Dining & Hosting in Shona Culture

Dining & Hosting

Meals are comprised of a starch/staple and relish. The staple food for most Shona people is sadza. The relish can be any one or more of either beef, mutton, goat, fish, chicken or game meat,  derere (okra soup), different types of green leafy vegetables, rape (collard greens), tsunga (mustard greens), dovi (greens in peanut sauce) or lacto (buttermilk). The meat can be cooked in several ways, grilled, stewed, fried, or roasted. The vegetables are usually sauteed, added to a stew, or have peanut butter added.

As mentioned above, one of the Zimbabwean staples is sadza. Sadza can be made from any one of the following:

  • mealie meal/cornmeal
  • rapoko,
  • millet
  • rice flour

How to make it

Sadza recipe

  • 225g/8oz Cornmeal/mealie-meal
  • 250ml/9fl oz water


  • Cooking Sadza
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 4 cups mealie meal
  • 7 cups boiling water

Switch on the stove to Medium-High

  1. Blend 2 cups cold water with 2 cups mealie meal in a pot-stirring with a wooden spoon until it’s a smooth paste.
  2. Add 7 cups boiling water, stirring all the time until it thickens
  3. Continue stirring and bringing to boil (kukwata), cover the pot, and turn down the heat. Cover the saucepan leave to simmer “kwata” for 15 minutes
  4. Add remaining mealie meal half a cup at a time, mixing well to avoid lumps
  5. Continue adding mealie meal as you stir, and the mixture forms thick porridge.
  6. When all the mealie meal has been added, continue mixing thoroughly “kumona” 30 rounds (until it becomes mashed potato-like consistency).
  7. Make sure the pot is covered, then reduce heat to low. After that leave to “shinyira” for 5 minutes.
  8.  Remove the lid mix again for another 30 rounds cover and leave for another 5 minutes.
  9. Then mix again for the last time. It’s now ready to be served.
  10. Transfer to a bowl or plate and flatten into a round shape with a wooden spoon.
  11. Serve with any meat, beef or chicken stew or braai ( Barbequed meat) with fried leaf vegetables or salads green or coleslaw,

Note: When you do it right, the sadza should not stock to your fingers as you eat

Serves four people

Meal Times
In general, sadza meals are eaten by hand. Families usually gather together for mealtimes and sit around the table or on the floor in rural areas. In the past, men ate at a “dare” gathered as a group separate from the women and children, and as a rule, children could not start eating before their elders.

Hand washing is performed at the table. A dish and water jug are passed around and a jira (drying towel/paper towel) for handwashing – kugeza maoko. If a drying towel is not available(common in rural areas), hands can be air-dried.

A common gesture is to clap hands together to indicate one is beginning to eat; males’ hands are slightly cupped while the fingertips touch, females cup, and cross hands. Both males and females say “pamusoroyi” as a sign of respect to the one who prepared the meal and the mother of the house.

At the end of the meal, one indicates that they are done by performing the hand-clapping again along with a thank you to express appreciation for the meal, again directed towards the one who prepared the meal and or the mother of the house. A common phrase used is “Maitabasa,” meaning thank you in Shona.

Historical fact- families used to eat as a group. Traditionally, the Shona people served the sadza and the relish in two large serving bowls.  Family members would all eat from those two bowls at the same time.

How to eat sadza
With one hand, usually the dominant hand, take a bite-size portion of the sadza. With the same hand, roll the sadza into a ball, then dip into the relish. Depending on personal preference, some may create a small dent in the sadza to hold the gravy.  Repeat until the meal is finished.

Although this is not a common practice, sometimes one can consume just the sadza alone, without any relish. Eating sadza without relish is known as “kutemura.” It is not a desirable way to eat sadza because it makes for a very bland meal.


Alcoholic drinks
Local brews and imported alcohol are known in Shona by various words:

  • Doro
  • Mhamba
  • Hwahwa
  • Mahewu
  • Kachasu,  Bumha

Non-alcoholic drinks

  • Non-alcoholic Mahewu is a drink enjoyed by most. It can be made at home or bought from the store.

Mahewu Recipe

  • 100g Maize (corn) meal
  • 4 litres water
  • 100g sorghum  with finger millet malt. Note: Leftover sadza can be used to make mahewu.
  1. Mix all dry ingredients in a pot and use a little water to create a paste.
  2. Boil 2 ½ litres of water and add to the paste while stirring to prevent curdling. Put the pot on a stove and adjust the heat to medium and bring to a boil.
  3. Cover pot and allow it to simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes.
  4. After this, remove from heat and allow to cool.
  5. Add the remaining cold water to thin the mahewu to consumable consistency.
  6. Cover the pot and place it in a warm, dry place for 3 to 4 days to allow the drink to brew. Some choose to put it out in the sun during the day. Stir the drink at least once a day.
  7. After four days, the mahewu is ready to drink. The drink can be served chilled or at room temperature. Can add sugar to taste.

Makes about 4 litres mahewu.

Food Responsibilities
Like most cultures, traditionally, the woman/women in the household are/are responsible for the day-to-day meal preparation. Therefore women keep an eye on the food supply and make sure that the “dura” (food pantry) is well stocked with enough food to feed the family and any unforeseeable guests. Because of this, it is necessary to consult with the lady of the house before taking from the dura.