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Travelogue -- Zimbabwe Dec '11–Jan '12


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#1 ChrisTaylor

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Posted 28 December 2011 - 04:38 AM

I'm sitting in a tiny 'net cafe in Harare. In here, it's hotter and more humid than outdoors. I arrived midday after a lengthy journey from Melbourne--first to Abu Dhabi and then, after a 15 hour wait in the most depressing place in the world, a flight to Jo'burg and then a short jump up to Harare, Zimbabwe.

This is my first time here or, indeed, anywhere. I'm here to meet my partner's family and to see the sights. And hence: travelogue.

Abu Dhabi

With a 15 hour wait in the UAE's capital, I figured I'd head out and explore and find something to eat more appetising than the Starbucks and Burger King avaliable in the terminal. I took a cab into the city--some distance from the airport--and noticed how sterile everything was. So clean. So few cars (and it was Saturday, sure, but ~7AM) on the five line highway. Eventually we wound up out the front of one of the city's many large shopping malls. Where there? Well, when I told the guy at the taxi rank I had a day to spend in the city but no idea how to best use my time, he said that it'd be a good starting point.

Everything was closed aside from a Pancake Parlour-type place and a supermarket. The supermarket was easily 3 times the size of anything I've seen in Australia. And it seemed to be selling mostly food: when I saw the TVs and appliances out the front I figured it was maybe more of an Aldi-type place, with a lot of shelfspace dedicated to non-edible things, but no. The meat section alone was huge: a magical wonderland of chops and cutlets and liver and roasts. Every cut and many species.

What I found fascinating, mostly, was that you could buy one cut/species from many different countries and at many different price points. Lamb from the UK, Australia, New Zealand and a couple of other places. Sudanese camel shanks and Saudi camel shoulder chops. I managed to get one blurry photo before a security guard teleported right next to me and told me that photography is prohibited in the store. He pointed to an Arabic sign fixed to the high ceiling. He said I could maybe talk to the manager but ... really, I didn't feel like explaining the manager of a supermarket that feels the need to have such a policy that I wanted to take photos of shrink-wrapped steaks and frozen dover sole for people on the internet.

Zimbabwe

On my first morning I was introduced to the Hobbitesque setup of two breakfasts. First was the staple: the bowl of maize meal porridge. It's jacked with sugar and peanut butter--an addition that Zimbabweans seem to love but really, really, really doesn't do it for me (it makes the porridge a bit greasy). It was followed, a hour or so later, by toast, sausages, minestrone (a potato soup ... not, er, actual minestrone), boiled eggs, tea and a sweetened coffee/chicory blend.

Chris Taylor

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I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

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Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between


#2 tanstaafl2

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Posted 28 December 2011 - 06:59 AM

Interesting report Chris! I look forward to reading more. When I was last in Zambia several years ago I went to Livingstone and the stories of the struggles for Zimbabwe were pretty commonplace. I did not cross over into the town of Victoria Falls because it seemed a rather convoluted and expensive process. A shame as the town of Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe side was apparently once the primary side for seeing the falls.

I did have the opportunity to purchase a Zimbabwe billion dollar bill (for a US dollar or two as I recall). Only time I had seen money with an expiration date on it.

Edited by tanstaafl2, 28 December 2011 - 06:59 AM.

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man. ~Mark Twain

Some people are like a Slinky. They are not really good for anything, but you still can't help but smile when you shove them down the stairs...
~tanstaafl2

#3 ChrisTaylor

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Posted 29 December 2011 - 07:28 AM

I have lots and lots of photos to upload, with very detailed notes, but that's just not going to happen here. Yesterday, in 80 minutes, I uploaded 4 photos and a lot of notes ... and lost them all. I'll upload photos for now but when I get to Australia I'll post the photos.

Breakfast

The two breakfast setup is normal. Eggs--always hard boiled--seem to be the standard, too. Often rolled in salt by the diner.

Fruits and vegetables

There are regular bricks and mortar fruit shops, as well as supermarkets that would fit right into Melbourne, but a lot of fruits and vegetables are sold by roadside vendors--in the city, in the 'burbs, in the rural areas. The setups range from a guy sitting on a rock next to a few sacks of potatoes to multi-man efforts where people line both sides of the road with a decent selection of products. Most things are sold in bulk--you buy a sack of tomatoes or a bucket of mangoes, not a single mango or individual potato. The range is pretty much standard at these shops: potatoes, tomatoes, onions, maybe cabbages, probably mangoes (there are mango trees everywhere) and a few other local fruits. A couple of places I've seen sell melons of various kinds. There's a bit of an issue in the CBD with these guys, as they don't have to pay rent (unlike their bricks and mortar competition). It's rare to see someone selling fresh maize, as many houses--even in wealthy areas--grow their own. The prices are good (even if you're charged mrungu tax)--$3 for a large bucket of mangoes as opposed to the $3 for one you pay in Australia. The quality is also excellent. The vendors sometimes pick fruits from the bush but typically go around the rural areas and buy their wares from small farms. Few grow their own produce.

