Visiting Africa changes your perspective on pretty much everything. It brings your life into sharp relief, highlighting the important parts (family, friends, shared experiences, togetherness) and diminishing parts formerly considered important (happy hour, Drybar, Instagram, constant connectivity). Food and cooking remained a constant during my eye-opening travels, and brought commonality with people who live their lives so differently than I live mine. Even with next-to-nothing in common, people the world over can appreciate the rich deliciousness of a warm brownie drizzled with caramel sauce, the comfort of a big warming bowl of leek and potato soup on a cold night, and the welcoming family feel brought about by a shared meal served around the fire out of huge cast iron pots.
Two of my favorite meals in Africa and Botswana were served as big family meals. At an old WWII family friend of my grandmother’s house outside Cape Town, about ten of us sat around a big table and enjoyed Bobotie, a traditional South African dish with Cape Malay influences from the local Indian population. Made with beef or lamb, and spiced with curry, turmeric, lemon leaves, and sweet dried fruits, and served along with fragrant yellow rice, Bobotie tasted both foreign and comforting at the same time, probably comforting due to our lovely company. At our last safari wilderness camp, Chitabe, we enjoyed our final dinner in the boma, a traditional African enclosure built with massive wooden logs in a circular grouping. With a fire and hot coals in the center, the camp chefs worked their magic on a traditional feast, tending to a dozen heavy cast iron pots by the fire. I remember juicy chicken kabobs, corn on the cob, and an array of side dishes, but mostly I remember the African groundnut sauce, which I wanted to swathe over my entire plate.
A culinary account of my trip to Africa would be incomplete without note of the copious amounts of cocktails we imbibed. G&T sundowners served as a daily sunset break on our game drives, and the addictive African liquor Amarula made an appearance at most of our dinners. Think melted alcoholic vanilla ice cream – yum! The South African wine from the wineries we toured in Stellenbosch ranks second to none; the lush landscape made the visit all the more memorable.
Bobotie (Serves about 8)
- 2 large yellow onions, finely chopped
- 4 large cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon curry powder
- 1 slice day-old white or brown bread
- 1 cup of milk
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- juice and zest of one large lemon
- 3 tablespoons chopped mango chutney
- 12 blanched almonds, chopped
- 1/2 cup seedless raisins
- 3 lemon leaves (if available)
- 1 cup chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned
- 2 pounds minced lamb or beef.
- Brown the onions and garlic lightly in the oil and add the curry powder. Cook gently for about two minutes.
- Soak the bread in the milk and squeeze dry, saving the milk. In a large mixing bowl, add the onion mixture to the bread plus all the remaining ingredients except one egg. Mix well to combine.
- Pack tightly into an ovenproof flat dish that has been rubbed with butter or olive oil.
- Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.
- Beat the remaining egg with a little of the saved milk and pour over the top of the bobotie.
- Return to the oven and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the custard is set and golden brown. Serve with rice studded with raisins, and more mango chutney to top if desired.
Recipe inspired by Boschendal wineries, and Errol, the chef for our lovely lunch.
African Groundnut Sauce (Serves 8-10)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 cup white onion, chopped finely
- 1 teaspoon garlic, chopped finely
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 4 tablespoons chunky peanut butter
- 1 chicken stock bullion cube
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh green chili
- 1/2 cup toasted chopped cashews
- 1 stalk lemongrass, chopped finely
- 3 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
- 1/3 cup roughly chopped fresh coriander
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- Heat oil over medium heat. Cook the onions until soft, then add the garlic. Add the rest of the ingredients, except the ginger, cashews, coriander, and lemon juice.
- Simmer until thickened. Add the cashews, ginger, and lemon juice and cook for 5 minutes.
- When ready to serve, add the coriander and mix to combine.
When traveling, I have a habit of structuring my days around restaurants, meals, and local markets. Food clearly features at the center of my priorities, whether traveling or not. My trip to South Africa was no different, and even months and years later, the smells, tastes, and feels from all those meals shine clearly in my memory. And until I’m next able to return, I can recreate some of those memories in my own kitchen, minus the bomba bonfire and killer African sunsets.