungi and other potentially...

 were used to preserve various foods for transport, trade or future consumption. Many foods prepared in these ways, such as a smoked dried beef called kitoza (kiˈtuzə̥) and salted dried fish, are still eaten in a similar form in modern-day Madagascar.

By the 16th century, centralized kingdoms had emerged on the west coast among the Sakalava
The Sakalava are an ethnic group of Madagascar numbering approximately 700,000 in population. Their name means "people of the long valleys." They occupy the Western edge of the island from Toliara in the south to Sambirano in the north. The Sakalava denominate a number of smaller ethnic groups...

 and in the Central highlands among the Merina. The Merina sovereigns celebrated the new year with an ancient Merina ceremony called the Royal Bath (fandroana
The Fandroana is the annual New Year's festival of the Merina people inhabiting the highlands of central Madagascar. The origins of the festival are preserved through oral history. According to folk legend, the wild zebu cattle that roamed the Highlands were first domesticated for food in Imerina...

). For this ceremony, a beef confit
Confit is a generic term for various kinds of food that have been immersed in a substance for both flavor and preservation. Sealed and stored in a cool place, confit can last for several months...

 called jaka (ˈdzakə̥) was prepared by placing beef in a decorative clay jar and sealing it with suet
Suet is raw beef or mutton fat, especially the hard fat found around the loins and kidneys.Suet has a melting point of between 45° and 50°C and congelation between 37° and 40°C....

, then conserving it in an underground pit for a year. The jaka would be shared with friends at the following year's festival. As a dessert, revelers would eat rice boiled in milk and drizzled with honey, a preparation known as tatao (taˈtau̯). According to oral history, King Ralambo was the originator of these culinary traditions in Imerina. Ralambo's father, King Andriamanelo
Andriamanelo was King of Alasora in the central highlands region of Madagascar. He is generally considered by historians to be the founder of the Kingdom of Imerina and originator of the Merina royal line that, by the 19th century, had extended its rule over virtually all of Madagascar...

, is credited with introducing the marriage tradition of the vodiondry (vudiˈuɳɖʳʲ) or "rump of the sheep," wherein the most favored cut of meat—the hindquarters—was offered by the groom to the parents of the bride-to-be at an engagement ceremony. In contemporary Malagasy society the terminology persists but families are more likely to offer symbolic coins in place of an offering of food.


The advent of the trans-Atlantic slave trade
Atlantic slave trade
The Atlantic slave trade, also known as the trans-atlantic slave trade, refers to the trade in slaves that took place across the Atlantic ocean from the sixteenth through to the nineteenth centuries...

 increased maritime trade at Malagasy ports, including food products. In 1698, a trading vessel en route to the American colonies
Thirteen Colonies
The Thirteen Colonies were English and later British colonies established on the Atlantic coast of North America between 1607 and 1733. They declared their independence in the American Revolution and formed the United States of America...

 stopped first at Madagascar, where it obtained a stock of local Malagasy rice. The ship took the rice to Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is the second largest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina. It was made the county seat of Charleston County in 1901 when Charleston County was founded. The city's original name was Charles Towne in 1670, and it moved to its present location from a location on the west bank of the...

, where this Malagasy grain—one of 11 varieties of rice reportedly grown on the island by the late 18th century—soon became the chief export crop of the American South
Southern United States
The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South, Dixie, or simply the South—constitutes a large distinctive area in the southeastern and south-central United States...


Numerous food items were likewise imported from overseas. Trading ships brought crops from the Americas—such as sweet potato, tomato, maize, peanuts, tobacco and lima bean
Lima bean
Phaseolus lunatus is a legume. It is grown for its seed, which is eaten as a vegetable. It is commonly known as the lima bean or butter bean.-Origin and uses:...

s—to Madagascar in the 16th and 17th centuries; cassava arrived after 1735 from a French colony at nearby Réunion Island
Réunion is a French island with a population of about 800,000 located in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar, about south west of Mauritius, the nearest island.Administratively, Réunion is one of the overseas departments of France...

