Roadside retail therapy in Mozambique

Some of my favourite posts on the Bagni di Lucca and Beyond blog are those featuring markets and shops in Italy (see this post). It is not that I am an enthusiastic shopper, I just enjoy seeing products and produce beautifully displayed.

In Mozambique (as in other less-developed countries), a lot of the daily business takes place along the road. With a constant stream of vehicles and pedestrians going by there are always potential customers. What I found interesting is that even with limited space, no fancy counters or containers, the people in Mozambique take care with how they display their goods.

Typical roadside scene in Mozambique. ©Theo van Zyl

Although there are stalls in a lot of places, one shopkeeper stands out. His business is along the main road north of Maputo. He has a wide variety of items available to both his local customers, and to tourists passing through. He speaks English which makes it easier for tourists to communicate with him – and he’s willing to negotiate a good price.

The Shopkeeper. A friendly and helpful man – and by all accounts a good negotiator. ©WMB/

The main interior (i.e. food) section of the shop. Not very big, but well-organized. Check out those neat shelves! There is no cool aisle but two chest freezers for frozen goods, and an upright fridge for keeping drinks and milk cool. ©WMB/

Vegetables are stored in cardboard boxes, and grains & legumes are displayed in their original sacks. ©WMB/

What every shop needs: Sweetie jars! These ones are re-cycled mayonnaise jars – but hey, it’s what inside that counts.  ©WMB/

Recycling in Africa doesn’t mean breaking down glass, plastics etc. It means re-cycling a whole container!

Outside the main food store, there is a lot more . . .

Being an ex-Portuguese colony, Mozambican cuisine still retains a lot of the Portuguese flavours and spices. A big part of that is peri peri sauces and chillies.

A whole rack of Peri-Peri sauce and bottled chillies. ©WMB/

African Birds Eye Chili is also called peri peri, pili pili, or piri piri. Pili pili is the Swahili word for ‘pepper pepper’. Other English language spellings may include pili pili in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or peri peri in Malawi, deriving from the various pronunciations of the word in parts of bantu language group speaking Africa. Piri piri is the spelling of the name as used in the Portuguese language, namely in the Portuguese speaking Mozambican community, to describe the African bird’s eye chili. “There’s a lot of debate about how the piri-piri pepper came to Portugal,” says Dave DeWitt, author of The Chile Pepper Encyclopedia (Morrow, 1999). “The peppers were originally brought back on Columbus’s voyage to the Americas. Most people believe that the Portuguese took the chiles to their colonies of Mozambique and Angola, where they were christened a Swahili word that means ‘pepper-pepper,’ and naturally cross-pollinated. Eventually, one of the varieties made its way to Portugal, where, for some reason, it retained its African name . . .

. . .Piri-piri sauce (used as a seasoning or marinade) is Portuguese in origin and “especially prevalent in Angola, Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa”. It is made from crushed chillies, citrus peel, onion, garlic, pepper, salt, lemon juice, bay leaves, paprika, pimiento, basil, oregano, and tarragon.

From: Wikipedia

If you look at the bottles closely (click on image to enlarge it), you can see that the Peri-peri sauce is bottled in recycled alcohol bottles, and the bottled chillies are again in old mayonnaise jars. A variety of basic labels lets you know what it is and who produced it. ©Theo van Zyl

Packets of washing powder provide a splash of colour. These are common brands in South Africa too. ©WMB/

Long bars of soap are stacked in front of the store. Again an interesting pattern is formed. ©WMB/

The small pestle and mortar mills below are probably meant as souvenirs or spice grinders, and are smaller versions of the much bigger corn mills used traditionally by African women. You can see a photograph of the real thing in this post.

©Theo van Zyl

More hand-woven baskets . . . ©WMB/

. . .  and more baskets and some strange-looking stools. ©WMB/

Any idea of what these are used for? ©WMB/

A close-up of the strange-looking stools. Still don’t know? Check below this photograph for the answer. ©WMB/

If you do not live in an area where coconuts are a main crop, you probably would not have been able to guess the answer. The sharp, jagged tool on the side of the stool is for rasping the white coconut flesh out of the hard shell.

