Wilderness Safaris has introduced a revitalised menu at Vumbura Plains in Botswana’s Okavango Delta that is even more closely aligned with traditional local cuisine. This is especially appropriate at Vumbura, where Wilderness Safaris operates in partnership with residents of five nearby Okavango villages as part of the Okavango Community Trust. It’s also a development that is very much in keeping with Wilderness Safaris’ commitment to lightening its “foodprint” – that is, the ecological impact of providing excellent meals to guests.
Growing or rearing, processing, transporting and cooking food is one the most carbon-intensive human activities, so it has naturally been a focus of Wilderness Safaris’ efforts to make its operations more sustainable. At the same time, guests at Premier camps like Vumbura Plains understandably expect to enjoy exceptional cuisine as part of their overall safari experience. Recreating “western-style” cuisine in remote parts of a country like Botswana that has its own culinary heritage cannot realistically be achieved without a significant ecological impact, not least when it comes to delivering ingredients to the camps. Refreshing the Vumbura menu by bringing in local, seasonal produce has allowed Wilderness Safaris to greatly enhance the sustainability of this area of its operations.
“The redesigned menu is planned around traditional food elements from the villages closest to Vumbura Plains”, commented Freedom Nxele, Premier Camp Food Experience Manager. “By sharing this cuisine with our guests, we can add to the authenticity of their safari and deliver food experiences that are as relevant as they are delicious. A particularly great feeling is watching the chefs in the kitchen using local produce, and seeing how motivated and excited they are to showcase these menu items”, he added. Purchasing ingredients from nearby reduces the “food miles” inherent in every meal and provides neighbouring communities with an alternative revenue stream, by allowing them to monetise their traditional food-growing and processing activities. It also gives guests the opportunity to learn more about long-established Okavango lifestyles and reinforces the sense of connection to Nature through a focus on seasonally available crops.
Each meal thus becomes a landmark on a journey into the culture and traditions of the people of northern Botswana, while in-camp interaction with chefs and service staff brings the stories and proverbs associated with each dish to life. Preparing and sharing food are universal human experiences, and Vumbura’s new menu draws out both the differences and similarities between local and international cuisine.
Freedom has recently returned from a fact-finding and engagement visit to several of the villages that make up the Okavango Community Trust, and other Delta communities. He met with local producers to arrange the purchase and supply of key home-grown ingredients. This included liaising with fishermen in the Panhandle village of Shakawe regarding the supply of bream (a type of freshwater fish considered a delicacy). Close to the large village of Seronga lies the settlement of Dungu, where senior ladies have historically gathered twsii (water lilies). These iconic Okavango plants have multiple nutritional and medicinal uses that justify the arduous process of diving for them and then processing the different parts of the plant. Its many uses include steeping the stems in boiling water to make a stock that can counteract hypertension, and using the leaves to wrap potatoes whilst steaming them.
The Food Experience team is also looking at sourcing lebelebele (pounded millet) and kwenaa herb tea from cattle posts (traditional farmsteads) close to Beetsha village. “We are excited to share Botswana’s rich kitchen heritage with our guests in ways that will empower local people and help reduce our carbon emissions and foodprint”, concluded Freedom. “While some of the ingredients may be unfamiliar to our guests, I can assure them from personal experience that they will make a delicious addition to the Vumbura Plains menu, and to their safari experience in the Okavango Delta”, he noted.