What you can expect to eat on Safari – Not the ellie! Promise
Wondered what you can expect to eat on safari in Africa? Read on..
(Nope, not an ellie. Promise!)
It’s 5 30 am and the wake-up call is shrill, shredding the still air like nails down a chalkboard. Still groggy (and grumpy) from a long night sitting at the fire in the boma with fellow guests, drinking brandy and Coke, followed by springbokkies – a crème de menthe and Amarula liqueur shooter made popular by South Africans and reminiscent of my university days, we drag ourselves out of bed. I stand under a stream of warm water, awakening my stiff limbs. At 6 am we are clutching hot mugs of coffee and dunking rusks (dry biscuits, like large biscotti) into it before we climb onto the open 4 x 4s for the first safari of the day.
It’s been a successful morning (the afternoon drive the day before was a little disappointing) for spotting a family of elephants, giraffes in pairs, various buck, hyenas, a lone lion and clusters of zebra. We get back to the camp after three hours of bumpy dirt road driving and are more than ready for breakfast.
In the vast breakfast room overlooking the pool, the morning staff is waiting for us and, as is the case with luxury safari camps and lodges, what you get at breakfast is very similar to the spreads at 5 star hotels. The Continental buffet includes fresh juices, yoghurts, cereals, nuts, local dried fruit like figs, pineapples and prunes, milk, cheese, charcuterie and cold meat. The hot breakfast menu options change each day here – today I feel I can’t go on a moment without having the skyscraper-high stack of blueberry crumpets with syrup.
And after all this, I go back to the large bed covered in crisp white linen in our elegant tented room, already refreshed by the cleaners, for a long nap before lunch.
Apart from reading, a bit of pool time, a spa session or checking on emails at the reception area that is the only part of the lodge with WIFI, there isn’t much you can do on a safari like this. Walking around is strictly out of bounds, though guided walks do happen in some sections of certain game reserves – I once went on a lion walking expedition in Zimbabwe, for example. After all, you are within a nature reserve and wild animals are just one grim encounter away.
Depending on the type of safari you opt for, you’ll either be waited on hand and foot, or expected to prepare the meals yourself or in turns for your fellow campers.
Both types of meal experiences have their place and drawcards. Eating under the magnificent African star-strewn sky, next to a roaring fire, after a successful day of game watching or tracking is something rather special, and all who have been on an African safari will attest to it.
What you are served while on safari will depend on which part of Africa you are visiting (in Namibia for example, expect a hugely carnivorous menu), if it’s a luxury or budget experience and what your own meal restrictions and preferences are.
Vegetarians are catered for with advance notice, but on many nights the braai or barbecue buffet is composed of grilled meats, seafood, starches and a few obligatory leaves and corn on the cob. Those with specific restrictions should always inform the safari camp when you book – sometimes it takes days to get new ingredients to the more remote areas.
Here’s a list of some of the items you can expect to enjoy on safari in Africa:
Rooibos (redbush) tea – perfect for chilly mornings
Gin & tonic – quintessential bush break drink. Your ranger probably mixes a good one
Witblits – a raw spirit that makers need a permit to distil. Potent, so be warned!
Amarula – sweet, creamy liquor made from the amarula fruit that elephants adorably get drunk on. A tip, order it with a shot of whisky to reduce the sweetness and add a little warming jolt.
You usually can drink the water and enjoy ice in your drinks (made from filtered water where necessary). If this isn’t the case your camp or lodge will either tell you in advance or provide water for you to drink each day.
Starches such as fufu, ugali, pap, sadza or mealie meal – a stiff maize meal similar to thick polenta, as well as rice and breads
Vegetables: expect the local herbs similar to spinach, butternut squash or similar, and a spread of salads. Though fresh lettuce and cucumber can be rare at times. Again, it depends where you are.
A variety of game is served, usually grilled medium rare because the meat does dry out easily – for example gemsbok, springbok, impala, ostrich, kudu and warthog. The meat comes from farms, and not the reserve you are visiting, in case you feel wracked by guilt about eating Bambi.
In colder weather expect oxtail stews, lamb shanks in red wine, butter pastry meat pies, Cape Malay or Indian curries and plenty of heavy root vegetables.
Game birds such as guinea fowl and quail
Crocodile – popular around the lower Zambezi. Tastes like a cross between chicken and calamari. Can get tough quickly and benefits from fast cooking and a good sauce.
Seafood – local fish, prawns and sometimes other shellfish
Fine dining – Exclusive camps like Sabi Sabi offer exquisite menus including dishes such as “crisp bass with porcini mushrooms and oxtail crust on wilted greens with red wine mushroom sauce”. If the idea of eating warmed canned beans at a fire leaves you fearful, it’s best you consider a safari lodge option like this
The fruit served at your safari lodge, even if cut is safe to consume.
What have been your favourite meals enjoyed while on an African safari?
Do take precautions though, as eating food you aren’t accustomed to, especially while on anti-malaria tablets could cause upsets. Always get an appropriate prescription from your doctor for any potential tummy issues, before you go on safari.