The big Shoprite supermarket in the centre of Tana is the ideal 'one stop shop' to stock up at either before you head out on your travels, or to buy last minute comestible goodies before you fly home. It stocks a wide range of groceries, toiletries and alcohol at what seemed to us to be reasonable prices.
Shoprite is part of a South African supermarket chain, and a large proportion of the stock appears to be sourced from South Africa, supplemented by quite a lot of imported goods from France (understandable) and some rather more unexpected places (such as the Middle East). As supermarkets spread through Africa, sadly (for the traveller and the local agricultural industry) they are crowding out local produce with imported brands, and there are relatively few local products on sale. So make sure that you read labels quite carefully if you're looking to bring home something that is genuinely from Madagascar.
What to buy: The obvious things to buy to bring home with you are bottled green peppercorns and vanilla pods (if you haven't already bought these elsewhere). The locally-produced chocolate comes in quite a range of varieties and is also surprisingly good - I am no expert, but it tasted pretty nice to me, and our friends who subsequently received it as gifts wolfed it down!
The local cheese is good too: it's interesting to note that the ousted Prime Mininster Marc Ravalomanana was (and probably still is) a major player in the local dairy industry. The cheese is mainly French in style from soft cheeses (similar to Camembert) to harder cheeses and there is quite a selection of yoghurt to choose from.
If you are looking to make an impression at a dinner party or wine tasting in the future, you could also consider buying a bottle of Malagasy wine: I can't drink wine, but in this instance I am somewhat grateful as I am reliably informed that the local offerings bear more than a passing resemblance to paint stripper and are thus guaranteed to provoke conversation (if not conversion)!
The local beer, on the other hand, is utterly marvellous: our annual 'Beer of the Year' accolade for 2008 (awarded after extensive and self-sacrificing field trials) went to Three Horses Brewery (THB) lager - served icy cold, it is the match of any beer in the world! Sadly, your luggage allowance is only likely to be able to accommodate a couple of souvenir cans however much you liked it!
Wondering what to buy the kids at home, when you don't have space for a cuddly lemur in your baggage?
Look no further than the top of the steps from the Haute Ville, where there are a few men selling wooden stamps. You select from a wide range of metal patterns with whimsically Malagasy themes (geckoes, lemurs, taxi brousses passing through baobab groves ...) and they then attach them to metal handles whilst you wait. Can't remember exactly what they cost, but they were cheap, and probably only the equivalent of a couple of dollars.
Back home, all the kids need is an inkpad, and they can play post office or stamp patterns on paper to their heart's content. They all take up considerably less space than that lemur, and you don't have to do so much explaining to customs on the way back ...
Your best "comfort food" is from Madagascar ! That is if you love chocolate, of course.
Yes folks, this is the real thing!
From the website of its South-African distribution network
"... Chocolaterie Robert produces a number of NATURAL Cocoa and Chocolate products each sharing the heritage of the organically cultivated, naturally fermented, sun-dried Trinitario and Criollo cacao beans. The cacao is transformed without the use of additives or solvents. Naturally processed, additive free Robert chocolate is intended for the Chocophile or chocolate gourmet- or anyone who appreciates additive -free Natural chocolate. Robert Chocolate is intended for the adult palate..."
Chocolate from Madagascar, that is only produced by Chocolaterie Robert. Not known by the mass market ... but revered by chocolate craftsmen, patissiers and chocolate connoisseurs. Madagascar is not a quantity producer, rather a quality producer.. for a very specific reason: our cocoa beans have been for a very long time harvested in the wilds.
Hey Africa lovers! This is reported to be the rarest chocolate (if not the only) that is produced in Africa, with a recipe that is over 50-year-old, antique machinery & is a natural vintage chocolate (single source, single region).
Now, wild cocoa and plantation cocoa co-exist. Although I must admit I would not distinguish chocolate from wild cocoa from chocolate from plantation cocoa, I really appreciate chocolate here. I like it to taste chocolate and not sugar. Anyway, it is still organic, both in the growing & processing. It is a single-source chocolate, for all the cocoa "farmers" that supply Robert with cocoa being located in the same Northern region of the island.