Street food

The most common street food, sold everywhere in the CBD and suburbs especially, is roasted maize. Guys will set up little piles of stones and get a small cooking fire going on top of it. They roasted corn, especially when it's just cooked as opposed to old (we made the mistake of buying some at the end of the day on Christmas day) is excellent. Salt is always offered. In fact, EVERYTHING here is salty. Zimbabweans love salt.

Braai and braising

Braai is Afrikaans for BBQ. It's a word adopted by the Shona (and, I think, most Southern Africans). It's a coal BBQ used for cooking sausages, ribs, etc. Everything here is cooked very well done and is typically salty. That being said, the pork and beef has a lot more fat than what I'm used of in Australia. This means it can withstand a lot of punishment on a braai (even 'overcooked' ribs are nice enough with a local pilsner). On the other hand, braises are often greasy--sometimes leaving you with a layer of fat in your mouth unless you brush your teeth straight away after eating. Meat (both chicken and beef--beef being the most popular meat, chicken being the most 'desirable') is typically braised in a broth based on tomatoes and onions. This standard broth is simple but very nice, reminding me of the liquid in a meat pie.

Sadza

Sadza is made from maize meal (also called mealie meal, a South Africanism) and is the country's staple (meaning you'll get it most days--the other times you'll get rice or pasta). It's really just maize meal and water. Stirring very large quantities over a fire in a hut kitchen is hard work and there's a lot of technique involved. It's not as flavoursome as, say, polenta. It tastes pretty much like nothing (which is why the looser breakfast version is sweetened heavily and jacked with peanut butter). You use it to eat braises. You eat the meat (typically on-the-bone) by picking it up in your hands and then tear small quantities of sadza, roll it into balls and then use it to mop up the braising liquid. Once you get used of it, it kind of works. At times when sadza isn't used, such as a quick lunch or at breakfast, regular sliced bread is used for the same purpose.

The goat

When we went to the rural areas, a goat was slaughtered to feed us visitors and the many locals who wandered in, hoping (really) for a free feed. Unlike the cows and chickens (road runners), the goats (well, the adults at least) don't roam freely. An old male goat was select of meat, aside from the gall bladder, was saved. The balls were skinned and split and salted and cooked on the braai. They tasted like smoky fat ... not the most pleasant thing in the world (imagine if mediocre bacon was ... just the fat and had none of the meat ... and was really soft, even after a long time on the braai). The goat ribs, being very lean, didn't stand up to overcooking as well as the pork. The ribs were BBQed and the shoulder and legs were used in a braise. I have photos of the entire process to upload later.

Prices

Some products are very cheap (fresh vegetables and fruit, pork and beef) whereas others are on par--to the cent, even--with Australian prices. Especially imported products like Cadbury chocolate. Alcohol is cheap--the other day I bought a supermarket's most expensive South African pinotage and 'port') for a total of $20USD (now the official currency, altho' people use the rand too, especially on combis). Beer tends to cost in the realm of a dollar per can or bottle, the most popular beers being South African (Castle, etc) or Zimbabwean (Golden Pilsner or Zambezi). They're ... okay, I guess. Probably on par with Carlton, etc for Australians (and, I guess, Miller, et al for Americans). Glass bottles (for soft drinks, all spoken of as 'sprites', as well as beers) are recycled. Returning a crate of empties means you pay less for a crate of new drinks.

Fast food

I haven't eaten a helluva lot of fast food, lately, as Zimbabweans seemingly cook a full meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but I've noticed a lot of South African chains: Wimpy Burger, Nando's, etc. Prices for Nando's are a bit like Australia--it's cheaper than Australia, but it's slightly more expensive than everything else in the same way Nando's Australia is slightly more expensive than KFC, McDonald's, etc. There's meant to be a few KFCs kicking around but there are no McDonald's or Burger King 'restaurants.'

Bush cooking

In the rural areas, many people don't have power (altho' this is starting to change) or gas. In huts, people light fires (the floor is stone and the fire area is bare earth). Everything is cooked over a fire in battered old cooking pots. Pots, pans, etc are typically stored outside. There is no refrigeration. Meat is dried, almost like biltong, for long-term storage. People have silos to store their maize, which they grind as needed.

Things I'll be covering in the next couple of weeks:

* Probably a trip to hunt for kudu
* A couple of nice restaurants
* Street food and local favourites
* The slaughter of a chicken and my first taste of 'road runner'
* Hopefully some game meat
* Local snacks
* A more in-depth look at some local beers and wines. Last night' port was pretty good so I'm looking to find more. The bang for buck factor with the local piss seems pretty good.

Chris Taylor

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I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between


#4 ChrisTaylor

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Posted 02 January 2012 - 04:10 AM

Poultry

In addition to the supermarket/butcher chicken, it's not too hard to get your hands on 'road runner' or free range chicken. In the rural areas I had my first taste of it--braised, of course, like damn near everything else that's not braaied--and decided then and there that when I got back to Melbourne I had to buy some chickens to populate the backyard. You can also buy ducks and geese, although these are unpopular. Earlier this morning I ducked into a 'pet shop' (as in a guy who sets up shop in someone's frontyard [in return for a cut of the profits] with a few cages of bantams, rabbits, geese, etc). He'd never heard of anyone eating geese before but was happy, for a couple of dollars, to get his friend to kill and pluck the bird. The bird will be going into a pie. I also bought some honey. His friend down the road makes it.

