Ndebele traditional foods are dishes that are unique to the Ndebele people. The Bantu-speaking ethnic group has several core foods commonly consumed in almost all households. Maize and corn are the typical staple foods in the region.
Traditional Ndebele dishes are usually defined by fresh ingredients and recipes that have remained largely unchanged over decades. Their foods are generally nourishing, wholesome, and well-balanced, with all the requirements for a healthy body.
Best Ndebele Traditional Foods With Recipes
Ndebele traditional foods are generally rich, easy to prepare, and contain a variety of natural flavors. The Ndebele people mostly pass their traditional cooking techniques to the newer generations. And despite the advent of modern cooking skills and ingredients, many of their cooking practices are still used today.
Below are 10 Ndebele traditional foods with recipes to try out on your next visit or at home.
1. Umxhanxa – Yellow Watermelon with Sun-Dried Maize
Umxhanxa is a special Ndelebe food made with yellow watermelon (iJodo), sun-dried maize, and sugar. The Ndebele traditionally prepares the dish, but the Kalanga people also consume it. One unique thing about Umxhanxa is that the dish is a seasonal food often that is mostly served for lunch after harvest time in winter.
The preparation process is not so difficult as it begins with boiling the maize for about two and a half hours until the hard grains soften. There’s not much modification to how this traditional Ndebele dish is prepared. These days, most people use honey or other sweeteners instead of sugar. But the cooking and preparation processes are the same.
Umxhanxa is best enjoyed with local and modern drinks such as amasi, wine, and beer. Again, it can be eaten alone or combined with other foods on how the person eating it wants it. This food is one local dish commonly prepared by all households in Ndebele. It is very nutritious, and its ingredients are not very expensive – the reason it is commonly consumed.
How to Prepare Umxhanxa
- Make a fire and boil about 2-3 cups of the maize grains. Then, set aside and don’t add salt.
- Get a seriously sharp knife and cut the jodo pig melon into strips. After peeling it, remove the little seeds and cut the melon into cubes.
- Put the melons in a big pot, add half a cup of water, and boil.
- Boil till everything becomes water in there. Then, completely destroy the melon. It shouldn’t take more than an hour.
- When you’re satisfied, mix using uphehlo (a wooden mixer with wires).
- Pour the boiled maize grains into the watermelon, add a cup of sugar, and stir.
- Go ahead and stir until it is ready to be served.
2. Amadumbe – Yam
Amadumbe is a herbaceous, tropical root crop commonly consumed in Ndebele and across South Africa. Traditionally, Amadumbe is grown as a staple food; however, it’s now used for other food products. These include crisps, Amadumbe flakes, curry, and an Amadumbe and spinach pizza base.
Madhumbe can be eaten in several ways, although it is mostly boiled and lightly fried over low heat for a few minutes. It can also be ground into powder, which can be mixed with Sadza and served with meat, sour milk, or collard greens for a wholesome and delicious meal.
This ingredient is also used as flour in making healthy bread. Amadumbe can go with chicken and coconut milk soup, stew, sauce, vegetables, or served as porridge. It can be prepared in various ways. The dish, widely grown across the African continent, can be eaten with any good drink or local wine.
3. Mazondo – Cow Heels
Mazondo is one of the most iconic dishes of the Ndebele people. This nutritious delicacy is prepared by boiling cow heels for several hours and seasoning with garlic, black pepper, and salt. To make the dish richer and more delicious, ingredients such as chopped onions and tomatoes are added and cooked over an open flame.
Mazondo is traditionally served with Sadza and collard greens. However, the preparation has undergone modifications over the year as it can now be served with stew and eaten with sauce. Any good drink can go well with the cow heels delicacy. Perhaps taking it with a maize meal drink (Maheu/Amahewu) or Masese/Umqomboti (African Beer) won’t be bad. This food is easy to cook and can also be eaten alone.
4. Mutakura – Mixture of Peanuts, Beans, and Maize
Mutakura is a wholesome dish that is made up of sugar beans, peanuts (Nzungu), maize (Chibage), Bambara nuts (Nyimo), and cowpeas (Nyemba). Mutakura is a very nutritious meal as it contains both carbohydrates and protein. It can be prepared in various ways, including using corn and beans or hominy (samp).
