This article was adapted from the post A Day in the Life of a Vegan PCV from Little Backpack Big World
“…being vegan ties in with our moral stance on many issues, and we were not willing to break our moral code just because we were in a new country.”
During our interviews with Peace Corps, my partner and I were both told about how being vegan in another country is possible, but could hinder our integration. One interviewer told me a story about how a girl remained vegetarian in Panama, and after she left, the community talked about how weird she was for not eating meat. With those stories ingrained in our minds, and knowing that Namibia was a very meat-heavy culture, we were not sure if we would remain vegan once coming to Namibia.
However, after getting here, we just could not bring ourselves to consume animal products. After all, being vegan ties in with our moral stance on many issues, and we were not willing to break our moral code just because we were in a new country. In addition to keeping our morals, health wise, we feel great by following a vegan diet. Staying vegan just seemed like a no-brainer.
So, what is it like being vegan in a culture where an average meal consists of a large piece of meat and some pasta, aka no vegetables? Without further ado, here are my tips and tricks for a successful vegan trip to Namibia.
1. Namibians are kind and generous and will work to accommodate you at all costs
Although meat is a large part of Namibian culture, so is acceptance and generosity. Namibians are some of the most welcoming people and want everyone to feel at home in their country. In my experience so far, people think that not eating meat is strange, sometimes astonishing (that I have not had meat for 7 years), but they immediately try to find something else for me to eat. It’s more about the community than the food on the plate. So don’t be afraid, vegans, Namibia can be a great travel destination for you as well!
2. Restaurants can be frustrating if you don’t know what to ask for
Restaurants in Namibia can be tricky. Traditional foods include chicken, goat, beef, fish, or sausage served with a starch like pasta, rice, or a cornmeal porridge known as pap (similar to grits from the USA). Common side dishes include potato salad (with mayonnaise), Greek salad (with feta), bread (sometimes covered in butter), beet salad (sometimes with mayo), raw carrot salad (sometimes with mayo), and butternut squash or pumpkin (sweetened with sugar, ask if it was made with butter or oil).
“…eating at restaurants in Namibia is not impossible.”
With that being said, eating at restaurants in Namibia is not impossible. Some viable options include ordering a cheese-less pizza (be very clear with your server as to what you want versus what you don’t want), french fries or “chips” as they are known here, or a Greek salad without cheese. Most of these items are available at a majority of Namibian restaurants.
At the country club by my house, I can get a pizza with mushrooms, pineapple, onion, tomato, peppers, and tomato sauce. They know my order by now!
3. But don’t fret, some restaurants do offer vegan foods
At the Spur chain of restaurants, they have a soya burger on their menu as well as two vegetable side dishes each day. Last time I was at Spur, their veggie side happened to be steamed spinach (they only had one that day).
Garnish restaurant in Windhoek also has some excellent vegan Indian dishes on their menu. There are two Garnish locations. I have heard that the Klein Windhoek location is a bit better.
4. Grocery Stores will become your new best friends
“If you want to eat well…and keep costs low, your best option is to head to the grocery store.”
If you want to eat well during your stay in Namibia and keep costs low, your best option is to head to the grocery store. Grocery stores that I have personally shopped at include, Spar, Pick ‘n Pay, Shoprite, OK Grocery, and some various wholesale stores.
Produce sections in grocery stores usually contain bananas, oranges, apples, corn, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, white onions, avocados, butternut squash, gem squash, papayas, carrots, tomatoes, garlic, ginger, green peppers, and parsley. The types of produce available varies daily as well as the prices. The best deal that I have gotten so far was 6 avocados for $2.18 USD.
Outside of the produce section you can find olives, bread, granola, chips, rice cakes, cookies, and chocolate. Olives are grown here near Swakopmund so they are relatively cheap and a variety of German inspired breads are baked daily.
If you cannot find a fruit or veggie fresh, you can usually find it frozen. Fresh spinach can sometimes be hard to come by, but frozen spinach is often available. Canned goods are also widely available in standard Namibian grocery stores. Canned garbanzo beans and butter beans are always available at my local store. Canned beans in a pre-made sauce is common such as baked beans in chili sauce, tangy curry sauce, or tomato sauce. Canned coconut milk is also widely available. Also, in most stores you can get faux meat in the form of soy protein mince, chili beef, and various other flavors. I have even found vegan schnitzel in the freezer section!
5. Buy street food to help out the local economy
“…women often sell produce on the street…I like to buy from these women because that is often their sole source of income.”
In addition to grocery stores, women often sell produce on the street including potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, onions, oranges, and sometimes bananas. I like to buy from these women because that is often their sole source of income.
In addition to produce, women can be found selling fat cakes (fried dough, usually vegan but sometimes filled with meat), ice pops (popular with the kids), and a local drink called Oshikundu. Oshikundu is millet meal and sorghum mixed with water and then fermented overnight. It is usually consumed for breakfast. If you are a kombucha fan, try some Oshikundu. It has a similar tang and a liter usually costs about $0.22 USD.
6. Have fun and get creative with your recipes
I love to cook and I have found that there are plenty of ingredients in Namibian grocery stores to make delicious vegan food. Don’t be afraid to make your own tortillas or spice blends. A store might not have the exact products that you are looking for, but they probably have the ingredients to make it from scratch. Some notable meals that I have made include:
Veggie flatbreads with hummus, picked red onions, smoked cherry tomatoes, and parsley
Curried carrot ginger soup with coconut cream, smoked paprika, olive oil, and parsley
Vegetable fried rice with toasted sesame seeds
Chocolate coconut milk pudding cookie parfait
7. And don’t forget to wind down your day with a sundowner
Many Namibians like to sit and enjoy a drink while watching the beautiful sunset. On fancy occasions or nights out, I like to indulge in a bottle of South African wine. A very good bottle of wine costs about $7.30 USD. For a non-alcoholic sundowner, I have seen kombucha sold in Spar stores in Windhoek and Okahandja.
See, being vegan in Namibia is easy now that you know the tricks of the trade! Now go satisfy that inner wanderlust.