Restaurants

The restaurant scene seems to be as follows:

* Fast food chains such as Chicken Inn, Nando's, Wimpy Burger, etc. A mixture of local chains and Southern African chains. They serve exactly what you'd expect: chicken, burgers, fries, etc. Fries tend to be greasy and soggy. Everyone adds salt to the already salty food.

* Supermarkets tend to have little cafes, which serve much the same stuff as the fast food chains but may also sell you a meat pie or maybe even a little tub of the fried larvae (which mostly taste of palm oil and have a gritty, mealy texture--not my favourite thing in the world).

* Fairly cheap Italian/Chinese/etc restaurants you'd find anywhere else. `$7-15 a main seems to be the norm, price-wise. The menus are no different to menus anywhere, aside from the addition of a few local favourites like peri peri chicken livers.

* Hotels. A mixture of pub menus (i.e. steaks and such) and buffets. The meat on the buffet--chicken and beef--is cooked WELL past the point of well done. Everyone offers toothpicks--they're a necessity for eating here. I crave something that's not well-done beef. A steak tartare. A non-beef/chicken/pork meat.

* A few lodges and a handful--a mere handful--of places that serve traditional Shona food. Of course, lots of regular places will offer sadza as a starch.

More street food

Butchers are EVERYWHERE. In Australia, when you get out of the city you drive past a lot of 'towns' with little more to offer than a pub and a service station. Here you get a pub, a service station, three butchers and a couple of general traders. The butchers really just deal in beef. A lot of them have public braais out the front. In some larger country towns, it's common to see a guy operating the braai--you go inside and buy your (probably very dodgy-looking--the whole town is basically a truck stop, after all) piece of meat, take it outside and he'll cook it to order.

Booze

* Beers. Most of the beers are mediocre. Nothing I'd bother taking home. The most interesting was the Castle Milk Stout--everyone else just sells regular Castle, Zambezi, Golden Pilsner, Black Label, etc. Maybe if the supermarket is upmarket you'll see a couple six packs of Heineken in the fridge.

* Wine. The SA wines are cheap and range from shit to good. I'm not sold on pinotage but the merlots I've had have been good ... but again, nothing I'd bother shipping home. I can get good, reasonably priced merlot at home. The port I bought the other day was okay but had a really harsh alcohol kick I've never experienced before with port.

* Cane spirit. A favourite of the local drunks. I bought a small plastic bottle for a couple of dollars. 40% APV. Truly disgusting. Even with 300mL Coke in the cup, you can still taste a shot of that stuff. Only for drunken combi conductors (the guys who hang out of the window of a combi moving at 80kph on a bumpy road, screaming 'sisi' at women in an attempt to attract new passengers), old men in the rural areas (who consume vast quantities of bad alcohol), cleaning drains and sterilising wounds.

* SA brandy. Brandy at the same price as bargain basement SA 'dry reds'? The less said the better.

Gender and food

Men drunkenly tend to the braai and eat damn near everything before any of it is given to the women/girls. Women cook everything eelse (and do the dishes, etc). It's quite a novelty, especially in the bush, for people to see me wanting to get involved in preparing food and offering to cook meals, etc. People in the rural areas don't eat a helluva lot of meat, so for the boys the slaughter of a goat and us rocking up from the city with a bootful of beef chuck, pork chops and sausages was like Christmas morning. In the rural areas especially, there is an order to things. Men are served first. Then boys. Then women. Men and boys sit on the chair, females sit on the floor (even old ladies--and they refuse to sit on a chair even if there is space). In the city, of course, everyone just sits on the sofa/at the table but the order remains (altho' when there was a church service at the house, the men all ate at a table and the women ate later--that was uncomfortable). The daughter in law figure will go around with a bowl and jug of water washing everyone's hands--again, men first and then the women.

Food and advice

Every time someone does anything--skin a goat, stir a pot of sadza, salt a pork chop before putting it on the braai--everyone offers a lot of advice, totally unsolicited, with much finger pointing and gesturing and shouting. I'm used of the odd 'hey, need any help?' from guests but here no cook can do anything without lots of suggestions, tips and heated debate. As a mrungu I use far too little salt for everyone else's tastes.

Land reforms

Zimbabwe is famous for, among a few other things, land reforms--white farms being taken by the government/veterans and shared out among the population (or, sometimes, the cronies and relatives and friends of politicians). For some of these farms, it's business as usual--the people are still rearing cattle/growing tobacco or whatever. But it's also common to see huge plots gone to waste--a guy will come in from the bush and build a couple of huts for relatives, maybe plant enough maize to feed himself and then buy a couple of cows, turning a beautiful piece of commercial farming land into a gigantic, wasted backyard. Initially, when the land reforms took place, the government wanted to make sure people had enough money and the will to get into commercial farming (Zimbabwe was, at that time, the 'bread basket' of Africa). Enter corruption and you get a lot of wasted land. The government is now in the process of an 'audit'--they want to get rid of these guys and bring in commercial farmers again. When you drive on the highway you actually see a lot of these wasted fields.