Check the website below to know more about chocolate making and what makes Chocolat Robert a unique product.
Also there are addies of health-stores & natural food outlets, expert retailers that sell Robert chocolat in South-Africa (whenever you're in SA, a chocolate lover and want to taste this chocolate from Madagascar)
What to buy: My favourite is the plain dark 70% one: a tad bitter and strong enough in flavour to be interesting. To think, in Belgium, I rather have pralines and less chocolate. In Madagascar, you can go blindfolded with this dark one. It contains vanilla flavour (not vanilline.. come on! you're in the land of vanilla here! why would you use a ersatz if you can have the genuine essence ?). Vanilla makes it taste smoother... delicate.
Plus, sold at local pricing, it is ridiculously cheap. Madagascar is a country where natural, organic 70% chocolate slab is cheaper than any imported 5% cocoa mass item of similar format from, say, the UK. Even cheaper in Mom & pop stores, supermarkets.
Package: with Ravinala motives, Ravinala being the Traveller tree, emblema of Air Madagascar and more and more of Malagasy brands (picture 2).
Now, if you want to try what I consider "comfort food per excellence", for any Westerner, like those on picture 1, hit the Behoririka premium store or the "factory outlet" in Soanierana. My favourite is the Vato (not shown on picture, crunchy rock-shaped piece with cashew nut crunches, orange peel, coconut bits). Used to love the mint-cream filled dark chocolate piece too. And this orange cream filled chocolate candy! Buy an assortment of many variations & you'll find your fave !
Anyway, too used to commercial, heavily sweetened, chemically-treated cocoa & vanillin chocolate? It is about time to discover a better "comfort food" that is better for the brain, the mood, the waistline...etc. lol You could even bring some home for the kids to discover the real thing !
Why each time I eat Robert chocolate I want to share this experience with you is something I don't understand... Well, I guess you may know why.
What to pay: Sorry I don't remember how much I bought my box... I bought it in a supermarket anyway.
The assortment of chocolate pieces (of the pralines types) was sold at av. 25000 Ar per kilo (price as of Nov. 2006 at their La Chocolatière premium store in Behoririka, Antananarivo). I was told it was even cheaper at their "factory outlet" in Soanierana, Antananarivo.
In SA, drop a visit to the 27 Jo'burg points-of-sale, 14 Pretorian addies, 3 Western Cape..etc.. to know about the price or why not giving them a phone call ? For more addies, check the below website.
Just a short ride out from Tana by taxi or pousse-pousse, you arrive at this sprawling market. On the outskirts, they mainly sell clothing and plastic toys, etc. You have to walk to the covered portion, where the real gems are found. Beware for anyone over 5'10", you are more likely to come back with a head injury than a souvenir if you do not mind the low tin roof.
What to buy: My favorite buy was the labradorite gemstones in their wonderful blue iridescence. Don't be fooled by the sellers telling you it can only be found in Madagascar, but it is still worth a buy.
Local paintings, being sold by the artists, and the cool marble games were the highlights, though there are too many things to list that caught my eye walking around.
What to pay: Bargaining is the name of the game, but you have to remember who is rich and who is poor. Don't drive people into the ground on the price, as you can spare the extra change, they can't.
For me, this market, thankfully at the bottom of Tana's staircases, was its best. I bought nothing and it certainly does not have the cool souvenirs you will be able to buy at the other markets, but the smells and the vibrant colors far and away make up for it. It is normally packed with people and you can find vegetables, fruits, meats, nuts, etc. It requires only a few minutes to navigate, though is worth an hour stroll if you have the time.
I don't know the name of this market, but we were taken to it by our guide just before we left to fly home. It is located on the edge of the city, heading towards the airport.
All the stalls are set along a long road/spit of land, with carparking on one side and most of the stalls on the other. Even if you barely stop to look at anything, it can easily take you half an hour to walk past all the stalls! Many of them are selling identical goods, and I doubt the prices vary much,
What to buy: The standard souvenier items are:
Embrodiery - usually colourful and simplistic on white cloth.
