I learned very quickly when I arrived in South Africa a year ago that Africans are meat lovers. A Zimbabwean friend even told me that vegetarianism and veganism are “white” or “western” concepts and we’ve had multiple debates during our late night braais on this topic with me explaining to him how vegetarianism works in Asia, for Buddhist monks and Buddhists choosing to follow that diet.
However, there is a bit of truth in what he says: I do notice that you would rarely come across a black South African not liking meat and the majority of Afrikaans even eat biltong (South Africa’s better version of beef jerky) daily as snack. Vegetarianism and veganism is a very recent concept and it’s considered something stupid hipsters would do.
Being a non-picky eater and fortunate enough to not have any allergy, I got to try all different types of meat dishes in South Africa. From mala mogodu, a South African tripe stew; to skopo, a dish made of sheep’s head meat; to bobotie and mutton bunny chows.
Although it isn’t popular in big cities, South Africans do enjoy venison meat and you would find Afrikaans men going hunting on game reserves once or twice a year as vacation. I’ve only had the chance to eat game meat once in Jozi. Near Kruger, however, I knew I would be able to find a lot more game meat so I decided to be a full carnivore during my trip to the safari. Not only did I get to enjoy plenty of meat but I also had typical South African snacks the South African way: on a safari.
My full-day drive with Elize started at 7AM. When you go to the safari, chances of seeing animals would be around sunrise and sunset. Treats for the eyes that morning was when we drove past 2 male impalas fighting.
One younger male impala challenging an older one
White backed vultures sun bathing. They are also listed in critical condition, mostly due to poachers poisoning elephants and rhinos. These vultures would then feed on poisoned meat and die. This is why their numbers have decreased enormously in a short period of time
And for the stomach, it was a hot chocolate with Amarula. Amarula is the liqueur made from the marula tree; you can find the version with cream which tastes close to Bailey’s or the version without cream which is often served as shooters. The version with cream makes the Springbok shot: half Amarula on top, half mint liqueur at the bottom; or it can be mixed with hot chocolate, coffee or vanilla ice cream to make a nice after-work or evening treat. It was a Sunday and I was on a safari so I decided to have it at 8AM.
Elize then shared with me some local-made bran rusks. Rusks are the South Africans’ version of tea biscuits, they are thick crunchy biscottis usually dipped in tea to soften for the bite. That morning, the only thing disturbing the quietness of the bush was the sound of those delicious crunchy rusks in my mouth and me slurping the sweet Amarula hot chocolate.
South African breakfast: rusks dipped in Amarula hot chocolate, on a safari
Some other treats for the eyes that morning:
Elephant breeding herd getting water
Giraffes lunching and being curious when they see humans driving by
African buffaloes and zebras also lunching on grass and mopani tree
We wanted to maximize our time driving around the bush and so we needed to hold off our hunger up until the 1PM lunch with blue wildebeest biltong and dried mango. Biltong is raw meat that has been seasoned, sun-dried or blow dried. Typically, you would find beef biltong in Jozi but I was in Limpopo, near Kruger, so I was able to find different types of biltong.
I saw what I ate: an old blue wildebeest that’s been kicked out of its herd and blue wildebeest biltong
Mopani leafs for elephants and dried mango for me
We arrived to Letaba Camp for lunch. In Kruger, there are multiple camps that look a bit more like a small town with souvenir shops, gas stations, restaurants and guesthouses for the tourists who chose to stay inside the national park.
A giant baobab tree at the entrance of the camp
The restaurant inside the camp had a very nice view of a lake and with some binoculars, you can spot some animals around the lake: hippos, crocodiles or elephants having a jol (Afrikaans for “a good time”) in the water.
Can you spot any animal in this picture?
The same crocodile sun bathing and then taking a dip
For lunch, I had a buffalo pie: just a nice buffalo stew in a pot, covered with a pie crust, served with some roasted veggies and green peas. I only learned the next day during a river safari cruise that buffaloes are the toughest animals to hunt. They can be aggressive and are more unpredictable than elephants, and with their size and strength, it makes sense why they are one of the Big Fives (elephant, lion, leopard and rhino are the other 4). Their horns are rigid enough to ricochet bullets and if the hunter misses his shot, they will retaliate and attack.
Buffalo meat is tender and lean
The Southern Ground Hornbill is considered a threatened species and I was quite lucky that day to have seen 4 of them
Spotting a nice waterbuck in the water. You can recognize waterbucks easily with the circle on their butt
Visiting the Elephant Museum and the Magnificent Seven which are 7 huge set of tusks. Elephant tusks nowadays are smaller and shorter, mostly due to change in the vegetation which has less nutrients than it used to
Elize gave me some very nice suggestions of local butchers who would have wild biltongs, mostly venison biltongs.
If you want to find wild biltongs, make sure to visit Lood’s Butchery in Phalaborwa
Another nice local biltong shop would be Gravelotte, mostly just beef biltong and dry wors but very nice local made flavour
Pork cracklings, kudu biltong, impala biltong and beef dry wors
Game meat and wild biltongs tend to be more lean than beef biltong. For those wanting a bit of fat on their biltong, beef is the right choice. However, if you want a leaner texture and dryer biltong, I would definitely recommend kudu or blue wildebeest biltongs.
A pity I did not get to do a bush walk which is a more adventurous way to experience the safari. I did manage to book the activity but because poachers have set up traps on the trail I was supposed to participate, the safari company had to cancel the trip on me to clean up the traps.
What I’ve learned from Elize on this experience in the African bush: we humans are really top of the food chain. It’s truly the circle of life to see what you eat and what you consume. However, this safari experience has made me realize how we are despicably disrupting the balance of this circle of life. Such a shame…