Malawi is generally not thought of as one of the world’s great foodie destinations. Most visitors to the country don’t come for the food, and especially not for the vegan Malawi food.
But what those people don't realize is that, perched on top of the Rift Valley Escarpment way up in Malawi’s northern highlands, is a little foodie heaven called The Mushroom Farm.
The wholly vegetarian kitchen here serves up the best food in the country, and the made-from-scratch dishes cooked over a wood-burning stove are a hit with meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans alike.
Many of the ingredients are sourced from the lodge’s own permaculture gardens, so you can be sure that they are organic and highly nutritious.
International and Malawi Food at its Finest
The lunch menu is an eclectic mix of Malawi food and international dishes, some of which have a unique Malawian twist. The Mushroom Medley, for example, is a trio of Mexican-style dips.
The guacamole, refried beans, and pico de gallo are all pretty standard, but the “tortilla chips” they’re served with are unlike any other chips you’ve ever seen.
These giant, puffy triangles are actually quite soft, and they reminded me of mandasi – the semi-sweet dough balls sold by Malawian street vendors. Imagine a cross between a tortilla chip and a doughnut!
And if you want to delve into the local cuisine, you can order a plate of nsima, which is the main staple of Malawi food. It’s a thick mush made from corn and is soft and slightly sticky to the touch. Try eating it with your hands if you want to look like a local.
Traditionally, African food has always been largely plant based, and food in Malawi is no exception. The growing meat consumption in Africa is a modern phenomenon that strays from the roots of African cuisine.
The set dinner is a communal affair and is served by candlelight, because the Mushroom Farm is completely off the grid. The menu changes each night but is always delicious and served up in generous portions.
Over the course of my three-night stay, we were treated to bean burritos, spaghetti and peace balls, and a lentil dhal served with eggplant fritters.
All the dinner options are either already vegan or can easily be adapted for vegan guests, so just let the staff know what you do and don’t eat. It’s also a good idea to add a written reminder next to your name when signing up for dinner.
While the incredible home-cooked food is reason enough alone to make the arduous journey up the bumpy mountain road to the Mushroom Farm, there are plenty of other reasons to visit too.
This community-based eco-lodge offers a variety of affordable accommodation options ranging from treehouses to cob houses made from clay, mud and straw. All are built following sustainable construction principles, using local materials whenever possible.
During my stay, I slept in a safari tent, which I found to be the perfect combination of getting back to nature while still sleeping in comfort. The roomy, canvas tent is tall enough to stand up in, comes furnished with a large double bed, and has its own private balcony.
I loved being able to open the tent flaps and admire the views of Lake Malawi and the plains below without even leaving my bed. But if you prefer to be protected by sturdy walls and a lockable door, you’re better off going for the cob house. Be aware that the treehouse, while very romantic, is even more rustic than the safari tent.
Activities and Day Trips
At a bargain price of just three dollars, you can hire a local guide to accompany you on hikes and day trips to nearby attractions.
Don’t miss the hike to nearby Manchewe Falls, which, at 125 meters, is Malawi’s highest waterfall.
After admiring the natural beauty of the falls from different vantage points, our friendly guide Kennedy showed us where we could cool off in a natural swimming pool before tucking into our packed lunch of fruit, juice and veggie sandwiches from the lodge.
A visit to historic Livingstonia is also very worthwhile, either with a guide or own your own. It was established by Scottish missionaries in the late 19th century and named after Dr. David Livingstone. The Scots established a church, hospital, primary and secondary schools, and even a university, all of which are still in operation.
Highlights of a trip to this colonial relic include visiting the museum inside the stone house where founder Dr. Robert Laws once lived and climbing the church bell tower for sweeping views of the town and surrounding landscape.
And if you’re up for a more hands-on activity, you can even join local artists in a woodcarving workshop to learn Malawi’s number one art form. You get to choose whether to make your very own personalized key chain or a traditional bottle opener. Either one will make a great souvenir to remind you of your trip!
The Mushroom Farm is more than just a peaceful retreat where foreign travelers can seek respite from the hardships of travel in Africa.
It’s a community-based social enterprise that feeds its profits back into the local community by sponsoring projects such as adult literacy classes and a nursery school feeding program.
They also sell products made by small community enterprises, such as an orphan boys jewelry program and a women’s empowerment and sewing group. They even offer high school and university scholarships for local young people, including some of the young men they employ as guides.
There are many reasons to visit the Mushroom Farm, but no matter what it is that draws you up the mountain, one thing is for sure: you won’t want to leave.
Thank you so much to The Mushroom Farm for hosting my stay. My opinions, as always, are entirely my own.