Nshima: An Essential Zambian Staple Food

Nshima is a  Zambian staple food  that is made from maize flour.  It is typically served with a protein dish such as meat or fish and a side dish of vegetables. It is a filling dish that can is enjoyed by many Zambians of all generations.  In this article, I will try to answer the frequently asked questions about nshima , that is, how to make it, how to serve it,  and some popular dishes to serve with it.

Nshima is more than just a Zambian staple food; it is an important part of the country’s culture and identity. A long time ago, and even in some areas and at certain specific events today, the process of making nshima is often a communal activity, with family and friends coming together to prepare and share the meal. Nshima is also a symbol of hospitality, and is often served to guests as a sign of respect and friendship. As such, nshima is deeply ingrained in Zambian culture and is a beloved part of daily life for many Zambians.

Here are some few questions I will discuss in this article:

  1. What is nshima made of?
  2. How do you cook nshima?
  3. What is the traditional way of serving nshima in Zambia?
  4. What are some popular dishes to serve with nshima?
  5. Can nshima be made with other types of flour?
  6. What is the history of nshima in Zambia?
  7. How do you store leftover nshima?
  8. What are some variations of nshima that can be made?


1. What is Nshima made of?

Nshima is made from white maize flour, which is finely ground maize that is sifted to remove any coarse bits. The maize flour is typically called mealie meal in Zambia. It is not as fine as corn flour. There are many companies/millers in Zambia that produce mealie meal and it is easy to find in any supermarket or local stores. It can also be found at local markets in small repackaged plastics called “Pamelas”.  This Zambian staple food is normally consumed at least once daily. It can be enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds. Nshima is rich in carbohydrates, fibre, and other essential nutrients.

2. How do you cook nshima?

To cook nshima, you will need the white maize flour (mealie meal and water) and water (See recipe here).

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The recipe mixes warm water and the mealie meal to form a porridge-like consistency. The mixture is then stirred well to combine, making sure that all the lumps are dissolved and the mixture is smooth.  The porridge is then left to boil further for about 10-15 minutes. Then more mealie meal is added to mixture and stirred vigorously get the final consistency which is very thick like dough.   You can then allow the nshima to simmer for about 5 minutes and it is ready to serve.

3. What is the traditional way of serving nshima in Zambia?

The traditional way of serving nshima in Zambia is to scoop with your fingers and roll it into a ball using your hands. You then dip the ball in the stew or vegetables that you have served it with and eat it together. Nshima typically has no taste that is why you take it alongside the relish (meats and vegetables) Nshima is often eaten with the hands. This way of serving nshima is deeply rooted in Zambian culture and is a significant part of the country’s food traditions.

4. What are some popular dishes to serve with nshima?

Nshima is usually served with a variety of relishes such as vegetables, meat, or fish. Some popular dishes to serve with nshima include:

  • Meat and Chicken stews:
  • Fish stews
  • fried and grilled fish
  • Kapenta and Mopane Worms: Kapenta is a type of small fish that is often dried and salted and mopane worms are a form of caterpillars known as vinkubala in Zambian language.
  • Vegetables: The common ones are green leafy vegetables such as chibwabwa (Pumpkin leaves), Kalembula, Bondwe and Rape/Kale. You can also serve it with impwa (garden eggs) and cabbage. Most vegetables in Zambia have to be cooked to serve with nshima.

Nshima Zambian staple food


5. Can Nshima be made with other types of flour?

There are other types of flour that can be used to make nshima such as cassava flour, sorghum flour, millet flour, or a combination of these flours. These flours are often referred to as cassava meal, sorghum or millet meal. They are not as fine as your normal flours. However, the most common type of flour used to make nshima, the Zambian staple food is maize meal.

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6. How do you store leftover nshima?

Leftover nshima can be stored in the refrigerator for up to about three days. To reheat it, add a small amount of water to the nshima in a pot and boil it until the water dries up. It will not necessarily become like freshly cooked nshima but it will become softer and hot. You can also heat it in the microwave oven, grill or a braai grill stand. Left over nshima is known as “Chimbala


7. What are some variations of nshima that can be made?

While nshima is traditionally made with white maize meal, there are also variations made with other types of maize meal, such as yellow maize meal or a combination of white and yellow maize meal. Additionally, some people may choose to add different types of flour, such as cassava flour or sorghum flour, to create a unique  texture. The way the maize is ground at the millers also creates 2 different variations known as Breakfast and Roller meal. Breakfast is not necessarily for breakfast, it just means that the flour is more processed and whiter than the roller meal.  Roller meal is believed to contain more fibre.

8. What is the history of nshima in Zambia?

Nshima is believed to have originated from the Bantu people who migrated to Zambia from central Africa though I cannot confirm this information. However it has now been adopted as the Zambian staple food an has been a part of Zambian culture for generations and is eaten by people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds.

In conclusion, nshima is an essential part of Zambian cuisine and culture. This simple yet filling dish has been a staple for generations and remains popular today. As Zambia continues to develop and modernize, nshima remains a constant reminder of the country’s rich cultural heritage.