Urban farming

To deal with poverty and starvation, the government now lets people farm maize and keep animals within the city limits. Out near the high density suburbs especially, but even in middle class areas, you can find large plots of ground dedicated to the farming of mazie.

Cheese

Supermarkets stock a variety of local cheeses--mostly cheddars--for a reasonable price. Sadly, it pretty much all tastes like Kraft Singles. Altho' you can buy biltong-flavoured cheese slices ... Biltong and dried wors, of course, are avaliable at all of the supermarkets.

Supermarkets

You can buy all manner of products, ranging from a wide variety of chilli sauces to sliced pork trotters to sour milk, but some things are just really, really, really hard to find (pegs, for instance)--frozen pastry being a big one. The frozen section offers only a limited (as in a couple of tubs) of icecream but lots and lots of frozen chickens, frozen chicken parts, a little bit of frozen fish, maybe some sausages and burger patties. Forget about finding anything else. Butter is stupidly expensive. The meat selection is limited to beef, chicken and pork, even in upmarket supermarkets. You can buy a small selection of deli products, too. You tend not to find large roasting cuts--i.e. a whole rib eye roast--but more cuts you could throw into a braise (based around tomato and onion, of course) or on the braai.

Edited by ChrisTaylor, 02 January 2012 - 04:21 AM.

Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between


#5 tanstaafl2

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Posted 12 January 2012 - 08:55 AM

So are you headed home yet? Was curious how the Kudu hunting went!
If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man. ~Mark Twain

Some people are like a Slinky. They are not really good for anything, but you still can't help but smile when you shove them down the stairs...
~tanstaafl2

#6 ChrisTaylor

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Posted 15 January 2012 - 02:20 PM

I landed in Melbourne last night.

Sadly, the weather put a stop to our plans to go kudu hunting. That said, I did get to eat kudu (at a restaurant) and fire a rifle for the first time (at the Officers Hotel shooting range in Abu Dhabi) so, hey, everything worked out okay.

And now -- photos. Apologies for the delay. I tried three or four 'net cafes around Harare and found uploading even a couple of jpgs a painfully slow process, even when I messed around with the camera's settings and decreased the image quality (i.e. the size of the files).

Abu Dhabi

Well, I figured I'd get the UAE stuff out of the way first.

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Here's the supermarket in which I got a warning from security re: photography. I really, really, really wish I could've taken more photos in here, as the place was impressive. I dug that, if I had the money, I could beef or lamb or seafood from pretty much anywhere in the world. Pork wasn't avaliable in the open, but I've been told that such shops tend to stock it--it's just that you need to be a foreigner to buy it and have to go to a special room somewhere. In place of the usual pork-based salamis, bacons, hams, etc that you see in Western supermarkets, there were beef and turkey variants thereof. Breakfast offerings in cafes (and in the hotel we stayed at on the trip back home) tended to feature beef 'bacon'.

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I had two days in Abu Dhabi--one on the way to Zimbabwe and one on the way back. The second time round, we stayed in a moderately priced hotel. Here was the 'oriental' breakfast offering--among other things you got ful medames and reasonable quality pita (commercially produced), 'white cheese' and beef 'bacon'. Everything was okay. The truly 'oriental' components of the meal were good, even, altho' the cheese was mediocre.

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At lunchtime we ducked into a Lebanese restaurant on the waterfront. The menu featured an entree of 'birds'. I suspected they were quail but never found out--the 'birds' were sold out and we ended up ordering baby chicken, lamb ribs and tabbouleh. All very nice. Reasonably priced, too.

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A pub in the airport. You can get alcohol after passport control or in hotels and some restaurants. Basically, you can get it in places largely aimed at people from the west. What caught my eye about the menu was that, possibly due to some anti-obscenity laws (porn, et al is very illegal in the UAE), the 'sex on the beach' cocktail had been given a slightly less racy name.

Chris Taylor

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I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between


#7 ChrisTaylor

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Posted 15 January 2012 - 02:37 PM

Breakfasts in Zimbabwe

The two breakfast--or breakfast and 'tea'--arrangement is something that happened every day. After day 3 or 4, I gave up on the peanut butter-laced maize porridge and just waited for 'tea'.

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The porridge. It's made from the same maize meal as sadza, the nation's favourite dinnertime starch (i.e. it's not coarser/finer, it's not a pre-sweetened, packaged product clearly distinct from the stuff you put with your stewed beef and vegetables). It's looser than the stuff you eat at dinner, tho', as the idea is to eat it with a spoon--and not to use it as the spoon.

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A 'tea' or second breakfast I had in the rural areas that was fairly representative of most of the 'teas' I had--heavy on the protein (this breakfast was an odd one, actually--we didn't get served hard-boiled eggs). It's pretty much just mince stewed in an onion and tomato-based liquid, seasoned rather generously. Common alternatives to the mince included bacon and sausages (beef or pork). Sometimes soup mix would be bulked up with fresh vegetables (maybe potatoes, maybe onions)--'minestrone'--to make for a meat-free breakfast.

Roasted maize

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A vendor just down the road from where I was selling. The 'oven' is a standard model--I saw a couple of different variations on the theme, including one with a hot plate. $1USD will buy you two cobs of maize.

