To experience a real Mozambican meal in pristine surroundings, you don’t need to travel far from capital Maputo’s rich neighborhoods, where everything seems fake and standardized. Drive down the coastal road, Avenida da Marginal, north to the Praia da Costa do Sol beach. It’s here where ordinary Mozambicans come to relax, with the ocean breeze and African rhythms for company.
First you’ll be hit with the fragrance of local spices such as cumin, cardamom, coriander and ginger, mingling with the smell of a typical barbecue. In the shade of trees, dozens of kiosks scrunch up next to one another, each with a smoking, two-tier grill. Halima, who runs her kiosk with her sister Laurinda, grills chicken on the top tier and fish on the lower one. But this isn’t your traditional barbecue: The chicken preparation the sisters (and dozens of others like them) serve up is called franguinho, which literally means “little chicken.” Yet the portions are huge. And the fish, called magumba, is a local sardine typical of the coast in this former Portuguese colony.
You can pick what you want on the side. The options: fried potatoes, salad or xima, a kind of mush made of millet flour. From Halima, I order chicken and a beer. It costs 500 meticais (a little more than $8). She immerses an entire chicken in a cocktail of oil, vinegar, garlic and lemon, covers it with a mixture of spices and grated bread and then places it on the grill. I make the mistake of asking her for her recipe. “It’s a secret!” she replies promptly. “Every kiosk has its own.”
If you don’t want to stick out as a foreigner, don’t ask for smaller portions — it’s a dead giveaway.
My next stop is with Nilsa, who is cooking the magumba, soaked in a paste of oil, vinegar and garlic and sprinkled with aromatic spices and piri piri (a type of chili). Four pieces cost 40 meticais (65 cents).
Two girls sitting on a small wall next to the kiosk giggle. “We eat it [the fish] as an appetizer at the start of the evening,” one of them says, her eyes twinkling. The beach, though buzzing with locals, has remained largely undiscovered by outsiders so far. If you don’t want to stick out as a foreigner, don’t ask for smaller portions — it’s a dead giveaway.
It’s hot by the grills, but respite is near. The tables where you’ll sit and eat are by the shore, the fresh sea wind drying your sweat. As I sit down with my plate and 2M — a local Mozambican beer — a waiter offers liquid soap and water in a jug. Locals use their hands to eat here, so it’s sensible to wash them before you start tearing into a franguinho thigh. The meat is soft and tasty. The fish has bones, but they’re soft and can even be swallowed. In the distance, there’s the silhouette of Xefina Island, a popular tourist destination, which sits four kilometers out in the Indian Ocean. Two children run past me, flying a kite.
Mozambique is among the poorest countries in the world — only five countries have a lower per capita gross domestic product, and citizens of even war-torn Afghanistan, Rwanda and Sierra Leone are richer, on average. Nevertheless, on this beach, with the smells, images and sounds it offers, there is serenity — for ordinary Mozambicans and anyone else lucky enough to land here.
Explore the world
This year, OZY is going Around the World, bringing you untold stories from every single country on the map, one day at a time, to introduce you to new people, new trends and new places.