Madagascar - Anything at all?
Thanks for the recommendations.
A few general observations:
I’m guessing many travellers will want to try Zebu (the local cattle) – it’s available everywhere, so don’t (necessarily) try it the first time you see it.
Foie Gras (duck) is almost a staple – but although it is tasty, the duck liver is less fatty than one normally receives in ‘classic’ French cuisine – so be prepared that it’s really ‘slightly fatty’ duck livers.
The staple is rice (eaten locally 3 times a day) – if you see alternatives (e.g. potatoes) be aware that these are not as common, so you might want to grab them when they’re available.
Outside the major centres, transportation is patchy and/or impossible, so be prepared (mostly) to ‘dine’ where you stay – although every village has its roadside stands.
In general much of the food is overcooked by western standards, although the intrinsic quality of the ingredients is excellent. Most of the food is locally raised – free range for the animals and extremely tasty. The trick is to find a place where the ‘chef’ allows the flavour to come through, rather than overcooking and/or over seasoning. Your mantra should be ‘Keep It Simple’.
On to specific experiences:
The downtown area(s)(where I stayed) are up to an hour taxi ride from the airport, so I was able to try KuDeTa quite early in the trip. Breakfasted at the upscale Hotel Colbert. Excellent pastries, then circled around to find potential dining places. Colbert itself seemed unexciting, but Varangue menu looked good – was on our short list, but we settled for KuDeTa - it had Zebu and Foie Gras on the menu and a reasonable wine list (mostly South African and French Regional). Service and welcome were both good and food was ‘safe’. We had appetizers of seared Foie Gras with a Cinnamon Honey and Baked Apple; and Zebu Maki Roll (yes, sushi fans, it was a maki Roll with thin strips of rare Zebu meat – and actually one of the better courses). Mains were Zebu with 3 mashed vegetables (two of which I recognized); and a shrimp kabob threaded on a vanilla bean. Desserts were Madagascar cheese (that was the first and last time we tried that!) and what was described as ‘Pan Fried Flambé of Vegetables with Lemon Ice Cream and Pepper Chocolate’ (we deduced before it arrived that it was probably ‘fruit’, not vegetable – accurately as it turned out!). We encountered flambé many times on the trip – almost always with the ubiquitous flavoured rums that juliadevi refers to above (incidentally we didn’t get to Nosy-Bé - but a friend’s son is up there with an NGO – was that why you (juliadevi) were there?).
Overall a solid meal but more expensive than I had anticipated – discovered they added 20% VAT (or local equivalent) – this was the only place on the entire trip that added this – all others included the 20% in the meal prices (exactly as with VAT in Europe).
Stayed at Feon’ny Ala. The closest other place to eat was Mikalo (about 30 minutes’ walk in pitch darkness) and it turned out to be closed at lunch (on Good Friday) (never found Chez Steph – another place mentioned in Bradt) – so all meals at Feon’ny La.
These were a mixture with a couple of standouts. The things to order are the fried potatoes – caramelized with garlic and super-addictive – the best ‘starch’ I had on the entire trip. And, for dessert, the ‘flaming pineapple’ – a flambéed pineapple wedge (in rum, of course) where the flames gave a bruléed edge to the thin parts of the wedge, giving a superb balance of sweet caramelization and tartness. I’m guessing the rum was flavoured with vanilla as well.
The owners are Asian, so there was a good choice of Chinese foods (Cantonese mostly), although these really didn’t interest me. Among the Malagasy dishes I quite liked the Eel and Pork Stew – slight correction, the Eel was excellent – the pork less so! Zebu was quite well cooked – best dish Zebu with Onions and Potatoes. Most other dishes improved with addition of the local hot sauce – which is SUPER-HOT – add a drop at a time.
This was our Easter Sunday stop – not a lot of choice – at Rendezvous des Pecheurs. Despite its name (Ambatolampy is a long way from the sea) I played it safe with Magret de Canard (with potatoes) and Grilled Pork Chop (actually seemed to be deep-fried, not grilled, hence way overcooked). The specialités were claimed to be frogs legs and crayfish – I ignored at that time but subsequently discovered that the crayfish were fresh from local streams – and most other patrons ordered those. The frogs legs seemed to be breaded and deep fried. But order the crayfish!
Finally a place with a good choice of restaurants – although a local carnival meant the place was packed and any transport other than foot was impossible. Bradt identified Trianon as the top place so that was our choice. However, food was overcooked and/or difficult to eat (a crab dish was chopped into large pieces and drowned in a sauce making it virtually impossible to remove the crabmeat without getting covered from head to foot in sauce). All in all a very unsatisfactory meal. If you go avoid both the shrimp and Calamari with Ginger; and the aforementioned Crab & Pork Matelot.