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The smell of roasted maize is one of the defining smells of Harare, for me. You can smell it everywhere. And, too, everywhere you walk, you find dried up cobs. Maize is everything in Zimbabwe. It's used, dried and ground, to make sadza. It's served in this fashion, too, roasted as a street food. Pop corn is a popular snack. It's grown everywhere in the rural areas (especially by people who farm just enough to feed themselves and their family) and even in the suburbs and urban areas. Even very close to the CBD, even poking over the fences of wealthy people's homes, you'll see maize, maize, maize. You'll see people growing it by the side of major roads and on empty plots of land in the suburbs. 'Urban farming' of this nature used to be illegal--or at least frowned upon--but is now an accepted solution to the hunger of the poor.

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The finished product. Depending on how long it's been on the fire (these two were placed on the fire just as I arrived, so they were fresh), the maize is either mostly dry with just a tiny bit of juice in the middle of the kernals or pretty much like popcorn. Either way, if you like the flavour of popcorn, you'd probably enjoy this. Note simple but effective packaging (also a standard--these roasted maize businesses, and there are many of them, all run exactly the same way). The seasoning is naught by salt. When you pay for your maize, the guy will pour a little bit of salt into your palm so you can season your maize to the desired level. Most locals (and this happens in restaurants and fast food outlets too) add what could objectively described as far too much salt.

Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between


#8 ChrisTaylor

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Posted 15 January 2012 - 03:09 PM

Supermarkets and grocery stores, as well as fruit vendors

There are a few chains of supermarkets, as well as a number of independents. TM and OK are the largest chains and tend to have the largest stores, longest opening hours, etc. Spar and Bon Marche--also fairly large chains--appear to target a slightly different clientelle. That said, you usually find 2-3 supermarkets in a fairly close proxmity, so if one doesn't stock something you want or you dislike the prices, the competition is close at hand. Fruits and vegetables tend to be pre-packaged--i.e. you can buy two bunches of celery or a half kilo of carrots, but you can't buy a single bunch of celery or a single carrot. The exception being onions and maybe, sometimes, possibly even potatoes. Only a few items--bulky products like cabbage and things like ginger and garlic--are sold as individual items. This is true of many rural and roadside vendors, too, as you'll see. Most supermarkets have a cafe inside or, at the very least, offer a variety of hot, ready-to-eat products ranging from freshly cooked hamburgers ($2-2.50) to pies to doughnuts to fried chicken to foam boxes of deep-fried grubs.

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A fruit vendor in Murewa, a rural centre about 90 minutes from Harare.

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A grocery store in Murewa. There are a lot of these shops in the rural areas and, to be honest, most of them sell the same thing--the only thing that seems to set them apart is whether they sell beer or not.

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A product I found in the grocery store. It's designed to be added to soups and stews. I was told that it's a lot like biltong--both in terms of flavour and, presumably, preparation.

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The haul from one of the local supermarkets--a South African red, biltong-flavoured crisps, dry wors (air-dried boerwors--often called 'beer sticks'), biltong, koeksister (a South African doughnut with a distinctive shape), some peri peri sauce and a $2.50 bottle of cane spirit. Cane spirit is cheap and nasty stuff that tastes a lot like you'd expect nail polish remover to taste. Suitable only for cleaning drains, old men in the rural areas and, sadly, street kids ([while holding a bottle and swaying dangerously close to traffic]'Boss, boss, hey man, boss, I need some money, man, for school fees, boss, I need money for food').

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A second haul--Castle's milk stout (not very nice--but one of the very few beers you'll find in the supermarket that isn't a samey lager or pilsner), some local cheeses (all of which tasted, to varying degrees, like Kraft Singles), a bottle of pinotage and Africa's 'hottest' peri peri sauce (hot, yes, but hardly something that'll painfully remind you of a particular Johnny Cash song throughout the course of the following day).

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Another haul--a South African white wine, the 'hot' variant of the above sauce (yet to taste it--I brought it home) and some locally-made jam.

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Some beers I bought at the supermarket. Missing are Hansa, Windhoek and two of the most popular local(ish) beers--Zambezi and Castle. Most of the beers are pretty samey. Lagers and pilsners are the most common beers and they're all ... drinkable, sure, but nothing you'd bother trying to find in Australia. The beers are a mixture of Zimbabwean, South African and Namibian (Windhoek standard and draught). The same could be said for most of the wines I tried (the supermarkets stock only South African wines--and even then, they stock mostly cheaper ones--forget about the more expensive stuff until you head south). Sweet, non-descript cider is also popular--there are maybe 3-4 locally produced ciders commonly avaliable in supermarkets.

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Close to home was a 'farmer's market'--less of a true farmer's market and more of a fruit shop that also sold biltong, a few locally made odds and ends (jams, biscuits, etc) and some imported groceries (Attiki honey, expensive pasta). As with the supermarkets, most of the unusual fruits you see sometimes at roadside stalls weren't avaliable.

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The haul from the farmer's market. The biltong was better than the supermarket stuff--flavourwise and pricewise.

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Roadside vendors of fruit and vegetables are common, both in the city itself and the rural areas.