Mutakura is made by soaking the peanuts, beans, maize, and Bambara nuts overnight, combining them, and boiling them for several hours until they become tender. The dish can be taken with a cup of tea, with meat, amasi, beer, or local wine.
The way Matakura is traditionally cooked has since changed. It can be prepared in various ways depending on what the cook wants.
Ingredients for preparing Mutakura
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 180 grams (6 ounces) raw shelled peanuts
- 500 grams (about 1 pound) Bambara nuts
- 10 cups water for boiling
How to Prepare it
- Gather the ingredients and pre-soak the Bambara nuts and peanuts separately in cold water, preferably for at least 12 hours or overnight.
- When ready to cook, drain the Bambara nuts and top up with water and 1 teaspoon salt.
- Bring it to a boil and simmer for 50 minutes.
- Drain it, add the peanuts, the remaining salt, and additional water to the Bambara beans and boil for the remaining 1 hour and 10 minutes.
- Once the cooking process is complete, taste for seasoning and ensure the peanuts and beans are cooked well.
- Go ahead to enjoy the dish as a snack or side dish.
5. Matumbu – Offal
Matumbu, also called variety meats, consists of various nonmuscular parts of the carcasses of beef and veal, mutton and lamb, and pork. It is a common Ndebele food that can be consumed directly as food or used to prepare other foods.
Matumbu can consist of the liver, kidney, stomach, heart, tripe, and intestines. Offal for the Ndebele tribe typically consists of amaphaphu, amathumbu, ulusu, isibindi, utwane, and umbendeni.
The delicacy can be served with cold beer or wine. It can also be enjoyed with a side vegetable dish or nshima. The way Offal is traditionally cooked has changed over the years. The delicacy, nowadays, is prepared with the cook’s preferred ingredients.
Ingredients for Preparing Offas (beef tripe)
- 1 medium-sized tomato (diced)
- 1 medium-sized onion (chopped)
How to prepare it
- Wash your beef tripe thoroughly
- Put them in a pot and add salt.
- Boil till they are tender.
- Add a bit of cooking oil (so it does not stick to the pot and fry it a bit)
- Then add tomatoes and onions to your tripe and cook till tomatoes are well cooked.
- Add a bit of water to make some gravy and allow to simmer for 5-7 minutes.
- Ready to serve.
6. Amacimbi – Mopane Worms
Innondo is a staple source of protein and nutrients for the Ndebele people and other tribes in Southern Africa. The worms are large caterpillars harvested during the rainy season and then cleaned and sun-dried for preservation. The brightly colored worms feed mainly on the leaves of the mopane tree.
The consumption of the caterpillars began sometime in the 19th century, and today, they are still being consumed, especially in rural areas. The Mopane worm delicacy is a common Ndebele food, especially among rural dwellers. The worms can be consumed in various ways, including as a snack. It can also be added to maize porridge or drenched in sauce.
Also, ingredients like onions, garlic, peanuts, tomatoes, and chilies can be combined to give the worms a sumptuous taste while frying. The proteinous delicacy can be eaten fresh and raw from a tree, added to a stew, or simply boiled.
The traditional cooking method of mopane worms has had many modifications over the years. There’s no specific way to prepare the Mopane worm, especially now that most Ndebele people have different cooking skills. The delicacy can be enjoyed with any modern or local wine or drink.
Ingredients for Amacimbi
- 350 grams mopane worms
- 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- Enough boiling water to just cover the mopane worms
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 60 ml Mr. Sauce BBQ Sauce
- 30 ml Mr. Sauce Worcester Sauce
- 3 tablespoon oil
- 1 large tomato, finely chopped
- 3 Red chili peppers, chopped (optional)
How to prepare it
- Wash the mopane worms a good wash, preferably under running water.
- Put the mopane worms in a pot. Add enough boiling water to just cover the mopane worms.
- Add Mr. Sauce Worcester Sauce and salt.
- Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer (medium-low heat) until all the water is finished.
- Add oil and fry the mopane worms for about 5 minutes.
- Add onion and garlic. Fry for another 3 minutes.
- Add tomatoes and Mr. Sauce BBQ Sauce. Simmer on low heat for 10 – 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. You can also add chillis to the mopane worms and serve.
7. Isitshwala – Maize Meal
Isitshwala, a common Ndebele traditional food, is a stiff maize flour porridge. It is made from flour and sometimes sorghum flour and millet. The food can also be mixed with cassava flour and cooked in milk or boiling water until it becomes firm or stiff like a dough.
