The meal you have on an African safari is quite often just as important as the journey itself. Great care is taken by tour companies in planning the menu.
On a recent visit to the Namib, doing Faces of the Namib with Live the Journey and Uri Adventures, there were just as many comments about the meals prepared by Simon Wearne and his assistant as there were about the splendour of the scenery. Unfortunately, this is not always the case on wilderness tours.
The Voetspore guys certainly enjoy a good meal. Most of us like preparing the meals as well. There is no lack of volunteers when we have to decide who will be responsible for an evening’s dinner.
I can remember that Gideon’s chicken ala king at Lake Magadi on the recent Equator trip was indeed fit for a king. Andre’s fish cakes on the Congo River would have been popular at any bistro.
One evening Francois prepared a stew on the shores of Lake Victoria that would have made any chef proud, and Norbert, the chief bread maker, developed griddle bread baking into a fine art.
These cooking skills are relatively easy to demonstrate if you have the right supplies, and in Africa there is seldom a problem these days.
In Kenya, the Nakumat supermarkets are overflowing with produce. So, too, are Whitey Basson’s Shoprite stores in Zambia, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and many other countries. In west Africa, many of the supermarkets, such as the Casino chain, have a French flair to the stocks they carry. The challenge is to prepare a decent meal when supplies are running low and you have to improvise.
When we went downstream on the Congo, we envisaged a journey of two weeks, and therefore made provision for about three weeks’ supplies. If the journey took any longer, we were confident we’d have enough food. There were more than 500 other people on the barge. Surely they would get their supplies from somewhere?
Our first stop, after three days on the river, was at Bumba. There we were anchored for 12 days. I knew we were in trouble as this meant that the first two weeks were already gone and we had not even completed 20% of the trip.
I visited the market, in search of supplies. There were onions at around R5 each. The only tomatoes were cherry tomatoes, also very expensive. Fresh meat, probably goat, was available but at this point I chose to look the other way. How fresh was the meat? Probably not fresh enough for us to stomach. I also didn’t fancy the smoked bush pig and fish.
I bought a few tins of bully beef and sardines, and some spaghetti. Fresh produce was limited to two live chickens that Norbert slaughtered for us. They were small and expensive — about R60 a chicken — and each produced enough meat for only one person. We had to make a plan.
The other people on the barge we were dining on Congolese cuisine. This is where we had a bit of a problem. They had smoked bats, dried worms, snakes, primates, crocodiles and a variety of smoked and dried fish. None of this looked very appetising. We were also aware of the theory that HIV/Aids originated in Africa, via infected bush meat, so declined these offers.
Starch on the barge was limited to cassava — an acquired taste. Apparently the nutritional value of cassava is very limited. Once more we declined. There was also locally produced rice. This was not as clean as we were used to, but it was edible.
Fortunately, while we waited for the cargo to be loaded before we could proceed downstream, we had daily supplies of fresh bread. This was really good.
Finally we departed from Bumba, facing a journey of at least another two weeks to Kisangani – two weeks during which our six guys had to be fed every day.
Clean water was no problem. We had our water purification plant on board. This was a reverse osmosis system that could clean the most polluted water.
The two chickens had to be converted into at least two proper meals for the entire team. The best plan seemed to be to prepare some kind of nasi goreng. I cooked and deboned the chicken. A huge pot of rice was prepared and then flavoured with onion, garlic, chilly and the small pieces of chicken. It turned out to be a brilliant meal. And it tasted like chicken!
The tinned meat posed another challenge. Bully beef by itself if not very tasty. It becomes boring after a while. That was Francois’s challenge.
One day he prepared bully beef burgers. The beef was mixed with Weetabix, Worcester sauce and spices, made into patties and fried in a pan. It looked brilliant and tasted just fine.
Andre borrowed an onion and two eggs from the captain’s wife and made fish cakes with the tinned sardines. These were properly seasoned and served on a bed of rice – excellent!
And so we continued improvising over the next two weeks, all the way to Kinshasa. When we arrived at the Congolese capital, we had half a cup of rice, one tin of olives and one tin of baked beans left in our pantry. If the journey had continued for another week, the Voetspore team would have had to try smoked bats, dried worms and the other weird food apparently enjoyed by the local passengers.
Note to followers of the Tim Noaks diet: From our experience, it is not what you eat but how much you eat that determines your weight. The team of six lost 35kg in a little over a month!