Another ingenious low-tech solution: Holes are hammered by hand into the bottom of tin bowls to make sieves or colanders. ©WMB/

Hand-crafted clay pots. ©Theo van Zyl

In a different place women set up their fruit and vegetable “shops”.

Women sorting and arranging their produce. ©WMB/

Despite the fact that these women do not have a proper stand, they take a lot of care in arranging the fruit and vegetables they want to sell. ©WMB/

Cassava – part of the daily Mozambican diet. ©WMB/

Cassava (Manihot esculenta), also called yuca, mogo, manioc, mandioca and kamoting kahoy, a woody shrub of the Euphorbiaceae (spurge family) native to South America, is extensively cultivated as an annual crop in tropical and subtropical regions for its edible starchy, tuberous root, a major source of carbohydrates. It differs from the similarly-spelled yucca, an unrelated fruit-bearing shrub in the Asparagaceae family. Cassava, when dried to a starchy, powdery (or pearly) extract is called tapioca, while its fermented, flaky version is named garri.

Cassava is the third-largest source of food carbohydrates in the tropics. Cassava is a major staple food in the developing world, providing a basic diet for around 500 million people. Cassava is one of the most drought-tolerant crops, capable of growing on marginal soils. Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of cassava.

Cassava root is a good source of carbohydrates, but a poor source of protein. A predominantly cassava root diet can cause protein-energy malnutrition.

From Wikipedia

Elsewhere again, a stall owner has set up handmade jewellery, shells, carved items and other souvenirs for sale. Items are beautifully arranged on reed mats on the ground.


A hand-carved traditional African musical instrument. ©WMB/

The instrument above looks like a small Balafon.

In a fixed-key balafon, the keys are suspended by leather straps just above a wooden frame, under which are hung graduated-size calabash gourd resonators. A small hole in each gourd is covered with a membrane traditionally of thin spider’s-egg sac filaments (nowadays more usually of cigarette paper or thin plastic film) to produce the characteristic nasal-buzz timbre of the instrument, which is usually played with two gum-rubber-wound mallets while seated on a low stool (or while standing using a shoulder or waist sling hooked to its frame).

From Wikipedia

Fish and sea-related themes in these painted wooden bowls. ©WMB/


Carved wood and bead bracelets. ©WMB/

So there is something for everyone!

Thank you to Willie and Theo van Zyl for allowing me to use their photographs for this post.


Tags: , , , , , , ,

Categories: Lifestyle/Travel, Random


I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at and (my photoblog)


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32 Comments on “Roadside retail therapy in Mozambique”

  1. June 6, 2012 at 9:43 am #

    Thank you for the reference to my market post. I love food markets everywhere. I think they are a great reflection of the whole community. People are so resourceful and seem able in most cases to make the very best of what they have. I love the photo of the women with their produce.
    I really do have to revisit Africa.

    • June 7, 2012 at 7:05 am #

      Hi Debra, Your market post is what gave me the idea to do this post! Now you know why I was searching your blog for it the other day. I felt the same way when I saw these photographs as you do about food markets. The ordinary people in Mozambique have so little, but they are still trying to make their products/produce look as pretty as possible. The photo of the women with the fruit and vegetables is one of my favourites too.

  2. June 6, 2012 at 10:15 am #

    I have to agree, Lisa. I loved that particular post of Deb’s. And this market looks fabulous. Unfortunately, I love to shop–so this might be a dangerous place for me.

    • June 7, 2012 at 7:08 am #

      I’ve been back several times to look at Debra’s food market posts! Not only is everything beautifully arranged, she photographs food so well too. Can just imagine you leaving Mozambique with tons of luggage! 😉

  3. Gian Banchero
    June 6, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    Wherever I travel, especially in tropical countries immediately I head for the local market places. Who wants to spend hours literally doing nothing on a beach???… At the market place one meets the people sights and sounds of the original reason for traveling, and as always there is the chance to meet some very interesting people. Really great photos, wish I was there talking with the vendors and….shopping.