. These products were first cultivated in coastal areas nearest to their ports of arrival, but soon spread throughout the island; within 100 years of their introduction they were widespread throughout the central highlands. Similarly, citrus fruits such as lemons, limes, oranges and pineapple consumed by sailors to ward off scurvy
Scurvy is a disease resulting from a deficiency of vitamin C, which is required for the synthesis of collagen in humans. The chemical name for vitamin C, ascorbic acid, is derived from the Latin name of scurvy, scorbutus, which also provides the adjective scorbutic...

 on long cross-Atlantic trips were introduced at coastal Malagasy ports. Local cultivation began soon afterward.

The prickly pear cactus
Opuntia, also known as nopales or paddle cactus , is a genus in the cactus family, Cactaceae.Currently, only prickly pears are included in this genus of about 200 species distributed throughout most of the Americas. Chollas are now separated into the genus Cylindropuntia, which some still consider...

 or raketa (raˈketə̥), also known in southern Madagascar as sakafon-drano (saˈkafuˈɳɖʳanʷ) or "water food", was brought from the New World
New World
The New World is one of the names used for the Western Hemisphere, specifically America and sometimes Oceania . The term originated in the late 15th century, when America had been recently discovered by European explorers, expanding the geographical horizon of the people of the European middle...

 to the French settlement at Fort Dauphin
Tôlanaro or Tolagnaro is a city in Madagascar. It is the capital of Anosy Region and of Tôlanaro District. It has a port of local importance, and a new port has been built at Ehoala...

 in 1769 by Frenchman Count Dolisie de Maudave. The plant spread throughout the southern part of the island, where it became a fundamental food crop for Mahafaly
The Mahafaly are an ethnic group of Madagascar that inhabit the plains of the Betioky-Ampamihy area. Their name means either "those who make taboos" or "those who make happy", although the former is considered more likely by linguists...

 and Bara
Bara people
The Bara people are a Malagasy ethnic group living in the southern part of the central plateaus of Madagascar, in the Toliara Province, especially in the Ihosy-Betroka area. They are estimated to account for 3% of the overall malagasy population. Along with Sakalava, Bara are one of the two...

 pastoralists. Consuming six or so of the fruits of this plant preempted the need to drink water, and once the spines had been removed, the cladodes of the plant would nourish and hydrate the zebu cattle they tended. The introduction of this plant enabled the southern pastoralists to become more sedentary and efficient herders, thus boosting population density and cattle count in the region.


The 18th century in the central highlands was characterized by increasing population density and consequent famine
A famine is a widespread scarcity of food, caused by several factors including crop failure, overpopulation, or government policies. This phenomenon is usually accompanied or followed by regional malnutrition, starvation, epidemic, and increased mortality. Every continent in the world has...

s, aggravated by warring among the principalities of Imerina. At the turn of the 19th century, King Andrianampoinimerina
Ruling between 1787–1810, Andrianampoinimerina , born Ramboasalama or Ramboasalamarazaka at Ambohimanga around 1745 , initiated the unification of Madagascar under Merina rule and is considered one of the greatest military and political...

 (1787–1810) successfully united these fractious Merina groups under his rule, then used slaves
Slavery is a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work. Slaves can be held against their will from the time of their capture, purchase or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to demand compensation...

 and forced labor—exacted in lieu of taxes for those without means to offer material payment—to systematically work the irrigated rice fields around Antananarivo
Antananarivo , formerly Tananarive , is the capital and largest city in Madagascar. It is also known by its French colonial shorthand form Tana....

. In this way, he ensured regular grain surpluses that were sufficient to consistently feed the entire population and export products for trade with other regions of the island. Marketplaces were established across the island to serve as central trading points for designated commodities such as smoked and dried seafood and meats, dried maize, salt, dried cassava and various fruits. Rice cakes, including mofo gasy (ˈmufʷˈgasʲ) and menakely (menə̥ˈkelʲ), were also sold by market vendors. By this period, coastal cuisine had likewise evolved: early 19th century voyagers reported eating dishes on Île Sainte-Marie
Île Sainte-Marie
Île Sainte-Marie, known as Nosy Boraha , is an island off the east coast of Madagascar. The main town is Ambodifotatra. The city covers an area of 222 km2, and had a population estimated at 16,325 in 2001.- City :...

 prepared with curry powder (including a spiced rice resembling biryani
Biryani, biriani, or beriani is a set of rice-based foods made with spices, rice and meat, fish, eggs or vegetables. The name is derived from the Persian word beryā which means "fried" or "roasted"....