Wood carvings - of almost everything.
Amonites and semi precious stones.
Raffia lemurs and giraffes(?!)
Model bicycles and pousse pousses made from metal cans
Paper with dried flowers in it.
Anything made from Zebu horn.
Well, I may have hidden this tip & not shared it at all. lol Not about any specific shop (I have some names in mind though).
For Madagascar sheltering those Zone Franche (Export Processing Zone) factories, international brands casualwear is to be found here. Basically, components use to be shipped to here (materials, sometimes cut parts, threads, buttons, zips...) then get assembled in the factories, then shipped back to the US, Europe, usually for export. In the scheme, some percentage of the production can though be sold on local markets, hence the possibility to find those Ralph Lauren shirts, Burberry coton gabardine pants, Zara knits, Benetton knits, Dockers khakis.
The plus: buying international quality at lower price. Haven't talked about it yet but one particular EPZ is specialized in knitwear (Zara, M&S & other more hip brands), sells its cashmere sweaters at Ar. 200 000 (less than 100 euros). Expensive for the average Malagasy but a real bargain for Westerners. Mind you, a beautiful cashmere sweater for less than 100 euros ! Willl post a picture of it.
What to buy: The minus: the risk of buying counterfeits instead of the real stuff is high. Likely to happen if you buy garnments in Tana streets (at those ephemeral stands which abund in Tana). There, one has to be aware that not every item labelled Gap is really Gap. For that reason, I skip the known brands when buying in the streets even though the item I am buying seems of good quality. I'd rather head to boutiques for Ralph Lauren, Burberry, Dockers, GAP items. See names below.
Now, twice I bought a cashmere sweater for Ar. 12000 (i.e, 5 euros) at two of those stalls. New, not second-hand. Fresh from the factory. All I had to do was replacing the buttons with others I preferred & I got my favourite cashmere sweater (well, it's 55% silk & 45% cashmere or the other way). Now, the labels read "Mendocino". Not sure about it... but who cares. The softness of cashmere without ruining myself. Now, how they got to know about Mendocino if the last hadn't sent the labels over here ? Not that it is known over here (doesn't have worldwide brand image as the likes of Gap, Levi's, Burberry, RL...). Must be a non-fake Mendocino, then.
Anyway while shopping here, one has to eschew this trap (i.e, unbeknowingly buying fake brand items). Now, once one is used to those stalls, one will know where to shop for real brand items (locally produced at EPZ factories), fake items from counterfeit workshops from Mada, China & Mauritius.
--What to buy--
I'd advise to shop in boutiques if you really look for the brand items. Personnally, I tend to shop mixed (partly street stalls, partly boutiques).
Ralph Lauren shirts & polos (@ Blumarine)
Dockers khaki's & chinos (@ Shamrock) - (last buy was about Ar. 60000, i.e USD 25 for khaki pants)
GAP casualwear, GAP kids
Burberry casualwear (@ Shamrock and/or Blumarine ???)
Cashmere (Floréal boutique)
What to pay: cashmere sweaters at less than 100 euros
From what I understood, they've been silkworm breeders, weavers for generations. I've visited other silk shops (incl. their uncle's, located not that far from theirs). There are many but this one, I really love it. I spent some time checking their offer. They display a wide array of styles, colour combinations the average traditional weaver wouldn't suggest. I guess there had been constant research for such results!
I especially like their pastel colour (several shades of blue, pink, yellow, celadon green), their bayadère style material. All fashionista should come here !! Oooh! and this carmin raw silk on a pair of sandals! Terrific! A real feast for the eyes! The sandals were on display. I asked about their price. Tita, the guy who owns the shop & welcomed us that day, then told they were commissionned works. So, how it goes... One has to choose the material (the type of silk, of course, the colour), give foot size, shoe style. Then, a meeting with the shoemaker is arranged to talk about shoe style & feasibility. Only then, the shoemaker will start the work. Will upload pictures whenever have time to do so.
