Botswana's local cuisine may not be Africa's most exciting, but that doesn't mean you won't eat well. Many of the country's lodges have made excellence in the kitchen part of their appeal, and the major towns have some excellent restaurants from which to choose. If you're self-catering, well-stocked supermarkets inhabit most major towns and for atmosphere there's nothing quite like cooking your meal over a campfire out in the wilderness.
Local Batswana cooking is, for the most part, aimed more at sustenance than exciting tastes. Forming the centre of most Batswana meals nowadays is mabele (sorghum) or bogobe (porridge made from sorghum), but these staples are rapidly being replaced by imported maize mealies, sometimes known by the Afrikaans name mealie pap, or just plain pap. This provides the base for an array of meat and vegetable sauces such as seswaa (shredded goat or lamb), morogo (wild spinach) or leputshe (wild pumpkin). For breakfast, you might be able to try pathata (sort of like an English muffin) or megunya, also known as fat cakes. These are little balls of fried dough that are kind of like doughnuts minus the hole and, depending on your taste, the flavour.
Sadly, most travellers rarely encounter local dishes, not least because locals generally eat at home and foreign self-drivers are usually also self-caterers. Some top-end safari lodges do make variations on some of the more conventional Batswana meat and vegetable recipes. In general, however, you’ll be dining on international fare, some of which is quite sumptuous considering the logistical problems of getting food in and out of remote locations. One plate where local and international tastes converge is in the local obsession with steaks – Botswana’s cattle industry is well regarded and its steaks are available in restaurants in most cities and larger towns.
Gaborone’s Courtyard Restaurant is a rare and welcome exception to the separation of international clientele from local dishes – it serves guinea-fowl stew among other local dishes.
Otherwise, many hotels offer buffets, and there’s always a good range of fruit and vegetables. In larger towns you’ll even find a selection of Indian and Chinese restaurants.
When it comes to local dishes, there's one you may find to be an acquired taste: mopane (woodland) worms. These fat suckers are pulled off mopane trees and fried into little delicacies – they’re tasty and a good source of protein. You might be able to buy some from ladies selling them by the bag in the Main Mall in Gaborone; otherwise, they’re pretty common up in Francistown.
The more challenging environment of the Kalahari means that the San have an extraordinary pantry, including desert plants such as morama, which produces leguminous pods that contain edible beans. There is also an immense tuber that contains large quantities of water. Other desert delectables include marula fruit, wild plums, berries, tsama melons, wild cucumbers and honey. There’s also a type of edible fungus (grewia flava) related to the European truffle but now presented by marketing people as the ‘Kalahari truffle’.