    • June 7, 2012 at 7:12 am #

      Hi Gian! I agree, except for going for walks on the beach or swimming, the markets are much more interesting. There’s so much to look at, and it’s a wonderful place to watch people. Unfortunately, Willie and his group weren’t able to communicate with the locals much. Few speak English – they mostly speak the local African language and Portuguese. Thanks for coming by again and leaving a comment! 🙂

      • Gian Banchero
        June 7, 2012 at 8:47 am #

        Oh yes, I do enjoy walks on the beach, watching the waves coming in, plus the Big Sky AND sunrises or sunsets, it’s just that I can’t see traveling to new countries to spend my rare idle hours by lying motionless on a beach, after all I’m an old (read senior) product of California and beaches I know. Again, thank you for the photo gallery of the ever-so-interesting African markets, I so wish I could have “rare idle hours” there. Thank you for bringing all of us with you.

      • June 7, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

        Although I’ve lived in Southern Africa most of my life, I’m not that fond of the sun. So I’ve never understood the attraction of baking in the sun to get a tan.

        I appreciate you reading my posts . . . I started this blog for own amusement, but it’s great to have people enjoy and relate to my posts. And I enjoy getting a glimpse into other blogger’s lives.

  4. June 6, 2012 at 11:07 am #

    What a fantastic collection of photographs! I’m glad to see that the shopkeepers keep their Omo and Sunlight away from the foodstuffs – nothing quite like soapy bread, I tell you!
    As for the strange stool, I’d have guessed it would have been used to help remove wellington boots (using the v-shaped groove), and would use the metal attachment for cleaning out the mud from inbetween the treads on the soles! I’m sure it could be put to as much use in the muddy farmlands of Europe as it is in the coconut plantations!

    • June 7, 2012 at 7:21 am #

      I gave Willie “my” (it’s his but I use it most of the time) little compact camera to take along, on the condition he took lots of interesting photos. He really did well, didn’t he?!

      You’ve had soapy bread then?! In this case it looks like the shopkeeper has a problem with space, and has thought up all sorts of interesting ways to display his goods.

      Interesting use for the coconut stool! Shows how people (well, you anyway!) apply what they see to their own experiences.

      • June 9, 2012 at 10:51 am #

        Willie took some fantastic shots 🙂
        Soapy bread is not as bad as soapy chicken – but that’s another tale…
        As for the stool – I consider myself reasonably pragmatic… I don’t believe that there is only one use for any one specific tool. Can you tell that I loved watching tv shows such as The A-Team and MacGyver as a kid!?

  5. June 6, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    Great post. I love it all.

  6. June 6, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

    This is fascinating – what wonderful images, I love seeing what they sell – what an extraordinary range of products. Particularly like the necklaces and those colourful fish-motif bowls. I’ve never seen soap in such long bars before – very unusual! And the coconut tools – such a clever design!

    • June 7, 2012 at 8:41 am #

      The range of products is quite amazing, isn’t it? What’s also interesting is that some of the stuff (like the wood carvings, woven baskets and clay pots) are more muted tones and then you get these splashes of bright colour. I am wondering why Willie couldn’t have brought back one of those fish-motif bowls for me . . . 😉

      • June 7, 2012 at 11:36 am #

        Yes, perhaps he could still do that on his next trip, now that he know what you’d like as a gift? 😉

      • June 7, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

        My birth sign is Pisces, so . . .

  7. June 6, 2012 at 8:36 pm #

    I feel like going shopping, African style! These pictures remind me of some of the markets I saw in Tanzania and Kenya. You are prodding my travel bug.

    • June 7, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

      Hopefully you can make that happen soon! 🙂

      • June 7, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

        I sure hope so! I’ve found lots of good vacation packages for SA. If all goes well, I’m taking 2 – 3 weeks off in November. Of course, this year has already thrown me a few curve balls.

  8. June 7, 2012 at 12:21 am #

    Great photo overview! I’ve spent many years in Mozambique and all those items look so familiar. For the coconut stool, I must say I’ve come very close to gashing my leg on them when walking through the market. Watch out!