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Fruit vendors at one of the markets in a 'high density' suburb.

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Beans and dried fish (used in soup and such, but can also be crumbed and deep-fried--they taste like non-greasy anchovies) from the above market.

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Madora--grubs, basically--from the takeaway section of one of the supermarkets. These ones, a bad example, tasted like the cooking oil (blended vegetable oil) and had a gritty texture and a fair bit of chew. The 'good' ones I had at the Boma, a restaurant, had the chew with a bit of goo. Worth trying and not truly horrible, but not something you can imagine taking off in Australia any time soon (that said, Zimbabwe supposedly exports a lot of madora).

Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between


#9 ChrisTaylor

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Posted 15 January 2012 - 03:26 PM

On goats and braais

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Setting up a braai with a mixture of deadfall and commercially avaliable charcoal. 'Braai' is an Afrikaans loan word and it is ... well, you can see what it is.

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Some boys, under the supervision of my girlfriend's brother, cooking on the braai. Typical braai foods include pork ribs, pork chops, chuck steak and sausages. Everything tends to be cooked well-done (a well-marbled piece of chuck or pork stands up to this surprisingly well) and is seasoned, er, 'generously'. Cooking on the braai is very much a male thing. It's the only cooking men seem to do.

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Note the goat balls on the corner of the grill. These were very fresh and, when cooked, tasted pretty much liked smoked lumps of fat.

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Vendors on the roadside, selling braaied meat. These guys seemingly work together with the local butchers--you go in and buy your meat, take it outside and the guy will cook it for you.

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The goat, prior to losing his manliness.

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The goat is tied to a tree.

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The goat is wrestled to the ground.

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The goat's throat is cut. It dies quickly.

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And is then hung from a branch.

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The kids look on.

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With fairly blunt knives, skinning the goat is hard work. The men are careful to ensure they don't waste meat.

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The balls. These were skinned and split and placed on the braai.

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Trading in the blunt knives for brute force, the men peel away the goat's skin.

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In the words of my four year old niece, 'he left his foots!'

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The guts are removed. The gall bladder is discarded but everything else is retained.

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Another visit to the rural areas, another goat.

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Using an axe to split open the rib cage.

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Grandma steps in to show the boys how to properly butcher a goat.

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The goat is broken down into pieces suitable for braising. The covered metal bowl contains the blood. The blood is supposedly used as the braising liquid when cooking stuffed goat intestines.

Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between


#10 ChrisTaylor

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Posted 15 January 2012 - 03:43 PM

The Boma at Victoria Falls

Very touristy--you get wrapped up in 'traditional African dress' and, at varying points, get handed drums and encouraged to dance and such--but the food was, on the whole, very good. Surprisingly so. The Boma is a buffet restaurant with a focus on local specialities--meaning game. Note that butchers and the vast majority of Zimbabwean restaurants tend not to stock game.

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Appetisers--roasted maize, peanuts and roasted pumpkin.

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Chibuku, a homebrewed beer that tastes a bit like someone has stirred a bit of vodka into the yeasty water you use to make bread.

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The guy is making a 'healing' cocktail of vodka, honey, cinnamon and pieces of lemon.

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Entrees. Clockwise from the top are matemba (the dried and then deep fried fish from before), crocodile tail with a domineering passionfruit sauce (texture a lot like supermarket-grade ham, tenderness superior to that of Australian crocodile), impala terrine (a lot like venison terrine/sausage) and smoked guinea fowl breast. The flavour of guinea fowl was overshadowed by the flavours of the smoke and the peppery coating.

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Game steaks (as well as boerwors, Zimbabwean beef sirloin and peri peri chicken) are cooked to order and desired doneness.

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Clockwise from the top--warthog, impala and buffalo.

Warthog: the pick of the three, flavour akin to the dark meat of good pork, tender and sweet, slighty iron taste coming through (typical of game).
Impala: mildest of the three in terms of flavour, chewy, some sweetness, a bit of iron, so mild you can even taste the generic meaty/fatty braai grease.
Cape buffalo: stronger flavour than the buffalo I've had in Australia, nice and steaky--but you can tell it's not beef (or, at least, not a bit of rump they've purchased from the local TM). A bit of sweetness, too. None of the iron-y flavour of the other two.

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Stews--guinea fowl and kudu. The guinea fowl was superior to 'road runner', even (the free range chickens of the rural areas), with an intense and long-lasting chicken flavour. Very good. The kudu was a bit tough, even after a long stew, and was akin to oxtail or some other very strong part of an old steer.

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More warthog and some boerwors. The boerwors didn't have the strong, signature coriander note but were nice enough, all the same.

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A lamb--lamb isn't easy to find on Zimbabwean menus--was slowly cooking on the spit in the middle of the restaurant.

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The meat, however, was inferior, in my opinion, to Australian lamb, with a very strong barnyard note (hay and shit) to it.

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Crepes cooked to order, flambeed with dodgy South African 'sherry'.

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Sadly, the selection of the desserts--while everything seemed nice enough--didn't include anything truly local. Even the hotel buffet we went to in Harare at least said, 'Hey, let's throw an Amarula cheesecake into the mix.' That would've been nice. At the same time, every dessert I tasted was technically fine.

Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between


#11 tanstaafl2

tanstaafl2
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Posted 15 January 2012 - 04:55 PM

Love all the pictures! Have enjoyed your report.
If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man. ~Mark Twain

Some people are like a Slinky. They are not really good for anything, but you still can't help but smile when you shove them down the stairs...
~tanstaafl2

#12 ChrisTaylor

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Posted 15 January 2012 - 05:02 PM

The pet shop

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Across the road from the local shopping mall, there was a 'pet shop' operating out of someone's front yard. I saw that he was selling geese--one of the very few meats legally/commercially avaliable in Australia I haven't tried before (goose is expensive).

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For a couple of dollars on top of the asking price for the animal, the operator's friend disappeared for 30 minutes and came back with a plucked goose.

[img]http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v75/WormsAu/petshoppie.jpg[/[/g]
[img]http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v75/WormsAu/petshoppotatoes.jpg[/img]

The goose, along with some pork shoulder, wound up in a pie. Finding frozen puff pastry in Harare was a challenge--I visited five supermarkets before stumbling across it. The frozen sections of supermarkets are dominated by frozen chicken (both whole birds and deconstructed birds), sausages and burger patties. You'll get maybe a couple kinds of icecream. There simply aren't the wide selection of 'TV dinners' you get in the west--this is very much a home cooking culture (perhaps because so many people, middle class and above, hire maids).

Spaghetti Bolognese

[img]http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v75/WormsAu/spaghetti1.jpg[/img]

I decided to cook spaghetti bolognese for the family. The covered bowl contains the chopped vegetables--few people in Zimbabwe (unlike in Australia) have fly screens, meaning pests are a constant pain in the arse if you're preparing dinner.

[img]http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v75/WormsAu/spaghetti2.jpg[/img]

Perhaps the biggest pest is the electricity--it'll disappear for hours on end, maybe even for an entire day, every 24-48 hours. Often at really shitty times. Right when I've finished the ragu and am half way to boiling water for the pasta? You bet the power is going to die then. Luckily, there's a rickety gas stove on hand. Don't let the flash of the camera and the handheld flashlight fool you--the kitchen was very dark. In Zimbabwe, it gets very dark very quickly at about 6-6:30PM.

[img]http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v75/WormsAu/spaghetti3.jpg[/img]

The finished product.

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My niece.

Oddities -- pictures that belong nowhere in particular

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A sour milk product eaten with sadza. I'd tell you what it tastes like bu I don't really do the whole milk thing. 'Kumusha' isn't the name of the product, by the way--it's a generic name for the rural areas.

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Some decent eland biltong I purchased at Oliver Tambo airport (Jo'burg), while waiting for my flight to Abu Dhabi. And, too, one of the two cookbooks I purchased.

[img]http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v75/WormsAu/cafenushburger.jpg[/img]

A decent cheeseburger from Cafe Nush, Avondale (a middle class suburb). Cafe Nush is one of the few places I found where I was game to even try the coffee--it was pretty good.

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Two South African roses, one of which is made from pinotage grapes.

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Crocodile farm in Victoria Falls. These crocodiles are 3 years old--it's at this age that they're harvested for meat (and leather). The teeth are filed down so they can't do too much damage to each other (i.e. ruin the meat or hides).

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A warning posted inside the lodge at Victoria Falls.

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'Free range' warthogs outside the lodge.

A visit to the rural areas

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A neighbour brings over some fruit.

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Mango tree, freshly planted maize and (hidden) lots of pythons.

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A bar in the rural areas. Typically, these places serve beer, soft drink and maybe chibuku. The choice of beer is usually more limited than the supermarket: Castle, Golden Pilsner, maybe some Black Label. The fridge may or may not work. The place may or may not be a good idea to visit with your girlfriend (or with yourself, if you're female), as there's a perception that a woman going to such a place is probably a sex worker.

[img]http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v75/WormsAu/ruralkitchen1.jpg[/img]
[img]http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v75/WormsAu/ruralkitchen2.jpg[/img]

Typical kitchen in the rural areas. The camera flash hides how dark it is in there, even during the middle of the day. It's often very smoky, too. I had to keep stepping outside. Naturally, at night time, rats and other pests are a serious problem. They also like to get into the maize (which is kept in another building).

[img]http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v75/WormsAu/ruralkitchen3.jpg[/img]

Many pots and pans are washed and then stored outside.

Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between


#13 ChrisTaylor

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Posted 15 January 2012 - 05:23 PM

The Pointe

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Out of restaurants we visited, as much as I liked The Boma and Victoria 22, this was my favourite. The food, the beer and the setting were excellent. I'd happily pay double back in Melbourne for this experience.

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The security system--broken bottles glued on top of the fence in place of the more usual razor wire or electrified wires. Note the plastic bag filled with water. These were hanging from the fence all the way around the courtyard. Why? Supposedly it keeps flies away--a bit like, I guess, how I sometimes see people dump plastic bottles of water in their yards to discourage stray dogs from shitting there.

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The menu.

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Beer from Mozambique. The first decent beer I'd had since leaving Australia.

