Food in Namibia, for the black population at least, has always been more about survival than inspiration, although you're unlikely to encounter the basic food eaten by most Namibians on most tourist menus. Instead, you'll find predominantly international dishes on most menus, with a couple of local variations – German dishes (particularly cakes and pastries) are a highlight, as are the widely available game meats (eg eland, oryx or kudu).

The Basics

Traditional Namibian food consists of a few staples, the most common of which is oshifima, a doughlike paste made from millet, usually served with a stew of vegetables or meat. Other common dishes include oshiwambo, a rather tasty combination of spinach and beef, and mealie pap, an extremely basic porridge.

As a foreigner you’ll rarely find such dishes on the menu. Most Namibian restaurants in big towns such as Windhoek, Swakopmund and Lüderitz serve a variation on European-style foods, such as Italian or French, alongside an abundance of seafood dishes. Outside these towns you’ll rapidly become familiar with fried-food joints.

Whatever the sign above the door, you’ll find that most menus are meat-oriented, although you might be lucky to find a few vegetarian side dishes. The reason for this is pretty obvious – Namibia is a vast desert, and the country imports much of its fresh fruit and vegetables from South Africa. What is available locally is the delicious gem squash and varieties of pumpkin such as butternut squash. In season, Namibian oranges are delicious; in the Kavango region, papayas are served with a squeeze of lemon or lime.

More than anything else, German influences can be found in Namibia’s konditoreien (cake shops), where you can pig out on Apfelstrudel (apple strudel), Sachertorte (a rich chocolate cake layered with apricot jam), Schwartzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest cake) and other delicious pastries and cakes. Several places in Windhoek and Swakopmund are national institutions. You may also want to try Afrikaners’ sticky-sweet koeksesters (small doughnuts dripping with honey) and melktart (milk tart).

Cooked breakfasts include bacon and boerewors (farmer’s sausage), and don’t be surprised to find something bizarre – curried kidneys, for example – alongside your eggs. Beef in varying forms also makes an occasional appearance at breakfast time.

Evening meals feature meat, normally beef or game. A huge beef fillet steak or a kudu cutlet will set you back no more than N$100. In some lodges, expect to find eland and oryx (gemsbok) on the menu. Fish and seafood are best represented by kingklip, kabeljou and several types of shellfish. These are available all over Namibia, but are best at finer restaurants in Windhoek, Swakopmund and Lüderitz, where they’ll normally be fresh from the sea.