) and drinking coffee and tea.
Andrianampoinimerina's son, Radama I, succeeded in uniting nearly the entire island under his rule, and established the Kingdom of Madagascar
Merina Kingdom
The Merina Kingdom was a pre-colonial south-eastern African state that dominated most of what is now Madagascar. It spread outward from Imerina, the central highlands region primarily inhabited by the Merina ethnic group with a modern and historic political capital at Antananarivo and a spiritual...

. A line of Merina monarchs would continue to govern the island until its colonization by the French in 1896.

Under the Kingdom of Madagascar, plantation
A plantation is a long artificially established forest, farm or estate, where crops are grown for sale, often in distant markets rather than for local on-site consumption...

s were established for the production of crops exported to foreign markets such as England and France. Cloves were imported and planted in 1803, and coconuts—which had been relatively sparse on the island—were cultivated on plantations for the production of oil. Similarly, coffee had been grown on family plots of four to five trees until the early 19th century, when more intensive cultivation for export began. Vanilla
Vanilla is a flavoring derived from orchids of the genus Vanilla, primarily from the Mexican species, Flat-leaved Vanilla . The word vanilla derives from the Spanish word "", little pod...

, later to become one of Madagascar's premiere export crops, was introduced by French entrepreneurs in 1840 and planted in eastern coastal rainforests. The technique of hand pollination
Hand pollination
Hand pollination is a technique used when natural, or open pollination is insufficient or undesirable. The most common techniques are for crops such as cucurbits, which may exhibit poor pollination by fruit abortion, fruit deformity or poor maturation...

, critical to higher vanilla yields, was introduced 30 years later. Nonetheless, vanilla remained a marginal crop until the end of the monarchy.

During Merina royal festivals, the hanim-pito loha (amˈpitʷˈlu) were eaten. These were seven dishes said to be the most desirable in the realm. Among these dishes were voanjobory (vwandzˈburʲ, Bambara groundnut), amalona (aˈmalnə̥, eel), vorivorinkena (vurvurˈkenə̥, beef tripe
Tripe is a type of edible offal from the stomachs of various farm animals.-Beef tripe:...

), ravitoto (ravˈtutʷ, grated cassava leaves) and vorontsiloza (vurntsʲˈluzə̥, turkey), each cooked with pork and usually ginger, garlic, onion and tomato; romazava (rumaˈzavə̥, a stew of beef and greens
Leaf vegetable
Leaf vegetables, also called potherbs, green vegetables, greens, leafy greens or salad greens, are plant leaves eaten as a vegetable, sometimes accompanied by tender petioles and shoots...

) and varanga (vaˈrangə̥, shredded roast beef) completed the list. Colonization of Madagascar by the French meant the end of the Malagasy monarchy and its elaborate feasts, but the traditions of this elegant cuisine were preserved in the home, where these dishes are eaten regularly. They are also served in many restaurants throughout the island.


French colonial rule
French colonial empire
The French colonial empire was the set of territories outside Europe that were under French rule primarily from the 17th century to the late 1960s. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the colonial empire of France was the second-largest in the world behind the British Empire. The French colonial empire...

 began in 1896 and introduced a number of innovations to local cuisines. Certain new food names derived from the French language—then the dominant language of the state—became widespread. Baguettes were popularized among cosmopolitan urbanites, as were a variety of French pastries and desserts such as cream horns, mille-feuille
The mille-feuille , vanilla slice, cream slice, custard slice, also known as the Napoleon, is a pastry originating in France.Traditionally, a mille-feuille is made up of three layers of puff pastry , alternating with two layers of pastry cream , but sometimes whipped cream, or jam are substituted...

, croissant
A croissant is a buttery flaky pastry named for its distinctive crescent shape. It is also sometimes called a crescent, from the French word for "crescent". Croissants are made of a leavened variant of puff pastry...

s and chocolat chaud (hot chocolate
Hot chocolate
Hot chocolate is a heated beverage typically consisting of shaved chocolate, melted chocolate or cocoa powder, heated milk or water, and sugar...

). The French also introduced foie gras
Foie gras
Foie gras ; French for "fat liver") is a food product made of the liver of a duck or goose that has been specially fattened. This fattening is typically achieved through gavage corn, according to French law, though outside of France it is occasionally produced using natural feeding...

