Malagasy cooking: common and simple

Food eaten in Madagascar reflects the influence of Southeast Asia, Indian immigration, and French colonization

Contemporary Malagasy cooking is generally common and simple.  Malagasy meal typically consists of a base of rice served with an accompaniment ‘vary sy laoka’ in Malagasy official language. Traditionally eaten three times a day, a Malagasy will not feel full following a meal without rice. Rice is commonly prepared by boiling in water and cooked on hot fire of charcoals or other energy else. And rice keeps till nowadays the principal crop for Malagasy. Is this food types and combination have been popularized by French colonists and immigrants from Malesia, India and Oceania?

The settlement of the island one of the causes

Austronesian seafarers peoples composed of various populations in Asia and Oceania had been the first arriving populated the Island. In their canoes they carried food staples from home including rice, sugarcane, ginger, sweet potatoes, pigs and chickens were also probably brought to Madagascar by these people. Upon arrival, early they practiced ‘slash-and-burn’ agriculture ‘tavy’ in Malagasy language; to clear the virgin coastal rainforests for the cultivation of crops.  As more virgin forest was lost to ‘tavy’, communities increasingly planted and cultivated plots of land. Rice cultivation was developed.  They had moved inland and begun clearing the forests of the central highlands.

Rice was originally dry planted or cultivated in lowland areas, which produced low yields. So to increase the production, irrigated rice field was adopted in the highlands, first in Betsileo (Fianarantsoa, Ambositra nowadays) area, in the southern highlands, then later in the northern highlands of Merina (Antananarivo, Ambatolampy at the current time).

French colonization introduces a number of innovations to local cooking

While the Kingdom of Madagascar, all ceremony as the New Year celebration, or an engagement ceremony, ‘vodiondry’ in Malagasy language: beef from zebu (significant animal for Madagascar) is the most important one. That according to oral history, King Ralambo was the originator of these culinary traditions in Merina. And as a dessert, revellers eat rice boiled in milk and mixed with honey. That combination is called ‘hanim-pito loha’ royal festival meal.

French colonization in Madagascar took place during the 19th and 20th centuries.  The French established a greater foothold in Madagascar in the 1840, when the French established a protectorate over the northwest part of Madagascar. The entire island of Madagascar was under French rule and in 1896; Madagascar was declared a French colony.

The French colonists developed cultivation of a variety of crops, including not only those already exploited in the 19th century, but fruits such us: pine apple ‘paiso’, apple ‘paoma’, mango ‘manga’, … so one…  and vegetables like: leek ‘poaro’, carrot ‘karaoty’, cauliflower ‘choux fleur’…  Those names are obtained from French word and have the similar spelling till nowadays alike malagasy language. They are probably introduced since the colonization period to the island. But this is still a long study and of course an open topic to discuss. We suppose that varying degrees became higher than before the colonization period. And hypothesis show that tea, coffee, vanilla, coconut oil and spices was more exploited than previously and became exports products.

French colonization introduced a number of innovations to local cuisines. Baguettes were popularized among urbanites as were a variety of French pastries and desserts such as cream horns, croissant and chocolat chaud. French colonization popularized a plate known in the highlands as ‘composé’: a cold macaroni salad mixed with blanched vegetables based on the french ‘macédoine de légumes’

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 important and constitutes the main food for all Malagasy except the most arid regions of the south and west where people may replace rice with maize or cassava.

Colonization of Madagascar by the French meant the end of the Malagasy monarchy and its elaborate feasts, but the traditions of this Malagasy elegant cooking were preserved in the home and eaten regularly. They are also served in many restaurants as ‘Malagasy menu’ throughout the Island.

The accompaniment may be: vegetarians or include animal proteins, and typically prepared with sauce flavoured such ingredients as:  ginger, onion, garlic, tomato, vanilla, salt, or, less commonly, other spices or herbs. And that accompaniment served with rice depends regionally according to availability of ingredients and local cultural norms.

Outside the home, Malagasy cooking is served at simple roadside stall (gargotte) or sit-down eateries (hotely). Upscale restaurants offer a wider variety of foreign cuisine and Malagasy plate bearing French and other outside influences in technical preparation, ingredients and presentation alike.

Meals are served with all the food placed in a pot in the middle (either on a table or, traditionally, on a mat on the floor). People used to eat simply with spoons however people often now use plates and serve themselves rice and sauce. Enjoy your meal!

hhf – Cycle Madagascar™

                                                     © Momotas Sarl, Antsirabe


                                                     December 2016

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