I wish I could give you some fascinating and delicious recipes, but the fact is, despite the excellent diversity of food in country, Malagasy cuisine is generally really boring. It follows these basic rules:
1) That is not enough rice. Here, take some more.
2) Use the whole cow (or other animal). Brains, eyeballs, skin, feet, it’s all used.
3) Seasoning? I think you mean salt. Or, even better, MSG, just dump in a handful.
4) Sure you don’t want more rice? You’re going to get weak and skinny and die, only having three plates per day like that.
Most rural Malagasies work on their family’s rice fields, which means they plant, tend, harvest, thresh, mill, sift, and cook every bit of rice they eat, and they eat A LOT. It’s impossible to overstate how much Malagasies love their rice. In comparison, most Asian countries have a passive relationship with rice. Malagasies have the highest per-capita rice consumption in the world, at (I’ve heard) ½ a kilo per person, per day. When you ask a restaurant if they have food (you have to check these things) they will say no if they don’t have rice. There’s a “pizza” place in Sambava where volunteers asked hopefully several times if there was food today, and were rebuffed several times before they figured out they had to ask specifically if there was pizza, which isn’t food. Because it isn’t rice.
Moderately well-off rural families in my area have a giant heaping plate of rice at every meal, accompanied by a comparatively tiny amount of ro, or side dish. Often the ro is just boiled leaves that the family has harvested. For nicer meals, the ro might be boiled milk, pounded cassava leaves, a scrambled egg, or a small amount of meat or fish (including oil or tadpoles) in oily tomato or yummier coconut sauce. Dried fish often make an appearance since they’re fairly cheap—I’m not a huge fan but they have lots of nutrients, so it’s a good food. There are very few vegetables in my area. In the highlands, there is a bit more money and a lot more veggies, so meals tend to be slightly more balanced; in the south (and in my area, during the driest and poorest parts of the year) people eat cassava.
I really hate cassava. The idea of it more than the actual boring cassava root (cassava leaves are quite good). See, the root is flavorless and fibrous and has almost no nutrients and—here’s the kicker—has cyanide in it, so you have to cook it well or you risk poisoning yourself. Obviously people figured out a long time ago that this was the case and cook it adequately, but every once in awhile I read a story about kids who were accidentally paralyzed or someone who committed suicide with cassava and my dislike is renewed. Incidentally, Americans do eat cassava occasionally, in the form of tapioca pudding—did you know tapioca was made of cassava? I didn’t. Presumably it’s precooked in the factory.
I’ve already mentioned ranampango, which is boiled burnt rice water (better than it sounds, it tastes a bit like tea). The cook will intentionally leave a bit of rice at the bottom of the pot, generally fairly burnt from the fire, then will dump in a bunch of water and boil it, and drink the resulting beverage as a tea. Ranampango.
Madagascar does have some good fruit and street food. Obviously you can get bananas—many types, all year round. Papayas, mangoes, litchees, oranges, jackfruit, and other fruits turn up seasonally, and Malagasies eat whatever’s in season as a dessert or snack. Street food-wise, there’s mofo gasy (‘Malagasy bread’, a little rice flour cake that’s dry like an English muffin), fried bananas, roasted bananas, bananas dipped in batter then fried, a kind of banana bread (really, lots of bananas), samosas (beef or fish filling), a type of peanut brittle or roasted peanuts, fried or baked cassava (argh), kaka pigeon (yep, that’s the name—it’s a flavorless baked mini breadstick), and godjogodjo (spelling?), which is, let’s see, rice flour with a lot of sugar, baked? I think. One of the better non-rice dishes Malagasies make is a kind of soup called Soahaba (soh-ah-bah), which is essentially some starch (banana, cassava, corn) boiled in coconut milk with a little sugar til it’s a pretty uniform texture—not pretty to look at, but pretty tasty. PCV Felicia has a more complete recipe here.
My favorite breakfast is sabeda and brochettes—sabeda is wet rice (the water isn’t all cooked off) and brochettes are like basic kebabs, tiny little beef chunks on a skewer. Usually served with either grated green mango or grated cucumber in vinegar. Salt is the primary flavoring in most Gasy dishes, but most restaurants will have sakay, which is mashed hot pepper with a little vinegar. I’m not a fan (all heat, no flavor), but sometimes the cooks make it interesting with garlic or mango chunks in the hot sauce.
I cook for myself, and although selection is pretty limited in my town (rice, beans, tomatoes, bananas, often eggs and cucumbers) I do pretty well. Banana pancakes make a frequent appearance, and I can make a good tomato sauce for pasta. I often make kusherie (basically rice and lentils with garlic tomato sauce, subbing small beans for lentils). When I go to the city (Sambava) I buy veggies and ground beef and make a stew. A store in the Sambava started stocking oatmeal and peanut butter, which has made breakfast easier (I gave up on making my own peanut butter immediately, all natural does not make up for it being a pain in the butt). Leftover rice with mashed banana, peanut butter, and honey? Delicious.