, now produced locally, and popularized a dish known in the highlands as composé: a cold macaroni salad mixed with blanched vegetables based on the French macédoine de légumes
Russian salad
Salade Olivier is a salad composed of diced potatoes, vegetables and meats bound in mayonnaise. The salad is usually called Russian salad in Western European and Latin American countries, and Salad Olivieh in Iranian cooking.-History:...

The French established plantations for the cultivation of a variety of cash crops, including not only those already exploited in the 19th century, but new foreign fruits, vegetables and livestock, with varying degrees of success. Tea, coffee, vanilla, coconut oil and spices became successful exports. Coconut became a regular ingredient in coastal cuisine, and vanilla began to be used in sauces for poultry and seafood dishes.

Although a handful of Chinese settlers
Chinese people in Madagascar
Chinese people in Madagascar form Africa's third largest overseas Chinese population. , roughly 40,000 to 60,000 lived on the island. They constitute a minority ethnic group of Madagascar.-History:...

 had arrived in Madagascar towards the end of the reign of Queen Ranavalona III, the first major influx of Chinese migrants followed an announcement by General Joseph Gallieni
Joseph Gallieni
Joseph Simon Gallieni was a French soldier, most active as a military commander and administrator in the French colonies and finished his career during the First World War. He was made Marshal of France posthumously in 1921...

, first governor general of the colony of Madagascar, requesting 3,000 Chinese laborers to construct a northern rail line between Antananarivo and Toamasina
Toamasina , meaning "like salt" or "salty", unofficially and in French also Tamatave, is a city on the east coast of Madagascar on the Indian Ocean. The city is the chief seaport of the country, situated northeast of its capital and biggest city Antananarivo, near the centre of the eastern coast...

. Chinese migrants introduced a number of dishes that have become part of urban popular cuisine in regions with large Chinese communities, including riz cantonais (Chinese fried rice
Fried rice
Fried rice is a popular component of Asian cuisine, especially Chinese food. It is made from steamed rice stir-fried in a wok, often with other ingredients such as eggs, vegetables, and meat. It is sometimes served as the penultimate dish in Chinese banquets...

), soupe chinoise (Chinese-style noodle soup
Noodle soup
Noodle soup refers to a variety of soups with noodles and other ingredients served in a light broth. Noodle soup is an East and Southeast Asian staple. Less well known, a form of fresh noodle is used in soup in certain parts of Europe , and in northern China; usually, it is served for breakfast...

), misao (fried noodles
Misua is a very thin variety of salted Chinese noodles made from wheat flour. It is originated from Fujian, China...

), pao (hum bao
A bāozi or simply known as bao, bau, humbow, nunu, bausak, pow or pau is a type of steamed, filled bun or bread-like item in various Chinese cuisines, as there is much variation as to the fillings and the preparations...

) and nems (fried egg roll
Egg roll
An egg roll is an appetizer and dinner, a variant of spring roll that has spread throughout the world as a staple of Asian cuisine. Egg rolls with fillings are commonly served in Vietnamese cuisine.-Description:...


By the 1880s, a community of roughly 200 Indian
Indians in Madagascar
Indians in Madagascar form a community of roughly 25,000 individuals according to the statistics of India's Ministry of External Affairs; other estimates of their population range from 15,000 to 30,000. Among them are 867 non-resident Indians, with the rest being locally-born descendants of early...

 traders had been established at Mahajanga
Mahajanga is a city and a district on the north-west coast of Madagascar.- City :The City of Mahajanga is the capital of the Boeny region. Population: 135,660 ....

, a port on the north-west coast of Madagascar, near Bembatoka Bay at the mouth of the Betsiboka River
Betsiboka River
Betsiboka River is a long river in central-north Madagascar. It flows northwestward and empties to Bombetoka Bay, forming a large delta. The river is distinct for its red-coloured water, which is caused by river sediments. The river carries an enormous amount of reddish-orange silt to the sea...

