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Africa on a Plate: What Food to Expect on Safari

Africa is a vast destination, home to untamed wilderness, idyllic islands and modern cities. You’ll find this same rich variety in the cuisine served here. Cast an eye over our guide to the Top 10 Restaurants in Africa, and you’ll find everything from internationally awarded gourmet restaurants to aromatic fusion food inspired by Africa’s rich cultural heritage… and that’s not counting the mouthwatering local ingredients served in spectacular wilderness settings at our top lodges.

So, what can you expect on your plate when you come on safari?

Africa on a Plate - Chinzombo
At Africa's premium lodges - like Chinzombo in Zambia - the dining areas are as spectacular as the menu.

The answer depends on your choice of destination. Some destinations lend themselves to fresh ingredients from nearby farmers' markets - think hotels and gourmet restaurants in the Cape Winelands. Other settings, like the Okavango Delta, are so deep in pristine wilderness that everything on your plate is flown or trucked in on regular supply runs.

Most safari lodges are located far from suppliers, which is why it's so important to tell your Safari Expert about any dietary preferences well in advance of your arrival. I've never met a safari chef who doesn't pride himself on serving excellent food, whatever the dietary restrictions, but every dish served in a far flung location comes from a chef who had enough notice to order in the right ingredients.

Wherever you are, you can count on tasty, wholesome food made by skilled hands and served with Africa's quintessential warm hospitality. Here's a quick look at what you can expect on your plate from safari lodges to tropical islands and popular city stopovers.

1. Lodges

Many travellers don’t realize just how big Africa is - have a look at all the countries that fit into this vast continent and you have an idea how great the distance can be between a luxury safari lodge and the nearest town (or source of ingredients). Being a charter flight from the nearest grocery store doesn't stop great chefs from delivering excellent meals, but our Rule of Thumb for what you can expect on your plate is:

'The more remote the lodge: the simpler the menu, the more central the lodge: the more sophisticated the menu.'

Africa on a Plate - Chinzombo 2
Expect a simple but flavoursome menu at remote lodges like Chinzombo.

Very few lodges offer a la carte dining – you’re much more likely to encounter generous buffets, platters of delicious homemade snacks and tea-time treats, and 3-course dinners. As per the rule above, the level of sophistication - and the number of options - depends on the lodge’s distance from suppliers.

Especially in conservation areas, many lodges partner with the local community by helping them set up vegetable gardens, chicken coops and other projects to supply the lodge with its fresh, seasonal ingredients. Lodges in privately managed concessions often invest in kitchen gardens to supply their needs, something chefs cannot do in National Parks.

It's worth mentioning one more time: you can help ensure your happy dining experience by telling your Safari Expert about your dietary requirements upfront. Whether you are banting or a vegan, gluten-intolerant or LFHC, chefs will go to the ends of the earth to serve you great food, but if they receive their fresh ingredients via a weekly charter flight and don’t know about your preferences before you arrive, they simply can’t do much to thrill your palate.

We recommend: for a classic safari experience with cuisine to match the Romantic Gems of Tanzania is hard to beat but if your heart lies in the wildest wilderness, then we recommend the Classic Zambian Walking Safari.

2. Mobile Safaris

Mobile safaris have all the essential creature comforts with the added advantage of a camp that moves locations with you as you explore. These tented camps provide much more exclusivity than most lodges allow and offer the most authentic safari experience in Africa - a contemporary take on the expeditions of early explorers, complete with the romance of lantern light and waking up to a new vista every few days.

Africa on a Plate - Serengeti Under Canvas
Expect first-class fare on a luxury mobile safari stopping at camps like Serengeti Under Canvas in Tanzania.

What can you expect on your plate on a mobile safari in Africa? On the journeys we recommend, the cook will delight and surprise your tastebuds with simple, well-cooked food. If your mobile safari moves from lodge-to-lodge, expect the same high standard of cuisine as any lodge serves.

If your mobile safari is between temporary camps, expect all the essential home comforts. Your cook’s portable kitchen has precious few appliances, which means a set menu with fewer options. Expect your plate to be filled with classic favourites, generous portions and tasty surprises, like fresh baked bread, all created in an innovative bush kitchen. As with all safari cuisine, your mobile safari cook needs to know well in advance if you have any special dietary requirements.

We recommend: for East Africa, take a drive on the wild side with the Scenic Tanzania Safari; for southern Africa, you can't beat the Best Botswana Mobile Safari.

3. Island Escapes

The Indian Ocean laps at Africa's balmly eastern seaboard, which is home to gorgeous archepelagos, islands and atolls. This coastline offers sun-drenched days, star-lit seafood feasts and a choice of award-winning restaurants, desert island picnics, and utterly romantic, toes-in-the-sand dinners. With their natural abundance of seafood, you may be forgiven for thinking there won't be much variety on your plate, but the islands are famous for fusion cuisine from aromatic French-Creole, to Portuguese-inspired peri-peri chicken and delicious vegetarian curries.

Africa on a Plate - Fundu Lagoon
Bountiful platters featuring the freshest ingredients are the order of day at Fundu Lagoon in Zanzibar.

What can you expect on your plate on a tropical island escape? In the resorts, expect generous buffets with a wide range of options, while the smaller, more exclusive hotels offer elegant set menus. You can count on European dishes served with an optional island twist, plenty of fresh tropical fruit and some of the best seafood in the world. 

We recommend: without a doubt, Africa's culinary and scenic beauty combine to spectacular effect in the Mara Safari and Magical Seychelles tour. 

Africa on a Plate - Azura
Dining on a private island at Azura in Mozambique's Benguerra Archipelago features the ocean's bounty: simple but superb!

4. City Stop-overs

As Africa's undisputed gourmet capital, Cape Town is a destination all on its own. This beautiful city at the southern tip of the continent is home to restaurants repeatedly admired on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list and vineyards that influenced the Europe's top winemakers since Vin de Constance debuted in the 1700s. But what of the less well known and celebrated stop-over cities?

Africa's two main airport hubs are South Africa's Johannesburg via OR Tambo International Airport and Kenya's Nairobi via Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Most international flights enter southern or East Africa via one of these hubs, with regional airlines taking travellers onwards. Some destinations are so remote that you'll need to stop-over in a city (or bustling tourist town) - like Tanzania's Arusha, Zambia's Lusaka and Congo's Brazzaville - on your way in or out of your safari.

Africa on a Plate - Machweo
Indulge in a fusion feast at restaurants like Machweo in Arusha, a thriving town in Tanzania.

The good news is that Africa's hub cities are often great destinations in themselves offering more to do and see that you can easily squeeze into a stop-over. Even better news is that they are often home to restaurants that blend the best of their colonial cooking heritage with the tastiest local spices and ingredients - a certain feast for all the senses!

We recommend: the Top 10 Restaurants in Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands, from the Test Kitchen in Cape Town (Top 50 Restaurants in the World 2015) to Le Chateau de Bel Ombre in Mauritius, there is a superb restaurant for every palate.

Africa on a Plate - Arusha
Fine dining and some of Africa's best brew at Arusha Coffee Lodge.

The fact that Africa is not considered a foodie destination is something of a tragedy for those of us in the know. Not only is this continent home to a mouth watering culinary offering inspired by its rich cultural heritage but boasts some of the most spectacular settings on earth for you to feast on breakfast, lunch and supper.

Written by Donyale MacKrill. Connect with her on Google+

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