Very difficult to find much here. Had an acceptable Kudu Pot Roast, but basically stuck to fresh fruit. However, for breakfast had eggs (free range and excellent) with smoked kudu strips (think bacon – excellent).
Stayed at Domaine Nature – no other places to eat anywhere close. Food was generally bland (although excellent eggs/omelettes in common with most places in Madagascar). Several veggie based soups that were either over- or under-seasoned. There was a good Crayfish Bisque – and an excellent Shrimp Omelette and a couple of interesting dishes (more in concept than realization) Pork and ginger (possibly the best pork dish I had anywhere) and Zebu Tongue which was marred by a bland sauce.
Once again no real restaurant choice – you eat where you stay. This was the Jardin du Roy which was easily the most luxurious place we stayed. Essentially they only offer Full Board with a single menu du jour (with a couple of choices). The same menu is offered at their ‘lodge’ and a separate restaurant (for visitors) but one can eat at either. The separate restaurant (Relais de la Reine) had much better service. Menu (at Relais) was quite sophisticated – but again seasoning was erratic and cooking mixed. For reference we had Foie Gras Terrine and Pumpkin Soup; Zebu Bourguignon (great concept but way too salty) and Duck Confit with Foie Gras Sauce; Pear in Chocolate with Ice Cream and Tarte Tatin of Pineapple (that’s what the menu said – but it was actually an upside-down pineapple cake).
Breakfast at Jardin du Roy was excellent – amazing how good toast tastes after a couple of weeks without any!
The second night (in Jardin) was Pork with ginger & honey sauce and shrimp (way overcooked) in a mystery sauce (can’t read my own handwriting), with a cheesecake (unlike any I’ve ever had before – more of a sponge cake) and Caramelized Pineapple Sorbet.
Stayed in the suburbs (Victory Hotel) so again only choice for food. However, for lunch had Smoked Zebu with Fries – definitely worth having, and a decent Calamari with Fries (Fries were a rarity so maybe that influenced my choices here!). Followed up for dinner with Magret of Duck and Shrimp (both with fries!).
Esentially a place to chill out – no electricity or hot water – just a beach. Not really worth a visit. Stayed at Safari Vezo – meals were essentially ‘catch of the day’. Fresh fish (no refrigeration) cooked into oblivion. I ‘upgraded’ to finally try the crayfish I had bypassed earlier – eventually came on the second day as none were landed the first day and they were over baked to the point of inedibility. Particularly nasty was a Coconut Tart. Best of a bad bunch was calamari in an unidentifiable sauce.
Back to Antananarivo staying near the airport at Au Bois Vert (in Ivato). A couple of days here to tour around a little and await our flight (a day late as our original was cancelled). Visited the Lemur Park where the food was both expensive and inedible. Don’t eat here if you can avoid it (or settle for the ridiculously expensive omelette). Had originally planned to try the Apprentice uncle recommendation (above) of Relais des Plateaux (another hotel) but the food at Au Bois Vert was spectacular – and reasonably priced. A full meal there for two was about the same price as a taxi one-way to the airport/Relais de Plateaus (I think it’s a standard price/trip regardless of distance), so we had all of our excellent meals in-house. A very tasty Zebu Steak cooked perfectly medium-rare. The best Duck and Shrimp of the entire trip. A wood-fired thin crust pizza (Zebu Bolognaise). The veggies were a bit overcooked and were identical on each dish, but the prices here were competitive (maybe cheaper) than anywhere else on the trip.
Not sure I’d recommend staying there (the only place without mosquito nets, so I’m hoping Tana is malaria-free) – but definitely the best food we had anywhere in Madagascar.
I was last there about 7 yrs ago so my recs are not up to date!
At that time, there was a nice French style resto in Hellville/Nosy-Bé called Papillion. The first time I ever had Roquefort with Sauternes was there.
And in Tana we went to a chic place called KuDeTa.
Otherwise, we ate in various little shacks beside roads (curry-ish stews with the ever-present rice, often with a spicy shredded green mango relish - at that time, it was about $1 USD a serving).
In the Nosy-Bé area they produce some local rum that is often infused with spices (rhum arrangé - vanille, cannelle, gingembre...) - I had some fabulous nights dancing until late late late to live Malagasy music fueled by rhum arrangé and coke. Or Three Horses Beer...
One last thing - the national dessert (and just about the only dessert) is banane flambée - I don't even like bananas but I still make it from time to time.
I loved my visits there, have a great time!
My uncle wasn't too much of help - "avoid the food...overcultivated...no flavor to the vegatables... a lot of deep fried foods...not healthy...the fruits are excellent..jackfruit mangos, custard apples. ..We eat mostly at french restraunts and hotels here...tell him to try Relais de Plateaus"
I hope this helps in some way.