One of the joys of being on holiday is having the time to indulge in long, delicious multi-course meals (and one of the best parts is that they’re expertly cooked by someone else!). And, of course, one of the greatest pleasures of travelling is to delight and surprise your jaded senses with new tastes and aromas.
While the cuisine traditions of France, Italy and Japan are universally known, ‘African cuisine’ is much harder to define, simply because Africa is such a vast continent with so many cultures and external influences (the Portuguese, Dutch, French, Italians, English, Malays and Germans have all left their mark on Africa in one way or another and elements of their food traditions are present even today). In a way, believe the chefs at Singita, the looser definition of what constitutes ‘African cuisine’ means that they are free to use traditional African ingredients in a modern and contemporary menu. This means guests are not forced into a ‘foodie straightjacket’ but are treated to unique and inventive meals.
For example, they are free to use local African ingredients like samp – roughly crushed Indian corn or mielies, as they're known in South Africa – with non-traditional foods like butternut squash, parsnip puree and parmesan foam. They are also free to combine elements from different African cultures, like a Cape Malay curry and a spinach morogo (spinach cooked with peanuts) for lunch.
The executive chefs at Benguerra Island Lodge in Mozambique, agree that the relative lack of an African ‘food canon’ is actually a benefit to both the kitchen and guests.
At Benguerra Island Lodge they serve classic Mozambican food with a European twist. So, for example, one of their most complimented dishes is a Lobster Medallion Nicoise Salad that takes freshly harvested, grilled lobster and twins it with slightly tweaked versions of the classic ingredients, like crispy potato rostiinstead of boiled baby potatoes and sweetly caramelised onions. It’s the perfect combination of Moz and the Med.
If you’re not that crazy about seafood, don’t despair. Mozambique’s Portuguese elements come into their own in peri peri chicken – usually a spatchcocked fowl that been marinated in a chilli sauce and grilled whole on a log-burning barbeque – which is served with floury and freshly baked prego rolls (don’t be shy about stuffing the roll full of chicken and eating it African-style), served with a salad comprised of buttery avocado pears (known simply as ‘avos’ in Africa), possibly sprinkled with roasted cashew nuts. And beef kebabs – chunks of tender meat on skewers – make perfect snacks with sundowners.
Many chefs agree that, although they may be hundreds of kilometres from the nearest deli, they are able to ring the changes with seasonal menus and to cater to specific dietary requirements and requests, which could be anything from carb-, gluten- or lactose-free to picky kids and vegans.
The chefs at Singita deal with dietary requests every day and always receive high praise for their gluten- and dairy-fee options.
Their colleagues at Benguerra Island Lodge agree, saying that it's about using imagination and not being predictable. With sufficient notice – they are on a deserted island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, after all! – they can devise a menu to suit guests’ preferences, being very resourceful with ingredients like almond or rice milk, for example.
Singita is also able to cordon off sections of its kitchens in order to meet kosher standards (they also have kosher equipment and food), while Benguerra Lodge is able to meet halaal requirements.
For many chefs, Africa is an exciting destination to cook and eat in because they can get inspiration not only from a mezze platter of cultures, flavours and ingredients but also from nature itself. Indeed, this is the policy at Singita, where they try to get the idea of nature across in their food by representing the elements, whether by sous vide techniques to represent water to open-flame grills to evoke fire.
One of the biggest ‘food events’ at Benguerra Lodge is also inspired by nature: the Castaway Picnic is a bespoke menu that guests enjoy at North Point Beach. The idea of being ‘castaway’ on a deserted tropical island is that you would have to forage to survive. So they keep the picnic basket quite relaxed, casual and unpretentious, and stock it with fresh goodies like a colourful beetroot and pumpkin salad, Caprese salad made with plump baby tomatoes, peri peri beef kebabs and grilled seafood skewers… and we all know everything tastes even better out in nature!
If you’re adventurous enough to trek out to Africa, then you’re certainly adventurous enough to at least dip a culinary toe into sublime dishes like grilled fillet garnished with biltong crumbs, grilled wildebeest loin, sweetcorn and truffle samp, or crisp-skin cob served with rooibos-infused buckwheat. Very lekker, as we say in Africa!