. Thirty years later the population of Indians in Madagascar had increased to over 4,000, concentrated along the trading ports of the northwestern coast. These early Indian communities popularized curries and biryanis throughout the region. Khimo in particular, a dish based on the Indian keema
Keema, Kheema, or Qeema is a traditional Indian meat dish. Originally this word meant minced meat. It is typically minced mutton curry with peas or potatoes. Keema can be made from almost any meat, can be cooked by stewing or frying, and can be formed into kababs...

, became a specialty of Mahajanga. Indian samosa
A samosa is a stuffed, deep fried,snack that is very popular in the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Central Asia and Southwest Asia, the Arabian Peninsula, the Mediterranean, the Horn of Africa, North Africa and South Africa...

s (sambos) soon became a popular street food in most parts of Madagascar, where they may also be known by the name tsaky telozoro (ˈtsakʲteluˈzurʷ, "three-cornered snack").

While French innovations enriched the cuisine in many ways, not every innovation was favorable. Since the French introduction of the prickly pear cactus in the 18th century, the lifestyle of southern pastoralists became increasingly reliant on the plant to ensure food and water for their zebu as well as fruit and water for themselves during the dry season between July and December. However, in 1925, a French colonist wishing to eradicate the cactus on his property in the southwestern town of Toliara

 introduced the cochineal
The cochineal is a scale insect in the suborder Sternorrhyncha, from which the crimson-colour dye carmine is derived. A primarily sessile parasite native to tropical and subtropical South America and Mexico, this insect lives on cacti from the genus Opuntia, feeding on plant moisture and...

, an insect known to be a parasite of the plant. Within five years, nearly all the prickly pear cactus of southern Madagascar had been completely wiped out, sparking a massive famine from 1930–1931. Although these ethnic groups have since adapted in various ways, the famine period is commonly remembered as the time when their traditional lifestyle was ended by the arrival of foreigners on their land.

Contemporary cuisine

Since Madagascar gained independence from French colonial rule in 1960, Malagasy cuisine has reflected the island's diverse cultures and historic influences. Throughout the country, rice is considered the preeminent food and constitutes the main staple of the diet in all but the most arid regions of the south and west. Accompanying dishes served with rice vary regionally according to availability of ingredients and local cultural norms. Outside the home, Malagasy cuisine is served at simple roadside stalls (gargottes) or sit-down eateries (hotely). Snacks and rice-based meals may also be purchased from ambulatory street vendors. Upscale restaurants offer a wider variety of foreign cuisine and Malagasy dishes bearing French and other outside influences in preparation technique, ingredients and presentation alike.

Rice (vary)

Rice (vary) is the cornerstone of the Malagasy diet and is typically consumed at every meal. The verb "to eat" in the Malagasy language is mihinam-bary – literally, to eat rice. Rice may be prepared with varying amounts of water to produce a fluffy dry rice (vary maina, ˌvarʲ ˈmajnə̥) eaten with some kind of accompaniment (laoka) in sauce. It may also be prepared with extra water to produce a soupy rice porridge called vary sosoa (ˌvarʲ suˈsu) which is typically eaten for breakfast or prepared for the sick. Vary sosoa may be accompanied with a dry laoka such as kitoza, smoked strips of zebu meat. A popular variation, vary amin'anana (ˈvarʲ ˌjamʲˈnananə̥), is a traditional porridge made with rice, meat and chopped greens. During a highland famadihana
Famadihana is a funerary tradition of the Malagasy people in Madagascar. Known as the turning of the bones, people bring forth the bodies of their ancestors from the family crypts and rewrap them in fresh cloth, then dance with the corpses around the tomb to live music.The Famadihana custom...

 (reburial ceremony), a special kind of rice called vary be menaka (ˈvarʲ beˈmenakə̥, "rice with much fat") is prepared by cooking rice with oil or, preferably, highly fatty chunks of pork.

Accompaniment (laoka)

The accompaniment served with rice is called laoka in the highlands dialect, the official version of the Malagasy language
Malagasy language
Malagasy is the national language of Madagascar, a member of the Austronesian family of languages. Most people in Madagascar speak it as a first language as do some people of Malagasy descent elsewhere.-History:...