Also, there is a certain honesty I appreciate in them. While checking their display, I asked for a particular kind of silk material I'd seen somewhere & didn't find there. Tita explained that this shiny material I was looking for used to be mixed silk (silk & synthetic) & that they only work with (raw) natural silk. Nice!
People show love for their art, the way they display their materials, the way they talk about silk, its history, the use of silk in ancient times...
They have style, they have knowledge !
What to buy: Traditional Malagasy funeral lamba, the so-called lambamena. I bet you won't need it, as a tourist, unless you plan to be grromed & buried Malagasy style. :-)
Large silk materials (envisioning a silk wrap in bayadère... getting excited), silk threads;
Shoes, wedding dress, ties, bow ties, prêt-à-porter clothing. Whether their prêt-à-porter would be commissionned work I doubt. Hurry up! pick up the phone, get started before hitting Madagascar as silk is not cheap !;
You could buy those shawls & scarves too... Could be sported as you do with a pashmina.
What to pay: I'll ask for the price. So far, a piece of silk was about 90 000 Ar (around USD 35). If my memory serves me well, two of them will be needed for a skirt suit (medium sized).
What to buy:
Silk cloth with Malagasy motives handpainted. As a gift from Mum back in the 90s, I don't know its price.
Mine was a commissionned work. My mother has chosen the motive (here, the Mahafaly region Aloalo, funeral ornaments found on their large tombs - see details on pic#2), the colour, the fabric. Harizo, the artist painted it &, from my understanding, had it sewn by someone else as a waistcoat.
I like it very much although still have to shrink to actually wear it. Cannot wait. I really appreciate it as a gift. Let's see: Black pants, easy! Black skirt, seldom wear skirts ! OK, I may wear one of the colours on the motives with it... Aaah! an array of possibilities! Wait & see.
Just a pity the artist who made it is now in Europe. Checking other contacts whom you'd buy such item in Tana. Then, I'll tell youabout pricing, location..etc.. the usual stuff
- LISY ART GALERIE, Rue VVS - Tana
- CENAM, Avenue Agosthino Netto 67 HA Nord - Tana
- ATELIERS DERA, Lot II B 49 Amboditsiry - Tana
- My favourite: ATELIERS JACARANDA in Anosy , 12 km from Antananarivo (Ambohimanga Rova road).
The tip is about painted silk fabrics (aquarelle, watercolour..). European silk with Malagasy motifs (colours: celadon, blue, linden, ochre...). Motifs are street scenes, landscape, moonlight bivouac, palmtrees, flowers. Also batik, home furnishing...
If you have few time, also visit CENAM (Centre d'apprentissage national des techniques artisanales) as it gathers many artists in one location. A one-stop shopping for artcraft (semi-precious gems items, fabrics, sculpting, woodcraft, home furnishing...)
What to buy: Painted silk fabrics (aquarelle, watercolour..). European silk with Malagasy motifs (colours: celadon, blue, linden, ochre...). Motifs are street scenes, landscape, moonlight bivouac, palmtrees, flowers. Use of painted silk is endless: sleeveless waistcoast, elegant cushions, lampshade, scarves...
Favourite boutique: Ateliers Jacaranda that sells its own products, especially paintings, silk paintings, batik. It is batik specialist in Madagascar. Its bivouac batik is superb.
My friend Anne brought the bivouac motive batik from her Mada trip and could make a lamp from it. What looks like plain batik application turns out to be a surrealistic and warm piece of material when "spotlighted". I was surprised by the output when she showed me the result. While shopping, I remember having advised her about possibilities with this brown-ochre-orange shaded material. Still, the result was outstandingly amazing.
I saw some lampshades with blue shades (ranged from navy blue to sky through turquoise). The result was not the same. The bivouac motive (with yellow-orange flames) is the best and the most warmth-delivering ever.
