A Taste of Mozambique

Longing for beaches and sun I headed to Mozambique last July. Mozambique, which is bordered by the Indian Ocean to the east and Swaziland and South Africa to the southwest is known for its stunning beaches and great diving. I’ll take any excuses to see a new place, but spending a week on the beach certainly had its appeal.

Crossing the South Africa/Mozambique border was our first clue into the adventure that lay ahead. We had been told by others that the easiest way across the border was to pay a local to “guide” you through the lines, but we couldn’t imagine why that would be necessary. I was skeptical, but once we arrived at the border I understood why it was better to pay someone then try to navigate the border alone. The border is a congested mess of tourist, huge import/export trucks, vans and pick-ups full of people crossing the border for work and people just walking across the border. It was hard to see where to go and harder to know which lines we needed to be in. With the help of our “border guide” we ran between buildings, first getting exit stamps for South Africa and then entry visas and stamps for Mozambique. It took about an hour to get our cars and ourselves across the border, but would have taken even longer if we had done it alone.

We headed straight from the border to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Maputo is a great city and the abundance of cafes, bakeries, and tree-lined boulevards makes it feel much more like Latin America than Africa. Maputo is only a few hours from where I live, but everything about it is different. The architecture, the sounds, the smells, the cultural were all immediately and clearly different than South Africa. We spent our first few days exploring the city, buying batiks, and trying local foods. Sitting in cafes, drinking espresso, and listen to the soft sounds of people speaking Portuguese you almost forget where you are, until you see someone crossing the street with a live chicken.

Leaving Maputo we headed north to Tofo. Tofo is beach town about eight hours north of Maputo known for its deep blue waters, sweeping white sand beaches and perpetual party atmosphere. The drive was rough, it was dark and raining and sometimes the road would just disappear leaving us to navigate muddy potholes. What the trip lacked in roads it made up for in scenery, palms trees and marshes, small clusters of reed huts and small towns of colonial buildings. Passing through the former trading post and Portuguese settlement of Inhambane Mozambique’s history come alive. The town still holds a daily market and has a beautiful pier that that allows you to view the break taking coastline.

A town without a single ATM or bank, Tofo it’s the perfect get away. Once in Tofo it was all about the beach and we spent most of the week in and out of the ocean or eating an abundance of seafood. We were able to buy all of our seafood locally; prawns, fish, clams, and calamari and then either cook it ourselves or have it cooked at the local bar. Dancing the night away with the large expat crowed or seeking the local experience in town it is a great place to hide away in the sun in sand. I quickly became a fan of the local food. My favorite is Matapa, I put the recipe below if you would like to have a little taste of Mozambique.

Matapa

1 pound small shrimp, shelled and deveined
2 bunches collard greens or spinach
2 cans (14-ounces each) unsweetened coconut milk
1 lb. raw peanuts
1 tsp. salt

• Place the shrimp shells in a pot of cold water and boil for 5 minutes. Strain the liquid and save.
• Wash the collards; remove the tough stems and cut into small pieces. Grind in a food processor or with mortar and pestle.
• Cook greens in 2 cups of shrimp water, add 1 can coconut milk, and cook over medium heat for ½ hour.
• Place shrimp in a pot of boiling water and return to a boil. Remove the shrimp; strain and set aside.
• Grind the peanuts in food processor until they resemble powder. Place the peanuts in a saucepan with 2 cups of water and 1 can coconut milk, cook over medium heat. When it begins to boil, pour the mixture over the greens.
• Add the salt and shrimp; stir; reduce the heat and simmer for 1½ hours
• Serve over rice.

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