. Laoka are most often served in some kind of sauce: in the highlands, this sauce is generally tomato-based, while in coastal areas coconut milk is often added during cooking. In the arid southern and western interior where herding zebu is traditional, fresh or curdled zebu milk is often incorporated into vegetable dishes. Laoka are diverse and may include such ingredients as Bambara groundnuts with pork, beef or fish; trondro gasy, (ˌtʂundʐʷ ˈɡasʲ, various freshwater fish); shredded cassava leaves with peanuts, beef or pork; henan'omby (henˈnumbʲ, beef) or akoho (aˈkuː, chicken) sauteed with ginger and garlic or simmered in its own juices (a preparation called ritra ˈritʂə̥); various types of seafood, which are more readily available along the coasts or in large urban centers; and many more. A variety of local greens such as anamamy (anaˈmamʲ, Morelle greens), anamafaitra (anaˈmafai̯ʈʳ, Martin greens) and particularly anamalao (anamaˈlau̯, paracress
Acmella oleracea
Acmella oleracea, also known under its old names Spilanthes oleracea and Spilanthes acmella and commonly referred to as Spilanthes Extract, is a flowering herb in the plant family Asteraceae, also known as toothache plant or paracress as the leaves and flower heads contain an analgesic agent...

)—distinguished by the mildly analgesic effect the boiled leaves and flowers produce—are commonly sold alongside anandrano (ananˈɖʳanʷ, watercress
Watercresses are fast-growing, aquatic or semi-aquatic, perennial plants native from Europe to central Asia, and one of the oldest known leaf vegetables consumed by human beings...

) and anatsonga (anaˈtsungə̥, bok choy
Chinese cabbage
Chinese cabbage can refer to two distinct varieties of Chinese leaf vegetables used often in Chinese cuisine. These vegetables are both related to the Western cabbage, and are of the same species as the common turnip...

). In the arid south and west, such as among the Bara
Bara people
The Bara people are a Malagasy ethnic group living in the southern part of the central plateaus of Madagascar, in the Toliara Province, especially in the Ihosy-Betroka area. They are estimated to account for 3% of the overall malagasy population. Along with Sakalava, Bara are one of the two...

 or Tandroy
The Antandroy are a traditionally nomadic ethnic group of Madagascar inhabiting the arid southern part of the island called Androy roughly located between Amboasary and Beloha and between the ocean and Bekily. Their name means "people of the thorns" in reference to the spiny thickets of endemic...

 peoples, staples include sweet potato, yams, taro root and especially cassava, millet
The millets are a group of small-seeded species of cereal crops or grains, widely grown around the world for food and fodder. They do not form a taxonomic group, but rather a functional or agronomic one. Their essential similarities are that they are small-seeded grasses grown in difficult...

 and maize, generally boiled in water and occasionally served in whole milk or flavored with crushed peanuts.

Garlic, onions, ginger, tomatoes, mild curry, and salt are the most common ingredients used to flavor dishes, and in coastal areas other ingredients such as coconut milk, vanilla, cloves or turmeric
Turmeric is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. It is native to tropical South Asia and needs temperatures between 20 °C and 30 °C and a considerable amount of annual rainfall to thrive...

 may also be used. A variety of condiments are served on the side and mixed into the rice or laoka according to each individual's taste rather than mixing them in as the food is being cooked. The most common and basic condiment, sakay (saˈkai̯), is a spicy condiment made from red or green chili pepper. Indian-style condiments made of pickled mango, lemon, and other fruits (known as achards
Indian pickle
Indian pickles are made from certain individual varieties of vegetables and fruits that are chopped into small pieces and cooked in edible oils like sesame oil or brine with many different Indian spices like asafetida, red chili powder, turmeric, fenugreek and plenty of salt. Some regions also...

or lasary laˈsarʲ), are a coastal specialty; in the highlands, lasary often refers to a salad of green beans, cabbage, carrots and onion in a vinaigrette
The word vinaigrette or vinegarette can refer to:*Vinaigrette, the salad dressing or sauce...

 sauce, popular as a side dish or as the filling of a baguette sandwich.

Ro (ru, a broth) may be served as the main laoka or in addition to it to flavor and moisten the rice. Ro-mangazafy (rumangaˈzafʲ) is a rich and flavorful broth made with beef, tomato and garlic that often accompanies a dry laoka. By contrast, Romatsatso (rumaˈtsatsʷ) is a light and relatively flavorless broth made with onion, tomato and anamamy greens served with meat or fatty poultry. Ron-akoho (runaˈku), a broth made with chicken and ginger, is a home remedy for the common cold, while rompatsa (rumˈpatsə̥)—a broth made with tiny dried shrimp and beef, to which potato leaves and potato are often added—is traditionally eaten by new mothers to support lactation
Lactation describes the secretion of milk from the mammary glands and the period of time that a mother lactates to feed her young. The process occurs in all female mammals, however it predates mammals. In humans the process of feeding milk is called breastfeeding or nursing...

