I must note at the start that Zimbabwean diet has probably had many influences over the centuries, so what I will refer to may well not be purely Zimbabwean…
The staple starch of Zimbabwe is maize, which is grown in great quantities, although less so now with droughts and so on. You will find people in the urban areas with maize gardens in their back yards, or in areas where there are no buildings (so that urban councils dread the start of the rains, as they have to go round chopping the plants down- it’s illegal); and rural families have fields of maize. Commercial farmers invest a great deal into maize, and grow it almost exclusively when the rains are here. Harvested maize kernels are milled into cornmeal (which we call mealie meal here), which is used to make porridge (which every Zimbabwean child eats, sometimes with milk and margarine mixed in, or with peanut butter), or a thicker “porridge” which we call sadza
Sadza is eaten on every occasion in Zimbabwe, sometimes very thick and hard, sometimes so soft it’s almost runny. It has a relatively bland flavor, when the maize is very refined, but is very tasty when less refined, although that makes it harder to cook. Zimbabweans are generally very good at providing for themselves in “natural” ways; most families will also grow muriwo (which I cannot for the life of me translate into English, but very loosely it is green leafy vegetables, with different varieties: choumolier, rape, pumpkin leaves, spinach and etc are all considered muriwo). Other things you may find in a traditional Zimbabwean garden are tomatoes, onion, cabbage, pumpkins, sugar beans, string beans, sugar cane, carrots, spinach, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peanuts (groundnuts), round nuts (and other forms of indigenous nuts and beans), in varying quantities.
Zimbabwe has also normally had a lot of beef, and most Zimbabweans have been used to a basic meal of sadza, muriwo and beef stew. Shona culture has a great fondness for peanut butter. Peanuts are grown and ground down into a paste (peanut butter) by traditional means, i.e. using a flattened rock and a small round rock- which makes delicious peanut butter, very different from the processed shop variety. Meat and muriwo (in all its different forms) are often cooked in a peanut butter sauce (similar to the Malaysian satay sauce).
Maize is also partially ground down into samp, which I believe is a South African dish. This is often served in lieu of rice at weddings and funerals, and is a Southern African favorite. This can also be cooked in peanut butter.
Milk is also a “staple”. The commonest way it is consumed, apart from the usual (in tea etc) is soured, as amasi/mukaka wakakora, something very similar to cottage cheese but a lot more sour. This is considered a delicacy; it takes some effort to make, and is perhaps not eaten as much as it once was. A more watery version is packaged and sold as a cheap alternative to meat and muriwo (i.e. eaten with sadza).
We don’t often eat fish, but what there is would probably be trout (from the Eastern Highlands- we have trout fishing there), salmon or bream. Zimbabwe is land-locked, and its diet reflects that. I must mention here that Zimbabweans also eat some pretty exotic stuff- for example, flying ants, locusts/ grasshoppers, and mopani worms, a kind of caterpillar that feeds on the leaves of the mopani tree (indigenous to southern Africa). I myself have never tasted any of these dubious delicacies, being extremely squeamish and conservative that way, but a lot of Zimbabweans enjoy them.
Having said all that, Zimbabweans have become very partial to all kinds of cuisine, and things like rice are consumed in huge quantities. Most urban Zimbabweans no longer eat Zimbabwean cuisine exclusively, and you might go for dinner at a modern Zimbabwean home, and eat an “Indian” meal. We are very laid back, on the whole, about what we eat, and have accepted a lot of foreign influences, as evidenced by the plethora of “specialty” restaurants. Fast food is hugely popular here, as elsewhere, and we probably will soon have our own health problems associated with that. The only advantage we’ve had so far is that fast food here tends to be expensive, and most Zimbabweans only eat it occasionally. The most popular fast food is probably fried chicken (with chips), with pizza coming a close second.
Image: sadza and muriwo (sorry I made it look soooo unappetizing-it really isn’t...)