Try searching the Internet for information about vegan African food and about traveling as a vegan in Africa, and you won’t find much. Or perhaps you did just search for exactly that, and that’s how you ended up here?
In that case, welcome! I’m here to reassure you that being vegan in Africa is not as difficult as you might think. In fact, there’s plenty of vegan African food to be found in the continent’s traditional cuisines.
It’s true that, in many African countries, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who’s even heard the word “vegan” before. [Note: South Africa is the exception to this rule. The vegan scene is absolutely BOOMING in Cape Town!]
But don’t let the lack of a strong vegan movement scare you off. Many African dishes are naturally vegan anyway, even though the locals would never use that word to describe them.
In fact, the traditional, pre-colonial African diet was largely plant based. It consisted of healthy, whole-food ingredients, mainly fruits, vegetables and whole grains, flavored with plenty of herbs and spices.
While meat is consumed regularly among many middle-class Africans today, that is due to colonial influences.
And even in parts of Africa where the local cuisine is not so vegan-friendly, there are still plenty of ways to ensure that you eat well as a vegan in Africa.
In total, I’ve now spent roughly one year traveling around the African continent, visiting 25 different countries along the way. Nine of those countries I visited as a vegan on my most recent 3-month trip around southern Africa.
Based on that experience, I’m sharing with you six different ways that you can eat vegan in Africa and enjoy delicious vegan African food.
6 Ways to Eat Vegan in Africa
1. Eat Local Vegan African Food
Dishes featuring cooked grains, vegetables and legumes make up a large portion of the typical African diet, even today. One staple dish that you will see everywhere is a porridge made from local grains or tubers.
In southern Africa, it’s usually made from coarsely-ground maize meal and is called “pap” in South Africa, “nsima” in Zambia and Malawi and “sadza” in Zimbabwe. While in eastern Africa, it’s made from maize, millet or sorghum flour and is often called “ugali”.
And in western Africa, the porridge is made from cassava and green plantain flour and is known as “fufu”. Actually, there are many other local names for this dish, but the important thing is that you recognize it when you see it.
I’ll just call it “pap” from now on, since that’s the easiest name to pronounce for most people. Pap can be eaten with a variety of sauces, sometimes referred to as “relish”. A popular vegan relish is a tomato and onion stew. You’ll also find relishes made with different types of cooked leafy greens.
Pap and relish is just one example of a popular African food that's vegan. Other examples of vegan South African food include chakalaka and samp and beans. And in other African countries, you'll find a variety of bean dishes, plantain dishes and vegetable stews.
These local foods aren’t always served in restaurants that cater to tourists, so you might need to seek them out at basic food stalls where the locals eat.
Supermarket chains in southern Africa, such as Shoprite, almost always have a take-away section where they serve hot prepared meals. This a good place to look for pap and relish as well as other local dishes like chakalaka and samp and beans.
If you’re not finding what you want when eating out, you can always cook your own vegan meals. Keep a few easy vegan recipes on hand that you know you can find the ingredients for.
Many hostels (which are known in Africa as “backpackers”) and other budget accommodations have kitchen facilities.
I brought a camping stove with me on my trip around southern Africa, but this wasn’t necessary. I never used it once in the three months I was there.
Although, if you are planning on going camping while you're in Africa, here are some easy vegan meals you can make on a camping stove.
In cities and towns, you’ll find supermarkets with basic foodstuffs like pasta, rice, frozen vegetables, and canned beans and other legumes. Actually, it’s not uncommon to come across huge selections of vegan canned goods.
Fry’s is a South African company that makes a large range of plant-based meats, including burgers, chicken-style nuggets, sausages and even pepper steak pies. You’ll find them in the frozen section of supermarkets in South Africa and neighboring countries.
But if you can’t find Fry’s products where you are, one meat alternative that you will find absolutely everywhere is soya mince.
Soya mince comes in powder form, but when you add it to a sauce it magically clumps up and creates a convincing plant-based minced meat. It’s perfect for making spaghetti bolognaise.
At first, I was puzzled as to why this meat alternative is so popular in a part of the world where vegetarianism is almost unheard of. The answer is probably that it’s cheap, easy to prepare, and doesn’t have to be refrigerated. This makes it a great option for low-income African families.
3. Eat at Chain Restaurants
There are several South African chain restaurants that offer vegan options and have branches in neighboring countries in the region. Even McDonald’s in South Africa has a vegan burger.
As long as you order the McVeggie with no mayo, this burger is completely vegan. And, unlike in the United States, where McDonald’s French fries contain milk and beef flavoring, the fries at McDonald’s in South Africa are vegan too.
Several of the homegrown African restaurant chains also have a surprising number of vegan items on their menus. Steers has a vegan burger, while Wimpy has a burger, a sandwich and a breakfast plate that can all be made vegan on request (by asking for no cheese, no mayo, etc.).
The most vegan-friendly chain of all, though, has to be Nando’s. Their veggie patty is vegan and can be made into a burger, a pita or a wrap. My personal favorite is the veggie avocado and pickled red onion pita with peri-peri potato wedges. Delish!
