Above: Lunch at Finch Hatons Tsavo West – the Vietnamese summer roll. Copyright Rupi Mangat
Published: The East African Nation magazine 19-25 March 2022
While African safaris are famed for their big game like lions and leopards, dining on safari is just as exciting…foods presented like work of art, desirable and delectable…even the gods melt. It astounds first-time visitors from abroad asking ‘how do they do it in the middle of nowhere?’
At the ‘nowhere’ at Finch Hattons, the uber-luxe glamp camp, the novice safari guests study the menu for the day in amazement. It’s the day for far-east Asian cuisine. On other days it’s Swahili, Indian, Mediterranean or continental with guests sent a questionnaire before they arrive – would they like vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, halal or anything that’s not on the list.
With a cool breeze wafting through the open plan dining area edged on by the lawn where resident crocodiles bask by the sign ‘do not go beyond this point’ (I wonder if they can read English), a few feet the hippo – a resident male lounges in the middle of the freshwater spring pool, the water having percolated down the porous lava hills of the nearby volcanic Chyulu range.
The courses arrive, served by elegant waiters and waitresses – just like in the days of Finch Hatton who took wealthy guests on safaris a hundred years ago with a retinue of camp cooks, porters and private valets when there were no permanent camps in the ‘middle of nowhere’.
An appetizer of cheese and potato fritter followed by fresh leek and potato soup with a hint of mint accompanied by breads baked in the morning.
“We take food very seriously,” says Doreen Kavuli, the sous-chef at Finch Hattons. I wonder how she looks so cool and fit, emerging from the kitchen. Her CV reads having worked with the best chefs in the country, like of the culinary guru and safari food TV personality Kiran Jethwa.
“Our menus are drawn from the feedback from our guests,” she continues. “Some want light, some have bigger appetites, some want eastern while others want Swahili.”
So when the Vietnamese Summer Roll is served, my eyes ogle at the colours while my nose savours the scent of herbs and spices.
“We are given the opportunity to create our own dishes like your platter,” she reveals. Every dish goes through a testing phase before it hits the menu.
My summer roll is summery. It’s finely chopped carrots, cucumber, lettuce and mango with mint and coriander sprinkled with rice vinegar simmered in water, sugar, soya sauce and a hint of red chilli, and finally rolled in rice paper placed on a tangy Thai sauce that tickles the taste buds even more.
It’s perfect for a hot summer lunch. But there’s more to follow like the dessert that compliments the snow-white cap on Kilimanjaro towering in the skyline. It’s a Pistachio Meringue Parfait topped with Belgian chocolate and blueberries. The others finish off with an assortment of Kenyan cheeses and oh – a Chocolate Finch Gelato – again ‘how do they do this in the middle of nowhere.’
The indulgence and decadent living begs for a siesta in the chandelier-lit canvas abode. And then time for the evening game-drive. And voila – after the wildlife, a marquee appears in the sun-kissed savannah grasses. It’s sun-downer time with a selection of cocktails and mojitos and bitings – a cheese platter is always welcome – toasting to Kilimanjaro as the golden sun sits momentarily on her right shoulder.
A slow drive back with eyes shining in the darkness finds us ushered in for dining under the stars on the upper deck. This time we feast on the red snapper brought in from the Swahili coast and an assortment of desserts. This time, I settle for the fresh brewed home coffee for there’s still breakfast waiting at sunrise.
So be prepared. Safari cuisine is as exciting as the wildlife – savour it. You can count the calories back home.