In These Restaurants, Traditional Zimbabwean Dishes Know No Bounds


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At Gava’s, meat and starch dishes are prepared outside over the fire, because the restaurant aims to prepare food in a traditional manner. Tatenda Kanengoni, GPJ Zimbabwe

Modern restaurants that specialize in traditional Zimbabwean food are becoming go-to places for local and international visitors. The traditional restaurant setting is one way of experiencing both Zimbabwean food and culture and features a number of staple dishes, including sadza.

HARARE, ZIMBABWE — Rural Zimbabwe is typically associated with all things traditional, including streams of water, livestock and succulent foods that represent the nation. Urban cities, on the other hand, do not necessarily invite this same vision, but rather offer a more cosmopolitan ambience. However, as a few well-known restaurants are pointing out, traditional foods transcend rural bounds.

Traditional restaurants in the capital city source ingredients from farming communities and other rural areas to incorporate into recipes. Harare boasts several places that offer traditional dishes to local and international patrons, along with a unique approach to the décor and food preparation and presentation.

PanAfrika and Gava’s are two such spaces in Harare.

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Gava’s classic dishes include (clockwise from top left) sadza re zviyo served with oxtail, covo vegetables, a type of kale, and sugar beans; peanut butter rice served with beef bones and covo vegetables; and white sadza served with hanga (guinea fowl), covo vegetables and sugar beans.

Tatenda Kanengoni, GPJ Zimbabwe

PanAfrika’s doors opened in 2010.

“It used to be a canteen for students in 1995, then became a restaurant in 2010,” says owner Ibbo Mandaza.

A thatched roof above the seating area gives the appearance of a hut, a signature style of the village home. Coupled with the earthy tones in the employees’ orange aprons, the atmosphere at PanAfrika emulates the quintessential Zimbabwean rural homestead — but it’s the traditional food that seals the deal.

The restaurant offers traditional cuisine every day of the week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. It also serves seafood and grilled steak.

Gava’s buffet menu includes:
White sadza
Peanut butter rice (white rice cooked and then mixed with peanut butter)
Muboora (pumpkin leaves)
Peanut butter vegetables (green vegetables cooked in peanut butter)
Matemba (sardines)
Roadrunner chicken (free-range chicken)
Zvinyenze (fried cow intestines)
Zondo (cow feet)
Guru (tripe)
Matumbu (cow intestines)
Beef bones

Fridays are special days at PanAfrika.

Chef Timothy Tsvamunhu explains that a buffet is served between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. every Friday.

A diverse array of vegetables is served together with meat dishes, and of course the staple food, made of cooked cornmeal: sadza. Guests also enjoy their meals to the sounds of a live band.

“For $20, customers can eat as much as they want, with options of eating lesser amounts of food for between $10 and $15,” Tsvamunhu says.

The space is utilized for breakfast meetings as well as academic and business meetings.

Location: PanAfrika is near Sam Nujoma Avenue, in a prime location for public transportation, near embassies and Moto Republik, a coworking space that houses artists, musicians and comedians. The cultural hub also hosts regular events and a market. 4 Deary Ave., Belgravia, in Harare. For reservations call +263 4 706 735 or contact their Facebook page:

Allen Gava opened Gava’s at the end of 2013, to target different cultural groups. The restaurant specializes in organic traditional Zimbabwean food, and meals are served from 11 a.m. on. Having traveled the world and seen how other cultures celebrate their local cuisine, Gava longed to have a similar culture back home. This is how Gava’s was born.

“I noticed that a lot of [locals] were looking down upon our traditional food, hence why I said, let me come up with a restaurant that can compete at the same [international] level. Traditional food is not inferior,” Gava says.

Gava’s is modeled around the rural lifestyle, and meals are prepared outside on an open fire. Guests also enjoy their meals in open air.

In line with Zimbabwean culture of hospitality and togetherness, there is no set closing time for the restaurant. At Gava’s, meals are served up until the last customer chooses to depart.

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Tendai Mugambiwa specializes in barbecuing the meat at Gava’s restaurant.

Tatenda Kanengoni, GPJ Zimbabwe

Head chef Brian Machipisa decides the menu of the day and supervises three other chefs. Gava’s meat dishes include T-bone steak, grilled chicken, sausage and pork ribs, all prepared on the fire.

Gava’s tagline is “sadza with soul,” and it is only fitting that chefs prepare that staple dish in a variety of ways, including white sadza made from maize meal, and sadza re zviyo (millet). White sadza is rather light in texture, as compared with other sadzas, which are usually a little thicker. It’s an item best accompanied with savory side dishes.

Peanut butter rice is among the starches served; sugar beans and vegetables also accompany main dishes. The restaurant’s signature item, Gava’s sampler, allows guests to select any three meat stews they would like to sample for $10.

As a matter of principle, all the food served is organic and freshly sourced from farmers.

On Sundays, a live band performs between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Location: Gava’s is at Belgravia Sports Club, along Second Street Extension in Harare. For reservations call +263 77 238 1863 or visit their website

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Timothy Tsvamunhu, a chef at PanAfrika, prepares a number of dishes for the restaurant’s Friday buffet.

Tatenda Kanengoni, GPJ Zimbabwe

Customers pay $20 for the all-you-can-eat buffet, which includes matumbu and guru, a combination of cow intestines and tripe, and roadrunner, or free-range, chicken.

Tatenda Kanengoni, GPJ Zimbabwe

The Friday buffet, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., also features beef bones with sauce and vegetables.

Tatenda Kanengoni, GPJ Zimbabwe

Sadza, made from either maize meal or millet, is portioned out for customers at the buffet.

Tatenda Kanengoni, GPJ Zimbabwe

Lyton Muchengera, a chef at PanAfrika, puts the finishing touches on the restaurant’s Friday buffet.

Tatenda Kanengoni, GPJ Zimbabwe

At Gava’s, Tendai Mugambiwa is a braai, or grill master.

Tatenda Kanengoni, GPJ Zimbabwe

Mugambiwa stirs a large pot of peanut butter rice over the open fire.

Tatenda Kanengoni, GPJ Zimbabwe

Simba Mpofu, a chef at Gava’s, holds a dish of beef bones with sadza re zviyo.

Tatenda Kanengoni, GPJ Zimbabwe


Tatenda Kanengoni, GPJ, translated some interviews from Shona.