Bridget Hilton-Barber checks out the restaurants, bistros, cafés and street food
The first word most people say when you mention food in Maputo is "prawns", followed quickly by the words "cold beer". South Africans are especially Pavlovian about this, and for many of us, the two will always be the signature Mozambican meal: an ice-cold Dois M (pronounced doish-em) or a Laurentina, both excellent local beers, along with a great pile of prawns. But while eating prawns remains one of the top reasons to visit Maputo - and no visit is complete without attempting to commit prawnicide at least once - there is far more to the food and flavours of Maputo.
The city's cuisine is a mix of African, Portuguese, Oriental and Arab flavours: warm spices, piquant piri piri, creamy coconut sauces and hints of cashews. Think Afro-Mediterranean with an Eastern sidewinder.
Mozambican seafood is famous: camarões (prawns) lagosta (crayfish) peixe grelhada (grilled catch of the day) as well as lulas (calamari) and ameijoas (clams). Chicken is also popular, especially galinha a Zambeziana, which is a chicken dish with a lime, garlic, pepper and piri-piri sauce.
Look out, too, for the traditional dish of matapa, cassava leaves cooked in a peanut sauce. Caril (curry) dishes are common, as are chamusa (samoosas). And meat dishes tend to be good, with most meat imported from SA.
The city has a surprising diversity of restaurants, bistros, cafés and street fare. Along Avenida Marginal, the beach road, and downtown, you can do fine dining, family restaurants, pavement cafés, ambient bistros. Go Thai, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Mozambican; do Ethiopian, Moroccan, street food. The Portuguese also ensured a wonderful tradition of baking, and all across the city you'll find cafés, pastelaria and salao de cha serving delicious pastries and fresh pão (bread). And coffee-heads, fear not, Maputo is a deeply coffee-friendly society. Delicious espressos, cappuccinos, latte and assorted coffee-combo regmakers wait at every turn.
Since everyone asks, the best prawns to be had in town are at the Bayview Restaurant at Southern Sun, an elegant North African restaurant with doors opening out on ocean views, and excellent food and wines (4016 Avenida Marginal).
The home of the "original LM prawn" is still Costa do Sol (10249 Avenida Marginal), a historic and colourful spot at the northern end of Avenida Marginal that dates back to colonial times, run by the Petrakakis family since 1938. They also do a mean line in caipirinhas, the traditional Maputo cocktail .
For an authentic Portuguese meal, head straight for the convivial Taverna (995 Avenida Julius Nyerere), which serves cozinha tipica: typical Portuguese food, seafood, steaks, trinchado, slow-cooked lamb, skewers of meat. They have the best wine list in Maputo.
Zambi's (8 Avenida 10 de Novembro) is an upbeat meeting-and-eating spot and has all the right ingredients for a long, decadent lunch or dinner: waving palm trees and sea views, a convivial dining room and shaded terrace, all in an unusual building which was designed by avant-garde Portuguese architect Pancho Guedes in the 1950s. It was once a pole-dancing club, but is now a salubrious spot. They serve the best garlic bread in Maputo, but also try their petite gateau dessert. Huge salads are a meal in themselves. You can take the country's signature dish to its logical conclusion and have Prawns Laurentina, prawns cooked in beer, or try clams in white wine sauce.
Marisqueira Sagres (4272 Avenida Marginal) is a busy, family-friendly Portuguese restaurant on the beachfront, near Southern Sun, decorated with assorted maritime kitsch. Sagres serves the best salads and huge crabs. A good idea is to order a whole selection of their starters, like chorizo, clams, squid heads, chicken livers and garlic prawns. If you are in a beer-drinking group, try their tower of beer. A great place to enjoy a caipirinha at sunset. Service can be a bit slow at times.
If it's that iconic grilled chicken you're after, head for the aptly named Piri Piri (Avenida 24 de Julho), an unpretentious restaurant off Avenida Julius Nyerere, which has simple metal tables and chairs on the pavement and a charming atmosphere inside. Or try Escorpião (Recinto de Feira Popular), a shabby, colourful and charming restaurant inside the old feira popular (fun fair). Escorpião is one of the oldest restaurants in the city, and long, lazy, late-night dinners can be rounded off with some good cheer at one of the local shebeens inside the feira.
HERE FOR THE BEER
Patrice Maurice de Mac-Mahon was the third president of the French Republic between May 1873 and January 1879. Because he pronounced in favour of Portugal in its dispute with Britain over ownership of the Bay of Lourenço Marques, the Portuguese governor was extremely grateful and named the big square next to the railway station after him. The best honour to his memory, though, was the beer named after him. Mac-Mahon (2M - ask for a doish-em). Meanwhile, Laurentina Premium is the first premium Mozambican beer, and I have to say, my favourite beer of all time.
The signature Maputo cocktail is a caipirinha, which is made from cane spirit with crushed limes and sugar. It's delicious, with a fast, clean kick. Or try a catembe, red wine and Coke . For something cheap and cheerful, a local rum called Tipo Tinto is also available in vanilla flavour. ........................................................
See Bridget Hilton-Barber's 'Travel Guide to Maputo & Southern Mozambique' (Penguin).