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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 as much on your choice of destination as on your style of travel but you can count on good, wholesome food made by skilled hands and served with warm hospitality wherever you go.

Here is a round up of our favourite places for foodies in Africa, from classic and remote lodges, to mobile safaris and desert islands, to popular city stopovers.

1. Lodges

Many travellers don’t realize until they get to Africa how vast the distances can be between a luxury safari lodge and the nearest town (or source of ingredients). Being the distance of an air charter flight from the nearest grocery store doesn't stop great safari chefs from delivering excellent meals, but our Rule of Thumb when it comes to lodge cuisine is this:

'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.

There is one important thing you can do to help ensure a happy dining experience and that is to tell your African Safari Expert about any special dietary requirements you have. Whether you are banting or a vegan, gluten-intolerant or LFHC, lodge 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 are the original, classic way of exploring Africa. You travel overland in specially designed vehicles, lead by an expert guide and supported by a convoy of staff and gear. This style of journey still remains popular today, and for very good reason. We define a mobile safari as:

'A road-based journey, where transfers between camps or lodges and locations are made by vehicle, and where the guide and vehicle remain constant throughout the safari.'

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 is between lodges, you can expect the same standard of food as from any lodge.

If your mobile safari is between temporary camps, you can expect all the essential home comforts, but remember that your cook’s portable kitchen has limited cool space and precious few appliances, which will means a set menu with fewer options. Expect your plate to be filled with classic favourites, generous portions and tasty suprises, like fresh baked bread, all cooked up 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 Authentic Botswana Mobile Experience

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 one of Africa's tropical islands? Whether you choose a sumptuous resort or an private island experience, you can expect plenty of fresh, tasty food - the buffets are often superb in the resorts while smaller, more remote islands offer simple, elegant set menus. Expect classic European dishes with an island twist served alongside abundant fresh fruit.

As always, make sure your African Safari Expert knows about any special dietary requirements you have so that your resort or island lodge is well prepared.

We recommend: without a doubt, the Decadent Kenya and Seychelles Delight offers a tasty combination of safari and island adventure.

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 have produced award-winning wines and influenced the Old World's 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 tourism 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, 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 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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