What to pay: Depends on items. I know that tourists are happy with Malagasy artcraft as they are of originality, low/average price compared to its good quality
You would see in the streets (in Antaninarenina, Analakely, Avenue de l'Independance), while parking your car, streetvendors with baskets full of fruits and carrying a pair of scales. They would insist you buying those fruits. Why not? After all, even brought-in European fruits such as apples, peaches, pears, strawberries are sweeter and more juicy there... they taste better than those you will find in European supermarkets, for instance.
When a French acquaintance of my Dad tasted the Malagasy golden apple for the first time, he couldn't recognise this common European variety since it was more yellow, sweeter here... Took him some time to recognise it.
Just pay attention to weighing & don't eat them unless you've carefully washed them.
What to buy: Any fruit you want since they taste better than those you will find in European supermarkets, for instance. Try even European fruits: apples, peaches, strawberries are sweeter and more juicy there...
In summer, don't miss mangoes (yellow, green, red peels), pineapple, litchis, papaya... pomme-cannelle (a sop fruit), sopy (another sop type).
I doubt you'll find jackfruit easily still it is a all-year-round fruit. I don't buy it since we have a jackfruit tree (or a jack ???) that provides us with the fruits in all seasons.
What to pay: Not expensive at all!! But bargaining is the rule here...
[End may 2006: just saw a report on average supermarket prices on tv: papaya (1000-1500 ariary piece), banana (500 ariary/kg - 700 ariary for pinkish banana), apple (around 2000 ariary/kg).... 1euro = 13000 ariary]. Streetvendor prices use to be lower than those.
In a block of mostly Jewelers, near the Hotel Colbert, you will come upon this place that has baby clothes in the window. Go in and upstairs they have the whole floor of tourist stuff. We went there twice and actually bought a lot of nice things there.
What to buy: Street vendors sell a wide range of local crafts, from Palisandre wood boxes and deadly toy cars made from beer cans, to handmade postcards, all kinds of goods. You may be reluctant to take out your money on the street, so you can go into a shop like Zazakely and feel safer. There are several shops like this in the area, I do not have addresses for others.
What to pay: Most items range from $3 to $15.
The Madagassy people are very clever and have many ideas, what beautiful things they can sell to tourists. This little cars are made of tin cans. You can also find bicycles and other things made of cans and wires.
It's more about specific fabrics rather than about boutiques.
Madagascar begins to be known for cotton fabrics as I can state while reading here and there, and from people talking about Madagascar. Cotton tablecloth for everyday life, bed sheets with landscape, Malagasy flower embroideries.. As for cotton fabrics, my preference goes to drawn-thread embroidery (elegant white embroidery on white cotton/ linen fabrics), especially for special events tableclothes (higher pricing).
Fabrics that is also worth buying is handwoven natural silk'. Used for bedspreads, traditional scarves clothing. Well-cut silk suits are really elegant and original. Colors range from white, crème, beige, orange, yellow to ochre, brown, black, blue. They can be plain or stripped. This material is especially produced in Tana area as in the past, a noble family (and its descendants) made its specialty in silkworm breeding and natural silk weaving. At that time, the king entitled each noble big family (they were 12) a specialty to develop. A family is specialized in jewelry, another one in silk weaving...
For historical information about silk handweaving in Madagascar, see hereafter website:
Many adresses however:
- LISY ART GALERIE, Rue VVS - Tana
- CENAM, Avenue Agosthino Netto 67 HA Nord - Tana
- ATELIERS DERA, Lot II B 49 Amboditsiry - Tana
- My favourite: ATELIERS JACARANDA in Anosy , 12 km from Antananarivo (Ambohimanga Rova road) especially for batik
What to buy: * Natural silk bedspreads, traditional scarves, women clothing.
* Drawn-thread embroidered tablecloth, bedsheets, woman shirt
* Cotton tablecloth for everyday life, bed sheets with landscape, Malagasy flower embroideries
See below website
If you don't have that much time, go to CENAM (see address below) for one-stop shopping (artcraftmen association). Ambohidrabiby and Talata Volonondry communes are specialized into lamba (natural silk) handweaving.
What to pay: Depends on quality and embroidery type... and how you perform in bargaining :-)
see all Antananarivo member meetings