Here in Botswana, there are quite a few staple food items that are commonly found at nearly any eatery across the country. We’ve often joked about the portion sizes offered at the campus cafeterias: 60% starch, 30% meat, and 10% veggies. The starches commonly eaten here include the ever-familiar rice, spaghetti, and macaroni; however, there are also other more unique and worth-trying starches such as pap/paliche (maize meal that is very similar to grits), samp (boiled and de-skinned corn—often prepared with beans), and bogobe (a version of pap made with mashed melon). Pap and Bogobe quickly became some of my go to sides. As for meat, there are many different options including beef stew, roasted or fried chicken, seswaa (boiled and shredded beef), and lamb stew. On Thursdays and Fridays, Curry Pot (which is definitely not the campus favorite) hosts a braai and offers steak, boerewors, grilled chicken, or hamburgers. The most common veggie options are butternut squash, cole slaw, beetroot, carrots, morogo (stewed rape or spinach leaves), or fried cabbage.
The two main dining halls on campus, as aforementioned, are Executive and Curry Pot. If you aren’t a homestay student, you’ll be frequenting these “refectories” quite often. The prices at Executive and Curry Pot range from 15-22Pula depending on the size of your meal and whether or not you eat in or take away. Curry Pot tends to be cheaper and is closer to the dorms than Executive, but as many of the local students will warn you, it has a reputation of causing mild food poisoning **Disclaimer**I have eaten there several times and while, yes, I did get sick after the first dinner, I quickly recovered and never had any issues eating there again. Executive, on the other hand, is across campus, is slightly more expensive and is typically busy/has longer lines, but has many more options such as 10Pula milkshakes and freezos (flavored slushies), as well as 12Pula meat pies.
While the campus dining options are pretty decent, I would highly recommend venturing outside the school gates and eating at Botswana’s finest: the street vendors. The street vendors offer many different and fresh food options ranging from plain chips (that pair amazingly well with a dash of spicy bite spice) to a full buffet meal. The typical prices you will find are about 7-10Pula for chips and 15-25P for a buffet meal. Or, as many of my friends discovered, you can get a combo meal consisting of chips, a burger, and a steak for just 25Pula, or 2.50 USD. My personal favorites: maguinya (fat cakes, aka fried dough balls of everything that is good in the world), Mokwechepe (beef and tripe soup that tastes really good with maguinya), and chips and steak.
Another great aspect of coming to the street vendors is that it is buzzing with energy—there are tons of students that come out to play pool at night, and it’s a great way to meet new students.
If you and your friends are bored and want to explore the food scene around town, here are some of my favorites:
- Main Deck—great bar and restaurant. If you come Friday to Sunday, there is often live music playing. My friends and I frequented this place so often that by the end of the semester, most of the waiters there knew our names and would stop us around town to say hi.
- Caravela—Portuguese influenced restaurant. It’s a bit more upscale and pricier but it was a great hang out place for us throughout the semester. The sangria was an instant fan-favorite and would be ordered by the pitcher. The restaurant also features a variety of seafood and meat options and pasta dishes.
- Bull and Bush—arguably one of my favorite places in Gabs. It’s a bit further away and definitely Do. Not. Try. To. Walk. Here. They have weekday specials that make eating out a little easier on your wallet. Monday is rib day, Thursday is pizza and steak day, etc. And, if you are in the mood to buy some souvenirs, there is usually a man outside selling small knick-knacks.
- Table 52—This is a super ritzy rooftop lounge and restaurant. It’s great for celebrations and special occasions because of its fancy ambiance and the view overlooking the city. Be aware of the dress code (No sandals, no shorts, etc).
- China Restaurant or Red Lantern—these were my top picks for Chinese food in Gabs. If you are like me at all and love boba, I’m sorry. It does not exist in Botswana. But, I heard you can go to the Asian Markets in Broadhurst and buy packaged boba there. Anyways, I digress. These two restaurants offer a selection of authentic and Americanized Chinese foods (sizzling plates and dumpling from China Restaurant and Tasty Roast Duck with rice from Red Lantern). Both of these places offer a really nice milk tea that you should try!
- Simply Asia/Nandos/Braai Place/Debonairs/KFC—okay, these are nowhere near being on my favorites list, but I figured they deserve honorable mention for the countless times they saved me during finals and midterm season. From Simply Asia (which was probably the one place my friends and I consistently visited)—pad thai, large rice noodles, or sweet soya noodles (it’s a thai fast food chain). From Nandos—Festa fries, Winglets, or Peri Peri chicken. From Braai Place—maxi steak with pap or chips or the combo. From Debonairs—share among friends and order the larger pizzas since a Botswana medium is basically the size of an American small. From KFC—anything, but you MUST order a Krusher (basically KFC’s version of a McFlurry). PSA: Nandos, Braai Place, Debonairs, and Pizza Hut offer free delivery to UB.
Wherever you decide to eat, be sure to keep an open mind and try new things. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you find. Also, be sure to invest in a fridge. It makes such a big difference. You can store bread, fruits, and water. Trust me, especially if you are coming in the Fall--get a fridge so you can have frozen or really cold water throughout your day. And, if you have the extra luggage space, I splurged a bit and brought a mini croc-pot since there is no microwave option in the dorms. This allowed me to buy some extra food whenever we went out and eat it throughout the week instead of always going to the dining halls. Lastly, form your own foodie group so you can have people to explore the city and hsare foods with.
Happy eating :)