Isitshwala is a common food and a chief source of carbohydrate for the Ndebele people. Regardless of its popularity among the Ndebele tribe, the dish is eaten widely across Africa, where it has different local names. The dish is relatively inexpensive and easy to prepare.
In average conditions, the flour can also last for days. There are various ways Isitshwala can be cooked or served. It can be eaten with vegetable stew, spring greens, fish, different types of meat, soured milk, natural yogurt, soup, Mopane worms, okra, pumpkin, sugar beans, cow hoof, oxtail, etc.
There are modifications to the method of preparing and even eating Isitshawala in Ndebele today. These days, Ndebele people prepare Isitshwala in different ways, including dipping it into various condiments like stewed vegetables, sour milk, or sauce/gravy, sour milk, after rolling it into a ball.
Again, people used to eat from a communal bowl in the past, but today, the dish can be served on individual plates. Isitshwala can be enjoyed with local wine or amasi (fermented milk that tastes like plain yogurt). The Ndebele traditional meal is generally eaten with the right hand without cutlery.
Ingredients for preparing Isitshwala
- 3 cups hot water
- 1 cup of cold water
- 2 and a half cups of maize or millet or sorghum
How to prepare it
- Boil 3 cups of water.
- Make a paste using some of the meal with a cup of cold water In a medium pot. Then, add the hot water. Do it slowly to avoid lumps.
- Pace it on medium-high heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens, like porridge. (Do not allow it to burn)
- Cover the pot and let it simmer for about 15 minutes.
- Lower the heat a little to prevent burning at the bottom. It should not boil but simmer. If the water/meal mixture is just right, the Isitshwala will simmer without spilling over. However, it might spill over if the pot lid is on. (Keep an eye on it.)
- Remove the lid and gradually add the remaining corn (or other) meal, mixing in any lumps that may form. All the meal should mix into the porridge, and it thickens as you add more cornmeal.
- Continue to add and stir until the Isitshwala thickens to your desired consistency.
- At this point, the Isitshwala requires strong stirring, especially if making large quantities.
- Reduce the heat to very low. Cover and leave for a few minutes to allow further cooking.
- Stir the Isitshwala once again before serving with a wooden spoon.
- It can be plated with vegetables, meat, poultry, fish sour milk, or other food.
Inopi is a delicious traditional Ndebele porridge made out of maize meal and ijodo (a type of melon native to the region). The smooth porridge is well-loved and commonly cooked for its richness. Inopi is greatly ideal for chilly winter mornings.
The dish is easy to prepare and can be done in different ways, depending on what the cook wants. The way it used to be traditionally prepared has changed. Inopi is usually served with warm milk, which gives it a sumptuous taste when mixed into the porridge.
Inopi can also be served with buttermilk, heavy cream, some sugar, which is usually sprinkled on top. This dish goes well with meat or vegetables, and it can be eaten alone or combined with other foods. A tasteful beer or wine is good when taking Inopi. The combination is simply out of this world.
Ingredients for preparing Inopi
- Sugar (brown, white, or raw)
- 1/2 ijodo melon
- 2-3 cups maize meal (cornmeal)
- 3 cups of water
- Inkomazi (sour milk), buttermilk, or heavy cream
How to prepare Inopi
- Thinly slice the melon.
- Peel the rind off and scrape the seeds into a bowl. (You can toast these and munch on them separately as a snack.)
- Cut the melon into chunks.
- Simmer the chunks in a big pot with 3 cups of water.
- When the melon becomes soft, take a whisk.
- Blend the melon with the water. Be sure to remove any big chunks since they will not allow the porridge to cook completely.
- Gradually add the maize meal, constantly stirring as you pour it in. Mix it well, too.
- Cook until the maize meal has completely absorbed the water and the porridge is thick.
- Serve hot with inkomazi, buttermilk, or heavy cream work.
- Sprinkle some sugar sprinkled on top and serve.
9. Idelele – Okra
Delele is a common traditional Ndebele food that is prepared with delele (okra), pumpkin leaves, and other ingredients. It is a favorite dish in almost every ho in the tribe due to its nutritious nature and great taste. Delele can be served with rice, maize meal, and other traditional foods. Some people also consume it without additional food.