    • June 7, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

      Thank you, I enjoy hearing from people who have actually been to or lived in the places I write about. You have an interesting and beautiful blog. Your kids must be getting a unique education travelling with you, and experiencing different cultures from a young age.

      Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a message! 🙂

  9. June 7, 2012 at 12:17 pm #

    In most any country it seems that the local markets are the places to go to feel the hum of daily life. I remember one market in Venice with real Venetians (not tourists). The market had been on that spot for nearly 600 years. And they’re still selling cheese! 🙂

    Thanks for such a great post. I loved seeing the goods that are sold in Mozambique and the way in which they are displayed. I wouldn’t have guessed that was soap. 🙂

    • June 7, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

      Yes, markets have always been with us, and in Europe one really gets a sense of history visiting the markets. I’ve also enjoyed some of your market posts – always spend time checking out the photos to see what people are selling. It’s like that one subway story where you write about what people carry with them. Says a lot about individual people and the community.

      Thanks for your comment and for re-tweeting the link to this post! 🙂

      PS: Your subway stories are very thought-provoking. Am going to gift the collection to some people I know who enjoy stories.

  10. June 13, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    These displays are simply beautiful. The smaller the space one has to display one’s products, the more clever one has to be. Color has such a huge influence on our buying decisions. These shopkeepers already know what works and what doesn’t. Although I’m not a shopper either, I’d have a difficult time resisting the temptation to buy at least one of those colorful bracelets and some fruit.

    • June 14, 2012 at 5:24 am #

      I agree! There is a store in our city which could really take some tips from the Mozambican traders! It has a wide selection of products, but it’s a nightmare to navigate. It’s not just enough to have a good selection of products, you have to display them well and make things easy to spot.

      Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment! 🙂

  11. July 19, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    This post is filled with amazing photographs and a wealth of information. I can’t help but wonder what the market sounds like — do the shopkeepers call out to passersby and announce what they’re selling? Or do they wait quietly for customers to approach?

    • July 19, 2012 at 5:17 pm #

      Ha, you’re the first person to notice that I don’t describe the sounds of the markets! This post was based on the photographs and stories of my “roving reporters” i.e. I wasn’t actually there, and it was something I never thought to ask about. Guess I’m more of a visual person. Anyhow, I have asked Willie and he says the following . . .

      “The Mozambican people generally have a warm relaxed approach to life and this is reflected in the shopping experience. Markets are used as a social gathering place and you seldom hear wares been advertised or shouted out. There are a couple of notable exceptions. When a passenger bus pulls into the market there is a stampede by the shop owners and vendors to sell a wide variety of items but mostly food (and now also cellphone airtime). The cashew nut sellers advertise the nuts by stringing empty plastic bags along strings and also walk into the road to make you slow down to consider buying some home roasted nuts.”

      • July 20, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

        Thank you for the follow-up, Lisa. I’m sure I’d be leaving there with bags of roasted cashews.

  12. January 13, 2013 at 4:33 am #

    I felt very emotional looking at this post Lisa. In 1972 Mr F and I spent a few months in Maputo (called Lorenzo Marques at the time) – Mr F was working for an architect who was doing on a hotel development in Madagascar.

    We both enjoyed seeing the photos. Thank your roving reporters.
    The baskets in the market haven’t changed a bit. I laughed at the peri-peri and chutney bottles. My god imagine a roadside vendor in the US selling chutney in old mayonnaise jars.
    Do they still eat prawns peri-peri? I remember how the juice from the prawns would run down our arms when we ate them.

    Almost everything one used in Mozambique was imported from Portugal or South Africa except for cashew nuts. Oh god they were deeelish!

    • January 14, 2013 at 6:17 am #

      Hi Rosie, I’m always pleased when a reader comes across a post they have a personal connection too. Especially if I get the content and tone of the story right. It must have been very interesting living there for a couple of months. Did you get the chance to visit Madagascar too?

      Yes, Mozambique is still known for it’s prawns peri-peri and wonderful cashew nuts.

  13. January 19, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

    Oh dear, now I will have to add Mozambique to my list of ‘must see’ destinations! I will need some big bags to bring home my goodies! I love those sorts of markets and what they have for sale!

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