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Nshima (top right corner) with three relishes

Nshima or nsima is a cornmeal product and a staple food in Zambia and Malawi. It is made from ground maize (corn) flour known locally as mielie-meal. Nshima is very similar to ugali of East Africa, sadza of Zimbabwe, pap (food) of South Africa and fufu of West Africa.



Maize was introduced to Africa from the Americas between 16th and 17th century. Prior to this, sorghum and millet were the principal cereals in most of Sub-Saharan Africa. Maize was readily accepted by African farmers as its cultivation was very similar to that of sorghum but with significantly higher yields. Eventually maize displaced sorghum as the primary cereal in all but the drier regions. Nshima is still made from sorghum flour though it is quite uncommon to encounter such. Cassava, which was also introduced from the Americas, can also be used to make nshima, either exclusively or mixed with maize flour, and is considered a delicacy by some.


The maize flour is first boiled with water into porridge and then skillfully 'paddled', not stirred, to create a thick paste with the addition of more flour. Zambians consider cooking nshima an art form with the aim of achieving the correct texture and taste. Malawians look at the whole process from cooking to eating as an art and it proves difficult for all first timers to eat nsima.

The meal

Nshima is almost always eaten with two side dishes, known as "relishes": a protein source, usually meat, poultry, fish or groundnuts (peanuts); and a vegetable, often rapeseed, chibwabwa (pumpkin leaves) or cabbage. The sides are known as Ndiwo or Umunani in the local languages .

Eating customs and etiquette

Traditionally diners sit around a table or on the floor surrounding the meal. The diners have to wash their hands as nshima is eaten with bare hands. This is done with a bowl of water. Alternatively the host or one of the younger people present pours water from a pitcher over the hands of the elders or guests into a receptacle bowl. Eating is done by taking a small lump into ones palm, rolling it into ball and dipping it into the relish. An indentation in the nshima ball can be made to help scoop the relish or gravy. Westerners who are unaccustomed to eating with bare hands are free to use a knife and fork. As with many African traditions, age is very important. Washing before the meal, eating and washing after the meal generally starts with the oldest person, followed by everyone else in turn by age.

Importance of nshima

Many Zambians take their nshima very seriously with some considering any meal without it a mere snack. It is eaten by all segments of the population from the low income to the elite. Many Westerners, however, tend to find it bland and tasteless.

Nshima is relatively cheap and affordable for most of the population, although occasionally prices have risen due to shortages, contributing to economic and political instability.

See also

External links



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