Along the palmed beachfront away from the hub of Maputo, on Avenida de Marginal, lies the Costa do Sol restaurant. Since opening its doors in the 1930s, the art-deco establishment has become something of an institution. ‘It was the last outpost at the end of a dirt track before people went hunting,’ the manager, Paulo Babiolakis, tells me. ‘They popularised Lourenço Marques ‘LM’ prawns as a dish.’
Mozambique is famous for its prawns, which are split down the middle, smothered in garlic and piri-piri, and then slapped on a grill until the skin sears. And the Petrakakis family have been serving the queen-sized crustaceans for as long as my grandmother has been alive. Back in the early days, when Maputo was still called Lourenço Marques, and Mozambique was a Portuguese colony, the city was a playground for the beautiful of southern Africa. The Costa de Sol would have been the place to dance away the night. According to the menu it’s even ‘seen some spies come and go’, in its time.
There is certainly a party atmosphere down on the beach this afternoon. New Year’s Eve is just around the corner and people are out having a good time; cars, stereos and people all mingle in one cacophonous celebration. Sitting on the open-air balcony at Costa do Sol, the air of care-free happiness gently blowing in our direction is infectious. Despite the country’s long and bloody civil war, it feels just as Bob Dylan put it in the seventies, ‘it’s unique to be among the lovely people living free upon the beach of sunny Mozambique.’
The restaurant is almost full, mostly with local families. There is also a large table of South Africans, clearly enjoying their Laurentina beers, each other’s company and swapping tales of previous Mozambican adventures. A quick hello confirms that they are just staying over in Maputo for a night before driving further north to Tofo for some scuba diving and beach time.
There are two of us and we are tempted to order the sumptuous-looking seafood platter. Most customers seem to have ordered them. Judging by their size, and the price on the menu, they are very good value for money, depending on the Rand/Meticais exchange rate. In the end, we decide instead to opt for the grilled calamari and chips.
The calamari turns out to be quite unremarkable and I reach for the hot piri-piri sauce to remedy the flavour situation. Piri-piri is the Swahili word for the incendiary African bird’s eye chilli, also known as African red devil that grows locally, and is served wherever you go for a meal in Mozambique. It has done for Mozambican cuisine what Andy Warhol did for Campbell’s tinned tomato soup.
Since visiting Costa de Sol I’ve quizzed several people about whether the food at this landmark restaurant lives up to its longstanding reputation. Reports vary. Locals to the region invariably rate it as ‘pretty average’ and then give their ‘insiders’ tip on where to find the best seafood in Mozambique. I have, however, also stumbled across some rave reviews. A recent article on one foodie travel blog described how a trio of travellers returned to Maputo after reaching the Swaziland border (roughly a three hour trip) just to savour the seafood at Costa do Sol for a second time. You will have to be the judge. Costa do Sol is an institution that is well worth a visit and I, for one, am going to order the ‘LM’ Prawns next time I visit.
By Nicole McCreedy