You could also make a meal out of the side dishes like roasted vegetables, spicy rice, and even pap and relish. Nando’s is the biggest and most well-known of the “Portuguese chicken” restaurants in Africa, but other chains like Galito’s and Barcelos also have a few vegan items on their menu.
4. Eat at Ethnic Restaurants
This is a great strategy for finding vegan food in any location where the local cuisine doesn’t offer much for vegan travelers (which can be the case in certain African countries, such as Namibia and Zimbabwe).
Instead of going to local restaurants, find a restaurant serving a cuisine that is vegan-friendly! On my most recent trip in Africa, I ate delicious Chinese food in Zambia, Italian food in Swaziland, Indian food in Mozambique and Ethiopian food in South Africa.
If you want to know exactly what these and other ethnic cuisines can offer vegans, check out my book Veggie Planet. In the book, I highlight many of the vegan dishes in 11 of the world’s most popular cuisines and show just how vegan-friendly these cuisines really are. You can download a free sample chapter of Veggie Planet here.
5. Arrange for Vegan Meals with your Tour Operator
Even if you are traveling independently in Africa, there’s a good chance that you’ll join an organized tour at some point in your travels. This is particularly true if you want to go on safari and experience Africa’s incredible wildlife.
Be sure to let your tour operator know that you are vegan before you start your tour. I’ve been on safari in a number of different African countries, and the tour organizers were always very accommodating when I told them I was vegan (and explained what that means).
Wild Dog Safaris in Namibia prepared some delicious vegan meals for me. The owner is even planning to make vegetarian and vegan cooking the theme of their next staff training workshop!
And in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, I had the incredible privilege of viewing the wild animals with a local vegan guide. Check out my post about that safari to find out why I recommend Botswana as the best safari destination for vegans.
6. Eat at Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurants
Yes, there are vegetarian and even fully vegan restaurants in Africa! In fact, Cape Town is one of the best vegan foodie destinations I’ve ever visited.
In other South African cities, the vegan scene is a bit more low-key. The Greenside neighborhood in Johannesburg has a couple of great vegan places, though.
Even in countries like Malawi, where there is no local vegan movement to speak of, foreigners have opened vegetarian restaurants that offer a range of vegan options. For example, the Veg-Delight Indian restaurant in Lilongwe does a great masala dosa.
The best vegan food in Malawi, though, is at the community-based eco-lodge called The Mushroom Farm. Their wholly vegetarian kitchen serves up an eclectic mix of Malawian food and international dishes.
Africa is a Diverse Continent
Africa is the second largest continent on Earth and is made up of more than 50 countries. So, this probably goes without saying, but Africa is incredibly diverse.
Your experience being vegan in Africa may vary greatly depending on which part of the continent you're in. Although I've traveled extensively in all four corners of Africa, I've only traveled as a vegan in the southern and central regions of the continent.
Here on the Nomadic Vegan, you'll find a couple of articles written by guest bloggers about vegan food in other African countries. Check out this article about what to eat in Morocco as a vegan. And this one about what it's like to be a vegan in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, written by a Kinshasa native.
Also check out these articles on vegan Ethiopian food and Eritrean food. The two cuisines are quite similar to each other, but they're completely different from anything else you'll find in Africa. Or anywhere else in the world, for that matter.
If you're traveling to West Africa, keep in mind that it's the least developed region of the continent. As some readers have commented below, you won't find chain restaurants or faux meats sold in supermarkets. In fact, you may not even find supermarkets.
But just because there are no veggie burgers or other Western-style vegetarian foods, that doesn't mean there's no vegan food in West Africa. As I've said before, the traditional African diet is largely vegan.
And hey, even Burkina Faso has a fully vegan restaurant, so things are changing there too!
Local Vegan Africans
Want to know about vegan dishes in a particular African country? The best sources of information about local vegan food are local vegans living there, or vegan travelers who have gone there before you.
Check out inspiring vegan Africans like Tomi Makanjuola, also known as The Vegan Nigerian.
Another truly inspiring West African vegan is Ly, who goes by @fulanivegan on Instagram. He now lives in China but is originally from Guinea and travels extensively in Africa (and beyond). Find out more about Ly in this article on Black vegan travelers to follow on Instagram.
Then there's Nicola Kagoro, a.k.a Chef Cola. She's a Zimbabwean vegan chef who splits her time between Cape Town and Harare. Chef Cola is the founder of African Vegan on a Budget and is committed to showing Africans how they can eat healthy, plant-based food affordably.
Facebook groups and Instagram can also be good ways of connecting with vegans in your African destination. On Instagram, try searching for relevant hashtags like #vegan+[name of African country].
And if that doesn't turn up any results, try a broader tag like #westafricanvegan. You'll likely connect with someone who'll be thrilled to tell you all about their local cuisine and their favorite vegan dishes.
And if you want to try cooking some vegan African dishes yourself, a great source of inspiration is the cookbook Afro-Vegan by Bryant Terry.
Whether you’re eating out in restaurants or cooking with ingredients from the local shops, there’s plenty of vegan African food to be found.
Looking for a Vegan Tour in Africa?
Check out my worldwide list of vegan and vegan-friendly tour operators.