. The national dish is the broth called romazava, which in its simplest form is made of beef with anamalao and anantsonga or anamamy, although ingredients such as tomato, onion and ginger are commonly added to create more complex and flavorful versions. Romazava is distinguished by its inclusion of anamalao flowers, which produce a mild analgesic effect when the broth is consumed.

Street foods

A variety of cakes and fritters collectively known as mofo (ˈmuf, meaning "bread") are available from kiosks in towns and cities across Madagascar. The most common is mofo gasy, meaning "Malagasy bread", which is made from a batter of sweetened rice flour poured into greased circular molds and cooked over charcoal. Mofo gasy is a popular breakfast food and is often eaten with coffee, also sold at kiosks. In coastal areas this mofo is made with coconut milk and is known as mokary (muˈkarʲ). Other sweet mofo include a deep-fried doughnut called menakely and a fried dough ball called mofo baolina (ˌmuf ˈbolː), as well as a variety of fruit fritters, with pineapple and bananas among the most common fruits used. Savory mofo include ramanonaka (ˌramaˈnunakə̥), a mofo gasy salted and fried in lard, and a fritter flavored with chopped greens, onions, tomatoes and chilies called mofo sakay (ˌmuf saˈkai̯, meaning "spicy bread").

In marketplaces and gas stations one may find vendors selling koba akondro (kubaˈkundʐʷ), a sweet made by wrapping a batter of ground peanuts, mashed bananas, honey and corn flour in banana leaves
Banana leaf
Banana leaf is the leaf of the Banana plant. It is used for various functions, such as for decorative elements, wrappings, plate mat, and employed in cooking method....

 and steaming or boiling the small cakes until the batter has set. Peanut brittle, dried bananas, balls of tamarind
Tamarind is a tree in the family Fabaceae. The genus Tamarindus is monotypic .-Origin:...

 paste rolled in colored sugar, a snack of deep-fried wonton-type dough called kaka pizon (kaka pizõ, meaning "pigeon droppings"), also eaten in neighboring Reunion Island) and home-made yogurts are all commonly sold on the street. In rural areas, steamed cassava or sweet potatoes are eaten, occasionally with fresh or sweetened condensed milk.


Traditionally, fresh fruit may be eaten after a meal as a dessert. Fresh sugarcane may also be chewed as a treat. A great variety of temperate and tropical fruits are grown locally and may be enjoyed fresh or sprinkled with sugar. Temperate fruits found in Madagascar include but are not limited to apples, lemons, pumpkins, watermelon, oranges, cherries and strawberries. Among the many tropical fruits commonly eaten in Madagascar are coconut, tamarind, mango, pineapple, avocado, passion fruit, and loquat
The loquat , Eriobotrya japonica, is a fruit tree in the family Rosaceae, indigenous to southeastern China. It was formerly thought to be closely related to the genus Mespilus, and is still sometimes known as the Japanese medlar...

s, locally called bibasy (biˈbasʲ). Guava, longan
Dimocarpus longan, commonly known as the longan, is a tropical tree native to South and Southeast Asia, in the Indomalaya ecozone known for its edible fruit.-Vernacular names:The fruit is known as longan or longyan in English...

s, lychee
The lychee is the sole member of the genus Litchi in the soapberry family, Sapindaceae. It is a tropical and subtropical fruit tree native to Southern China and Southeast Asia, and now cultivated in many parts of the world...

s, persimmon
A persimmon is the edible fruit of a number of species of trees in the genus Diospyros in the ebony wood family . The word Diospyros means "the fire of Zeus" in ancient Greek. As a tree, it is a perennial plant...

 and "pok-pok" (also called voanantsindrana vunˈtsinɖʳanə̥), a fruit similar to a physalis
Physalis is a genus of plants in the nightshade family , native to warm temperate and subtropical regions throughout the world. The genus is characterised by the small orange fruit similar in size, shape and structure to a small tomato, but partly or fully enclosed in a large papery husk derived...

