Camping journal: Camping with a sense of historySeptember 3, 2012
Namibian nature notes: Osonanga lilySeptember 3, 2012
by Michaela Kanzler
‘Dinner is ready.’ With this simple announcement guests are called back to reality. Close to the camp they are enjoying a glass of wine while dreamily contemplating the vast African scenery illuminated by the flaming rays of the setting sun. Now, under the glittering dome of the night sky, a one-thousand-star restaurant offers the promise of a delicious three-course dinner. Every night of their camping tour, complete with romantic candlelight, a feast for the senses is laid on a stylish table. Only the place may change.
Haute cuisine in the deepest bush, far away from all the trimmings of civilisation? Definitely something you would not expect while on a camping safari in Africa. Many visitors arrive expecting a meager offering of food served from tins, endless meals of grilled meat, or worse, the prospect of crawling into their sleeping bags with rumbling stomachs.
Namibian tour operators prove that such gastronomic apprehensions are totally unfounded. A number of tour guides have focused their attention on enhancing a safari experience with amazing culinary treats: purest Africa with a generous dash of luxury. The team may include a chef who is exclusively in charge of the field kitchen, or, depending on the number of partcipants, the tour guide often doubles up as chef. Either way, the emphasis is on gastronomic finesse with varied and scrumptious catering.
Far away from supermarkets, vegetable gardens, deep-freezers, ovens and electric gadgets, the logistics of running field kitchens are considerable. However, experienced chefs who like to experiment find the challenges inspiring. Many bush menus call Bocuse, the master of French cuisine, to mind: for instance starters of Moroccan chickpea soup with snake bread, or fresh avocado filled with tuna from the grill; the main course is fillet of gemsbok with a red wine sauce or braised beef olives with vegetable kebab; to complete the feast there are tiny tipsy dumplings with vanilla sauce or pears in red wine with cream cheese.
“It wasn’t easy at first,” tour guide Uanee Karuuombe of Sandy Acre Safaris recalls. “But catering on tour is no problem once you have figured out how to organize the daily routine, the meals and yourself in the most efficient way.” Karuuombe explains that patience is sometimes key. Before cooking on an open fire it is important to wait for coals to reach the right temperature and this depends upon the quality of the wood. “Mopane wood is the best,” he says.
Before embarking on a safari, Karuuoombe and his assistant, Petrus Nanyeni, shop for provisions in Windhoek. On tour, when the daily portion of vacuum-packed meat is taken out to thaw, the frozen packages help chill beverages. Karuuombe has some more tricks up his sleeve: vegetables, lettuce and fruit remain crisp when wrapped in newspaper; and yellow corn bread, fruit or seed loaves can be baked in tins on the fire. “Most of our guests have travelled extensively and expect high standards as a matter of course,” Karuuombe says. In order to keep up the high standards, it is important for him to prepare food in clean surroundings, choose a beautiful spot for eating and arrange dishes in an appetising way.
Tour guides Freddy Vercuel and Sam Ngoshi of Chameleon Safaris, who also double as cooks, explain that there are no prescribed menus on their tours. They let the seasons and the supplies dictate. If possible they buy fresh provisions every two to three days, favouring traditional bush cuisine that is easy to prepare. “A chicken stew with lots of fresh vegetables cooked in a three-legged pot on the fire is simply ideal”, they maintain.
McCloud Marenga and Milner Kandjavera, two young chefs from CC Africa Bush Cuisine, aim to create the perfect ‘bush camp experience in Africa’ for their guests. Both are trained chefs and have several years of work experience. On their tours, guests always spend two nights in a tented camp, followed by a night in a lodge. This arrangement gives the chefs a day off to move the luxuriously appointed camp to the next site. Depending on the number of safari participants, they have two large trailers with deep-freezer, fridge and a well-equipped kitchen at their disposal. Guests sit down at a dining table laid with white linen, porcelain and glass. A typical menu consists of pork steak filled with fresh herbs, served with a ring of Jollof rice and a green salad. The cherry on top is an incredibly delicious dessert of caramelised fresh pineapple, prepared in a large cast-iron pan on the open fire.
While this amazing treat is melting in your mouth, you may wonder whether there isn’t just a little bit of magic involved in conjuring up haute cuisine in the deepest bush of Namibia.
This article appeared in the July/Aug ‘05 edition of Travel News Namibia.