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Peri peri and garlic oils. The peri peri oil was quite hot.

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Crumbed and deep-fried mushrooms. Avoided the common pitfalls of undercooked mushrooms, greasiness and soggy crumbs. Very good.

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'The Pointe' steak, served as rare as ordered. The first piece of beef I'd had since leaving Australia that wasn't served well-done. I was happy.

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Peri peri chicken, rendered as mild as possible for my girlfriend's brother.

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Prawns imported from Mozambique. Perfect--the flesh was just cooked.

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Simple but effective: dessert of creme caramel.

Bar at Victoria Falls lodge

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The menu. The ostrich was always out of stock.

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The steak. Another decently prepared piece of Zimbabwean beef (which is actually very good, by the way, beaten only, in my experience, by costly, top quality Australian beef such as Cape Grim). The dis was a nice piece of bar food and nice enough for the price tag.

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The view from the table at the bar. What you see there is a watering hole, around which various species congregate during the day. If you were to look to your right you'd see the city of Livingstone, which is in Zambia.

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A nice piece of Zambezi bream.

Victoria Falls lodge restaurant

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View from the table--just upstairs from the afore-mentioned bar. The lack of a fly screen came with a serious disadvantage: about five minutes into the entrees the restaurant became infested with a swarm of very large moths. A few landed in my glass of merlot. Several landed on the food. We had to rush to eat the entrees (I didn't get to taste my girlfriend's order of the chicken livers w/ Bailey's) and then had our mains boxed up to take back to the lodge (i.e. they dumped the food on a sheet of al foil then rolled the foil into a ball).

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The menu.

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And wine list.

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The chicken livers. I'm told the Bailey's worked and, amazingly, didn't dominate the entire experience. I just couldn't help but shake the thought of what happens when you add even a tiny drop of Bailey's to a cocktail or dessert--it overwhelms all of the other flavours very easily. I'm surprised they didn't use Amarula instead.

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The warthog. Nice enough, I guess, but the meat was inferior to that of the Boma's warthog steaks. I suspect they took it past the perfect medium rare point the guy on the braai was working to. The sauce was a little dull.

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The impala, fresh from the al foil. Maybe it was the wait, maybe it was them rushing to get the main to us so we could go back to the room or maybe it was just overcooked, but the meat was a little tough. It was better than what we had at the Boma ... but really, unless both places had truly ballsed up the meat, impala just isn't that special.

Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between


#14 ChrisTaylor

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Posted 15 January 2012 - 05:39 PM

Sopranos

Another meal in Avondale. This one less rewarding than Cafe Nush. It looked nice from the outside but when I saw the menu--trying to please everyone with a single document--I had my doubts.

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The menu. Curiously, a shandy in Zimbabwe (and maybe this is the norm--maybe we're weird) is a blend of cordial and lemonade, as opposed to the Australian mix of beer and lemonade.

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A serviceable peri peri chicken.

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Fries that tasted like the seasoning was burnt.

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'Risotto' that looked more akin to paella or dirty rice than anything an Italian would service. It was meant to be okay, however.

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Tilapia. One of the few examples of seafood readily avaliable--frozen, of course--in supermarkets (you can also often find whole, frozen bream).

St. Elmos

Also in Avondale. An 'Italian' place that did the standards--American-Italian-style pastas of so-so quality, grilled meats of various kinds (steaks, etc), a couple of seafood dishes and a couple of local favourites (in this case, chicken livers) and one oddity--garlic snails (I enjoy garlic snails and all, but what they were doing on this menu I have no idea).

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The so-so pork chops.

Victoria 22 -- our fine dining experience

The night we went to Victoria 22, the area was in blackout. Like most businesses that rely on electricity, tho', they made do--generators and candles. The place feels a little exclusive with the guards and the gates and the diplomats and whatnot, but the prices were very reasonable by Australian standards.

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The wine list.

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The menu. Not included were a number of specials, including the blesbok (a kind of South African antelope) main.

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Starter platter--a so-so salad with apples, walnuts and feta, some nicely cooked scallops w/ garlic butter and a very generous portion of decent chicken and duck liver pate w/ bacon.

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The blesbok special. A fairly mild flavour--the chef described it as being v much like beef fillet and the comparison seemed apt. The sauce was fairly mild--a sort of tomatoey gravy. The vegetables were jacked with a little rosemary. A plain, simple dish that was well-executed. Catering to the local market, I guess, the waiter mentioned that the restaurant really recommended you eat blesbok medium rare but that they'd cremate it for you on request.

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Their own bottled water. Kind of.

Jameson Hotel

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The menu of what was, at one point, meant to be a very nice place to eat. The bar, at least, is still nice enough. Just don't order South African brandy. Ever.

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A mediocre 'chilli and rape'-stuffed chicken supreme. The flavour of dried chilli flakes was probably the killer--it just dominated everything not so much with heat but with that musty flavour.

Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between


#15 Margo

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Posted 15 January 2012 - 05:45 PM

Best travelog ever. Thanks so much!
Margo Thompson
Allentown, PA

You're my little potato, you're my little potato,
You're my little potato, they dug you up!
You come from underground!
-Malcolm Dalglish