, are common, while on the west coast the fruit of the baobab tree is eaten during the brief period when it becomes available near the end of the rainy season.

Madagascar is known for its high-quality cocoa and vanilla, much of which are exported. In the coastal areas of Madagascar or in upscale inland restaurants, vanilla may be used to prepare savory sauces for poultry.

Koban-dravina (ˌkubanˈɖʳavʲnə̥) or koba (ˈkubə̥) is a Malagasy specialty made by grinding together peanuts and brown sugar, then enveloping the mixture in a sweetened rice flour paste to produce a cylindrical bundle. The bundle is wrapped in banana leaves and boiled for 24 to 48 hours or longer until the sugar becomes caramelized
Caramelization is the browning of sugar, a process used extensively in cooking for the resulting nutty flavor and brown color. As the process occurs, volatile chemicals are released, producing the characteristic caramel flavor....

 and the peanuts have softened. The resulting cake is served in thin slices. Bonbon coco is a popular candy made from shredded coconut cooked with caramelized sugar and formed into chewy balls or patties. A firm, cake-like coconut milk pudding known as godro-godro (guɖʳˈguɖʳʷ) is a popular dessert also found in Comoros. French pastries and cakes are very popular across the island and may be purchased at the many pâtisserie
A pâtisserie is the type of French or Belgian bakery that specializes in pastries and sweets. In both countries it is a legally controlled title that may only be used by bakeries that employ a licensed maître pâtissier ....

found in towns and cities throughout Madagascar.


Ranon'ampango (ˌranʷnamˈpaŋɡʷ) and ranovola (ranʷˈvulə̥), are the most common and traditional beverages in Madagascar. Both are names for a drink made by adding hot water to the toasted rice left sticking to the interior of its cooking pot. This drink is typically served at lunch and dinner as a sanitary and tasty alternative to fresh water.

In addition, a variety of other drinks are produced locally. Coffee is grown in the eastern part of the island and has become a standard breakfast drink, served black or with sweetened condensed milk at street-side kiosks. Black tea, occasionally flavored with vanilla, and herbal teas—particularly lemongrass and lemon bush
Eucalyptus citriodora
Corymbia citriodora is a tall tree, to 51 metres in height, from temperate and tropical north eastern Australia. It is also known as lemon-scented gum, blue spotted gum and lemon eucalyptus....

 (ravin'oliva ˌravʲnoˈlivə̥)—are popular. Juices are made from guava
Guavas are plants in the myrtle family genus Psidium , which contains about 100 species of tropical shrubs and small trees. They are native to Mexico, Central America, and northern South America...

, passion fruit, pineapple, tamarind, baobab and other fruit. Fresh milk, however, is a luxury, and locally produced yogurts, ice creams or sweetened condensed milk mixed with hot water are the most common dairy sources of calcium. Cola and orange soft drinks are produced locally, as is Bonbon Anglais, a local sweet lemon soda. Coca-Cola products are popular and widely consumed throughout the island.

Numerous alcoholic beverages are produced for local consumption and limited export. The local pilsner, Three Horses Beer, is popular and ubiquitous. Wine is produced in the southern highlands around Fianarantsoa
Fianarantsoa is a city in south central Madagascar.Fianarantsoa is the capital of Haute Matsiatra Region. It was built in the early 19th century by the Merina as the administrative capital for the newly conquered Betsileo kingdoms....

, and rum (toaka gasy ˌtokə̥ ˈɡasʲ) is widely produced and can be either drunk neat, flavored with exotic fruits and spices to produce rhum arrangé, or blended with coconut milk to make a punch coco cocktail. The most traditional form of rum, called betsabetsa ˌbetsəˈbetsə̥, is made from fermented sugarcane juice. Rum serves a ritual purpose in many parts of Madagascar, where it is traditional to throw the first capful of a newly opened bottle of rum into the northeast corner of the room as an offering and gesture of respect to the ancestors. At social gatherings it is common for alcoholic beverages to be accompanied with savory, fried snacks known collectively as tsakitsaky, commonly including pan-fried peanuts, potato chips, nems, sambos and kaka pizon.
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