There are several ways the food can be prepared now, unlike how it used to be in the past. The dish is commonly served in homes and at Ndebele events such as traditional weddings. Any good drink or any other liquid can help to break down this great food anytime.
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- salt to taste
- 1/2 lb delele/okra
- 5 pumpkin leaves
- 1 chopped tomato
- 1 chopped onion
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Slice delele and prepare pumpkin leaves.
- Chop some tomatoes and onions.
- Boil a ¼ cup of water and add salt and baking soda.
- Add all the vegetables to the saucepan and reduce heat to medium.
- Bring to boil and start beating the vegetables slowly with a wooden spoon. This is to ensure the vegetables do not overflow. Do this for approximately ten minutes.
- The delele will start to change color as it cooks.
- Serve hot with a plate of sadza or rice.
10. Izinhlwa – Flying Insects
Izinhlawa is a popular insect cuisine mostly consumed by the Ndebele people. They are usually caught by children mostly at night because they are attracted to light. After the insects are caught, they are subsequently cleaned and prepared by frying in a lightly oiled pan until they become crunchy.
Izinhlwa can be served with the traditional staple food Isitshwala (cooked maize meal) or vegetables. The food insects can also be eaten raw, while others prefer consuming them roasted, dried, and are sometimes added to other foods.
This popular Ndebele food can be eaten as a tasty afternoon snack. The dish can be taken with amasi or local wine. Izinhlwa can be prepared in various ways, and modern ingredients can be added during preparation to make it tastier.
What Kind of Food Do Ndebele People Eat?
Ndebele people consume certain foods which are peculiar to them. These foods are characterized by intense flavors due to the high-quality raw ingredients and spices and herbs used. The Ndebele people usually take hot liquids like tea (with milk or plain) as breakfast. This usually goes together with homemade bread.
The tribe also consumes eggs, especially during breakfast, as they keep chickens as agriculturalists. Also, other foods such as cornmeal porridge or soft porridge from pounded sorghum served plain or with milk are served during breakfast. Ndebele new mothers are usually served soft porridge to help in milk production for feeding the newborn baby.
During lunch and dinner, staple foods such as maize or corn dishes are usually served. Maize or corn dishes or a combination of both are eaten alone or in conjunction with other ingredients. The maize/corn can be processed as maize meal or either boiled or carefully dried. The Ndebele are very resourceful when it comes to preparing their traditional dishes.
It is important to note that the Ndebele are selective in their choice of meat. They do not consume carnivores or donkeys, including zebra or horses. The Nguni clan of the Ndebele tribe does not eat creatures from water such as fish and crays, but other groups within the tribe eat fish freely. The Amasi (fermented milk drink) is a great choice of food among the Ndebele.
Wild fruits such as umqokolo, uxakuxaku, umhagawuwe, umhlali, ubuhobe, isigangatsha, umviyo, ububese, and many others are also consumed by the Ndebele people. Roots and tubers such as isadloli, iminyela, utshanyana, isadenda, and igonsi are commonly consumed traditional foods.
What are the Names of Ndebele Food?
Apart from the foods mentioned in our article (which are very popular), the Ndebele people consume some foods that are largely unknown. However, you need to visit the Ndebele community or link up with someone from the community who knows how to prepare local delicacies to find out more about these little-known foods.
In addition to the local Ndebele foods mentioned above, here are other Ndebele foods, snacks, and delicacies you can try out.
- Imbhida – Leafy greens in general
- Ibhobola – Pumpkin Leaves
- Ulude – Spider flower leaves
- Amahlamvuendumba – Sugar bean Leaves
- Amakhomane – Plants belonging to the squash family
- Amathanga – Pumpkins
- Amakhabe – Melons
- Inkobe – Boiled maize kernels with beans or nuts
- Amazambane – Peanuts
- Amaqanda – Eggs
- Amasi – Curdled sour milk
- Amaputi – Roasted corn
- Umganu – Fruit of the Amarula Tree
- Uxauxau – Snot apple/African chewing gum
- Inhlanzi – Fish
- umhobohobo – Mahobohobo/ wild loquat. Similar to loquat yellow fleshy tasty fruit
- Umganu – marula tree and fruit. Very tasty fruit which can also be made into alcohol
- Umhlali – sweet monkey orange
- Ihabahaba – dried fruit pith from Monkeybread tree (similar to baobab)
- Umhlabangubo – black jack