Palms & Piri Piri: Exploring the vibrant food of Katembe, Mozambique
For an affordable taste of cozinha tipica – typical Mozambican food – head from the capital city of Maputo over the bay to Katembe, a laid-back sprawl of villages with assorted barracas (street kiosks) and a handful of restaurants and hotels.
Until a few years back, the only way to drive to Katembe was to take your car on board a treacherous, cantankerous rustbucket of a ferryboat called Bagamoyo which took more than an hour to make the 1.5 km crossing. Now it’s a 10-minute drive across Africa’s longest suspension bridge and you’re in the land of palm trees, seafood, grilled chicken and piri piri, the signature spice of Mozambique. And yes, that’s how they spell it.
The name comes from the Swahili for pepper-pepper, and it’s got lemon, garlic, vinegar, paprika and the vital African bird’s-eye chilli, an African cultivar of the Capsicum chinense chilli. You’ll find piri piri everywhere – in seafood sauces, steak bastes, starter relishes and on the side. Everyone makes it, everyone has a secret recipe. It fires up the senses, they say. It’s good for your health, heart and sex life.
Despite the new bridge, Katembe remains pretty slow paced and gentle. Stop for a cold beer in the shade of a tree outside one of the local barracas and slow down to Katembe time. Go for the signature Mozambican beer called Mac-Mahon. Two Ms. Dois M. Just ask for a doishem.
The beer is named after Patrice Maurice de Mac-Mahon, third president of the French Republic. In the 1870s he pronounced in favour of Portugal in its dispute with Britain over ownership of the Bay of Lourenço Marques, so he got a beer named after him. And a big square in the city, next to the railway station.
Laurentino is another excellent Mozambican beer that comes in either a preta (a dark Schwarzbier) or a clara (a pale lager) and has a strong association with local jazz, using Moreira Chonguica, award-winning Mozambican jazz musician as the music and voice in its commercials.
After beer, the first word most people utter when you mention eating out in Mozambique is “prawns”. It’s a very good reason to visit of course, and simply isn’t complete without attempting to commit prawnicide at least once.
The Catembe Gallery Hotel is a fabulous place to do that. They’ve been famous for their LM prawns since 1958, and the tradition continues at their convivial and recently spruced up Marisol Restaurant. Think salty breezes, sea views and the fascinating Maputo skyline across the bay.
Their grilled camarões (prawns) are sublime and come with lashings of garlic, piri piri sauce, a squeeze of lime, chips and salad. If you don’t eat prawns, try the peixe grelhada (grilled catch of the day).
Both prawns and fish go well with the Portuguese wine vinho verde which is a dry, crisp and spritzy wine made from grapes grown in the north of Portugal. Or go for a caipirinha cocktail which is made from cane spirit with crushed limes and sugar. It’s delicious with a fast, clean kick. You can also try the original Catembe cocktail – red wine and Coke – which was first mixed here in 1958. Later in the afternoon, head out along the wooden walkway to the Marisol Baía Tapas & Cocktail Bar where you can see Inhaca and Xefina islands in the distance.
Katembe, like everywhere in Mozambique, is very coffee friendly – strong espressos, cappuccinos, latte and assorted coffee-combo regmakers wait at every turn. And truly divine taken along with a pastei de nata, a traditional Portuguese custard tart dusted with cinnamon.
See Catembe Gallery Hotel here.
Situated right on the beach with glorious views of the Maputo city skyline, Diogo’s Beach Bar is a popular spot for day trippers and locals alike. They’ve recently expanded their seating area and their menu is a delicious reflection of the various influences in Mozambique cuisine – a piquant mix of African, Portuguese, Oriental and Arab, with warm spices, hot piri piri, creamy coconut and cashew nuts.
You’ll be tempted by starters like chorizo, squid heads, chicken livers, garlic prawns and lulas (calamari). Try the decadent starter rissois de camarão, a prawn croquette with a creamy whole shrimp sauce and various spices. It’s a legendary Portuguese dish that is now thoroughly entrenched in Mozambican culture. The mixture is folded into a dough parcel, dipped in an egg-wash and covered with breadcrumbs before being deep fried.
From India comes chamussas, or samoosas, which are filled with either fish, mince, potatoes or cheese. Mozambique has strong historical ties with the Indian state of Goa dating back to the time when both were part of the Portuguese empire. Beef, duck and chicken karil (curry) also features on Diogo’s menu.
Local women digging for clams on the beach is a common sight in Katembe, and if you want to try a truly local dish, order the ameijoas (clams) cooked in a white wine sauce served with garlic paõ (bread), an entirely glorious meal. The Mozambican paõ is utterly delicious. Dusted with just the right amount of flour and baked in wood fired ovens, it’s crisp on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside. Definitely not like mass produced supermarket bread. There are still many small padaria (bakeries) in Katembe and enjoying warm, freshly-baked bread early in the morning is a daily ritual for many Katembeiros.
See Diogo’s Beach Bar on Facebook.
Chicken is also very popular in Mozambican cuisine, especially galinha asada, which is a chicken dish with a lime, garlic, pepper & piri piri sauce. You can get a takeaway at many of the local barracas, basically a chicken flattie rubbed down with piri piri and grilled over an open charcoal brazier.
Or head for Complexo Lipas, which is affectionately dubbed the brothel by locals, because it sells rooms by the hour. It’s not touristy at all, and there’s no printed menu. Their galinha asada is delicious. You can also try xima (pronounced shima), the Mozambican version of mielie meal, which is usually eaten with matapa which is made with cassava leaves, which are pounded and cooked with onion, garlic and coconut milk. The recipe varies according to region and may include peanuts, beans and seafood, such as crab and prawns.
Another popular dish is galinha Zambeziana is a dish that comes from the Zambezia region in the north of Mozambique and is a chicken stew that’s cooked with coconut milk and cashew nuts. O Farol Restaurant on the beach does a great version of this, served with coconut rice.
See O Farol Restaurant on Facebook.
One of the great things about the new bridge to Katembe is that it leads to a new tarred road that goes all the way to Ponta do Ouro, famed for its postcard-pretty white sand and blue seas. It used to be an excruciating journey of more than six hours involving sweat, dust, potholes and cops, now it’s a mere 105km.
The Ponta Beach Bar leads right on the beach – yay! and here you can settle down with an R & R, a rum and raspberry cocktail which is made out of the local Tipo Tinto dark rum and mixed with raspberry Sparletta and served in a beer mug. Try their seafood combos and platters, or go for the peixe grelhada which is always fresh and tasty. The catch of the day can range from posta de serra (barracuda steak) and peixe vermelho (red fish, like a snapper) to peixe pedra (a rock fish which is similar to kabeljou) and garoupa which is a grouper. DM/TGIFood
See Ponta Beach Bar here.
Follow Bridget Hilton-Barber on Instagram @bridgethiltonbarber