Angolan cuisine has many influences including Portuguese, Mozambican and Brazilian. The main staples are rice and funje, a type of polenta made from corn or manioc flour. Along the wide coastal strip, fresh fish and seafood dominate the menus. Crayfish is usually billed as lobster on menus, but is tasty nonetheless. Prawns are more expensive than ‘lobster’ because they are often imported. River fish, especially a local tilapia called cacusso, is excellent served either fresh or dried. Beef is good, as is lamb when available – if not, try goat. Pork is less common. Vegetarians will have a hard time: although imported vegetables are plentiful in the supermarkets, they are not common side dishes in restaurants where funje, rice, beans and chips are usual. Pastries and sweet puddings are usually excellent for those who are not counting the calories.
(Photo: Funje, an Angolan staple © Mike Stead)
The ‘in’ place to eat and drink in Luanda is the Ilha, where there are many good restaurants and bars/nightclubs of international standard. The Ilha also has cheaper options which are popular with Angolans and could appeal to travellers on a lower budget. There are a small number of surprisingly good restaurants spread across Luanda, as well as lots of cheap anonymous local cafés ideal for snacks and a beer or a light meal. In the provinces, eating and drinking is an altogether more hit-and-miss affair. The best advice is to follow your instinct and head for places which have lots of customers and look reasonably clean and safe. If in doubt, head for the biggest hotel where food may be more recognisable but is not necessarily better cooked. Portions in restaurants tend to be large and it is perfectly acceptable to share a dish or to ask for a doggy bag (para levar) at the end of the meal, but expect a 250AOA bill for the tin foil container.
For information on tipping etiquette, see Tips on Tipping.
Sadly, the days of just having KFF (Kentucky Fried Frango) are long gone. First came South Africa’s Hungry Lion, followed by KFC and then Pizza Hut. The only fast-food heavyweight we are still missing is McDonald’s, and international coffee shops selling fancy coffees at outrageous prices are still missing from the streets. Pubs in the traditional sense do not exist but most cafés serve alcoholic drinks.
Few menus in the lower price bands have English translations and none describe what you might actually be eating. You are unlikely to go far wrong, provided you remember that catatos are caterpillars, cabidela involves blood and gafanhotos are grasshoppers. The menu guide below will ensure that you choose your meal wisely. It lists the main Angolan dishes that you are likely to encounter as you travel around the provinces. Dishes may be prepared slightly differently and have different names around the country, so do not expect to find every delicacy everywhere.
The number of beds available in Luanda and the provincial capitals is slowly increasing as the economy opens up and integrates better into the SADC. Through a US$500 million Hotel Fund for Africa, the Angolan Sovereign Wealth Fund (Fundo Soberano de Angola: FSDEA) went on a hotel-building extravaganza from 2014 onwards. There are even a couple of new hotel-booking portals which are in English and Portuguese at hoteisangola.com/en. Demand for business or tourist standard hotel rooms, especially in Luanda, still exceeds the number available. The shortage of rooms keeps prices high, so expect to pay at least US$250 per night for a reasonable business hotel in Luanda. Rooms are also often booked months in advance, so it is essential to make reservations. It’s also a good idea to reconfirm your booking a week before you arrive and you should keep a copy of the confirmation as confirmed bookings are not always honoured.
Luanda and most of the provincial capitals now have a reasonable selection of mid-range hotels, but without speaking Portuguese, booking them in advance can be difficult unless you use one of the online portals or a local travel agent. All big cities have guesthouses and it’s perfectly acceptable to ask to see the rooms before committing yourself. You may need to visit several guesthouses before you find one that suits your needs and budget.
If you arrive in Angola without a hotel reservation you are much more likely to get a room if you turn up in person at the hotel and ask at the desk, rather than telephoning. In extremis you can sometimes arrange a room at one of the better hotels after midnight, after the late-night flights have departed, but you’ll need to vacate your room by dawn before the early flights arrive. Angolan star ratings do not correspond to international ratings and you’ll find that the majority of hotels fall below international standards.
There are formal camping grounds in Namibe and Lubango. Elsewhere a blind eye is usually turned to camping, but remember you should technically report your presence to the local immigration office. Camping on the beach is usually possible anywhere away from towns and villages and military installations. When choosing a campsite, consider the presence of wild animals and keep the tent closed to keep snakes out. Remember too that dry river beds can quickly turn to raging torrents if there has been heavy rain further up the valley.
If you are adventurous, you could try to find a local host using couchsurfing.com. There are a number of people in Angola who use this site and are willing to host international travellers. Search for them by city and not by ‘Angola’, or you’ll get some very strange results. Hosts are reviewed by their visitors so you can get an idea of what they are like. As with all internet transactions, take sensible safety precautions before staying in the house of a complete stranger. Likewise, airbnb.com is growing rapidly in Angola, and offers some great-value accommodation in Luanda, especially when compared to the quality of hotel accommodation you will find in the shoestring, budget and even mid-range categories in the capital.