Drinking & Nightlife
You're likely to do more drinking than nightlife in Madagascar: although the Malagasy do like a party, the rural nature of the country means that there are few bars and clubs outside of big cities. Every hotel and restaurant has a bar however, often stocked with a mouthwatering selection of home-made rhum arrangé (flavored rum); this is where travellers are likely to do most of their drinking.
Hot Drinks & Soft Drinks
Most Malagasies like to accompany a rice meal with a drink of rice water. This brown, smoky concoction, known as ranovola or ranon’apango, is made from boiling water in the pot containing the burnt rice residue – definitely an acquired taste. That said, it is the safest water to drink in hotelys since it has been boiled.
Despite the fact that coffee is grown in Madagascar, only the most upmarket establishments offer espresso or good filter coffee. Elsewhere you’ll have to content yourself with (often quite bitter) black coffee and learn to love condensed milk. Tea is better; TAF-brand teabags are excellent.
Soft drinks (Coke, Pepsi, Fanta) are sold at every bar under the Malagasy sun. Madagascar also produces its own sodas, including the synthetic-tasting Bonbon Anglais (‘English sweet’), a lemonade.
Far and away the best sweet drinks, however, are the jus naturels (freshly squeezed fruit juices). Local wonders include corossol (soursop), grenadelle (passionfruit), papaya, mango and whatever is in season. In coastal areas, street vendors sell green coconuts, which they will split open so that you can drink the vitamin-packed juice.
The most popular Malagasy beer is Three Horses Beer (universally known as THB). Up a notch in the alcoholic stakes is the island’s rum. Most bars and restaurants offer rhum arrangé – rum in which a variety of fruits and spices have been left to soak. Common flavours include lemon, ginger, cinnamon, lychee and vanilla; these alcoholic concoctions generally line the back of the bar in an array of demijohns worthy of an apothecary. Rhum arrangé is drunk neat as an aperitif or an after-dinner liqueur.
Although illegal, moonshine (generally known as toaka gasy) is widely available. Its alcohol content will blow your socks off, so go easy on the shots. In eastern Madagascar the local tipple of choice is betsa-betsa (fermented sugar-cane juice), while in the north, trembo (palm wine) is popular.
Madagascar’s small wine industry is centred on Fianarantsoa. You’ll probably want to try a glass out of curiosity, but it’s definitely not the island’s forte. Imported French and South African wine is served in better restaurants throughout the country.