Eat & drink

Most travelers along the African Ivory Route cater for themselves in camp, though there is the option at certain camps to order meals from local caterers; we had the delicious pleasure of Suzan Mhangwana’s food and service at Mtomeni Camp. Healthy home cooking and generous helpings.

But then there are the places in-between – the roadside stalls, spaza shops, and local homes and community centres where traditional fare is on offer. As well as the local fruit markets when, in season, pyramids of colour invite. Sampling it all is part of the AIR adventure.

So here, alphabetically, are some of the tastes you may encounter along your AIR journey…

Baleni Salt – buy some of this coarse, traditionally harvested salt to take home ex-Baleni Camp, direct from the harvesters; it’s being used by top chefs around the world.

Chakalaka – this condiment, similar to mild atchar, combines onions, tomatoes, chillis and usually beans for a slightly spicy accompaniment to meat and pap. Can usually be ordered when buying chicken dust roadside.

Chicken Dust – one of my favourite Limpopo experiences – picking up a few cartons of chicken (peri-peri or lemon or…), freshly grilled on the side of the road, hence the ‘dust’! Paired with plenty of mieliepap and chakalaka, it’s a feast.

Chicken Feet – have not brought myself to try these yet, but they are popular, generally seasoned and grilled and also sold on the side of the road, as well as served at traditional gatherings. I read somewhere that ‘chicken dust’ originally referred to chicken feet, scratching in the dust. But the ‘chicken dust’ we consumed, almost daily at lunchtime while on the road sightseeing, was a half or whole chicken butterflied and braaied. Feet were generally extra!

Flying Ants (Termites) – had these once in a market in Thohoyandou, capital of the former Venda homeland. Crunchy and bitter to this palate. Called majenje in Xitsonga, madzhulu in Tshivenda, and magoro in Sepedi.

Fried Dough – called magwinya in Venda, where highly popular and available, these treats resemble giant donut holes, perfect for morning or afternoon tea. Sold outside shops, usually, and best warm of course. Also similar to vetkoek, another fried dough delectable, literally ‘fat cake’ in Afrikaans.

Fruits and Nuts – Limpopo is a Garden of Eden, and yields luscious fruits through the year, among them mangoes, bananas, avocados, paw-paws, guavas, peaches and litchis. The Tshakhuma market, 17 km west of Thohoyandou on the R524 road to Makhado/Louis Trichardt, is a great place to stock up seasonally. The area is also renowned for its macadamia nuts; visit the Royal Macadamia factory and shop near Makhado.

Leafy Greens – any one of 150 greens, such as pumpkin or wild spinach, often gathered by the side of the road; usually steamed or cooked with onions and tomatoes. Called morogo by the Pedi, and muroho by the Venda and Tsonga people.

Mahewu – is the most common name for this non-alcoholic beverage, made from fermented maize flour, sometimes with sorghum and/or wheat flour and sugar added; often served at traditional ceremonies, home-brewed, and available in cartons at most spaza shops. Called madleke in Xitsonga, mabundu in Tshivenda, and mapoto in Sepedi.

Mieliepap –  the name is Afrikaans, but this cooked ground maize – its consistency depending on whether it’s a breakfast porridge or a more substantial accompaniment later in the day – is a dietary staple for most South Africans. Pap is on the menu in Limpopo nearly 24/7. It takes a little practice to finesse pinching off a piece, molding it with your thumb so it becomes spoonlike, and scooping stew, cooked greens or chakalaka without making a complete mess. Comes in a variety of types depending on the maize.

Mopani Worms – considered a delicacy throughout Limpopo, the worms (caterpillars, actually) are harvested from mopani trees and dried, fried or stewed in sauce, usually made from tomatoes and onions. You can buy them at most outdoor markets in the province. Better than flying ants, in my humble opinion. The Tsonga people call them matomani; the Venda, mashonzha; and the Pedi, mashotsa.

Traditional Beer – called mahafhe in Tshivenda, umqombothi in Xitsonga and other languages, and bjala ba Sesotho in Sepedi, this homemade brew, made from maize or marula fruit, is potent, and usually served ‘room temperature’ at traditional ceremonies. Look out for a white flag or a yellow bucket dangling from a tall pole outside local homesteads – it means freshly brewed beer is for sale.

Xigugu – pronounced ‘she-goo-goo’ in Xitsonga, a Tsonga-Shangaan dish made from roasted and ground maize kernels and roasted and ground peanuts, mixed with salt and sugar. Like a very hefty peanut butter. Called sekoko in Sepedi and tshugume in Tshivenda.