Africa: A traditional Ovambo meal


One of the best experiences of our trip was in Swakopmund, Namibia. Swakop is a small city in northwestern Namibia and is located on the Atlantic coast. It has a population of approximately 29,000. The city’s German origins are very evident, with the city centre filled with many examples of German colonial architecture. Being on the cooler coast, it’s a very popular holiday resort, particularly during the summer months, and hosts many adventure activities, such as quad biking, sky diving, or sand boarding.

When you reach a place like Swakop, it’s easy to get immersed in the adrenaline activities or backpacker culture and not do anything “real”. We were fortunate though. Our guide Heini was from Swakop and he took us on a township tour through the suburb of Mondesa. We went to some shops that had been set up in shipping containers, the food market, a local bar, and were even welcomed into someone’s home. After the township, we went to his mum’s house for dinner, where we were met by a group of girls singing and dancing. We were led into the backyard where a long table had been set up. Peering over the fences on either side of their property was a crowd of curious neighbour who stayed there watching the whole time.

Heini’s grandmother gave us a speech (which he translated) welcoming us to her home. She was so warm and seemed so happy to have us there. His family are Ovambo, the largest tribe in Namibia, and we got to try a traditional meal.

Fat cookies

Fat cookies

On the tables were a few snacks – bowls of chips (not traditional!) and fat cookies. Fat cookies seem to be balls of slightly sweet, fried dough. If you’ve ever eaten the sweet version of yau ja gwai (a Chinese fried dough) it’s very similar. However, I think I know why they’re called fat cookies. They were delicious but felt very unhealthy.


Oshifima – millet porridge

After we were all seated, a bowl of warm water was passed around to wash our hands, as traditionally cutlery isn’t used (or so we were told). Plates of oshifima (stiff pearl millet porridge also known as omahangu), came out. Millet is a staple of the northern Namibian diet, and not only is it used to make porridge, but a drink called oshikundu is made by fermenting it. Oshikundu is a sour-sweet drink and has quite a strong cereal taste. It’s a taste to be acquired! I didn’t take a photo of the drink, but found one on flickr.

Etiti’s – the left with pounded beans
Etiti with spinach

Etiti’s – the top with pounded beans and the bottom with spinach

We tore off pieces of oshifima and rolled it into balls. This was then dipped into the etiti’s (shallow clay pots). One etiti held a spinach mixture and the other held pounded beans.

The oshifima seemed to be an acquired taste. It was quite bland, and it took a bit of practice to dunk it into the sauce without dropping it or getting stuff all over your fingers!


Chicken in marsala sauce

There was also plates of chicken cooked in a marsala sauce. The chicken was juicy and very delicious.

Mopane worms

Mopane worms

Last were bowls of mopane worms. Mopane worms are large caterpillars that feed on the mopane tree. I’m proud to say that almost everyone in our group tried one. They were…. interesting. I eat pretty much anything (as you may have noticed) but I have a psychological aversion to eating insects. I tried one anyway, and it actually wasn’t too bad. It had a gritty texture and tasted a bit like salty tea leaves. However, one was enough for me. I can cross that off the eating list!

After dinner the kids danced for us. All the children we met along the way were affectionate and oh so gorgeous. These ones were no exception. We got hugs from them as we left – just another little thing that made the evening so special.

More game meat – kudu, zebra, croc and ostrich

Dune sunrise

Sunrise at Dune 45

We spent about 10 days in Namibia, and it was my favourite country that we visited. It’s a large but very sparsely populated country, with a population of about 2 million, which makes it the least densely populated country in the world after Mongolia.

Namibia gained independence from South Africa in 1990. Politically it’s very stable and is one of the safest countries in Africa. It’s said to be “Africa for beginners”. It’s also the only country in the world to specifically address conservation and protection of natural resources in the constitution.


The Dead Vlei

The climate is very dry, and much of the country is occupied by deserts. Desert may not sound very interesting, but oh, it’s beautiful. I was so taken with the landscape. I adored the swirling red dunes, although I didn’t like walking up them as much as I liked them aesthetically!

Our last night in Namibia was spent in the capital city, Windhoek. Most of our group went to a restaurant called Joe’s Beerhouse. I’m sure all tourists to Windhoek visit this restaurant – it’s very well known for game meat. It’s decorated with all sorts of knick knacks – most hanging from the ceiling! For example, we were seated under a bicycle, which thankfully stayed hanging.

Game meat menu

Excuse the hair – it gets everywhere!

The menu had many, many options (if you eat meat that is). As I looked through, I immediately saw what I was going to order – the Bushman’s Sosatie. This was a kebab of chicken, kudu, zebra, crocodile and ostrich.

Surprisingly, considering the fact that we were a large table of 25, our meals didn’t take too long to arrive. And unlike our other large group dinner, the food all arrived together! This gave those of us who had ordered the Bushman Sosatie an opportunity to conduct a meat tasting.

Game meat skewer

Chicken, random vegetable covered in bacon, kudu and zebra

First up was the very pedestrian chicken. It was terrible – overcooked and dry. We quickly moved on. The next item was some random vegetable, perhaps squash, covered in bacon. The fact that I didn’t recognise it probably says something about how much attention was paid to it.

Next on the skewer was kudu.

Greater Kudu

Greater Kudu

The Greater Kudu is a distinctive large antelope that is found throughout eastern and southern Africa. It has long spiral horns and is one of the tallest antelopes. The meat was tasty and very similar to beef steak. I was expecting a more gamey taste, but it wasn’t really there. I’ve read some accounts that described kudu as a strong tasting meat but I didn’t think so.


Following the kudu was zebra. Zebra, surprise surprise, was very similar to beef but slightly sweeter. The texture was different and quite distinctive. It was drier and grainier than beef.

game meat skewer with corn

Zebra, crocodile & ostrich plus 2 corn fritters

Moving along to the white meat pictured after the eggplant – crocodile. This was a firm white flakey meat – which some say tastes like chicken. I disagree. It has a very delicate flavour and I thought it tasted slightly like fish. It was very pleasant and is definitely something I would be keen to have again.

Last but not least was the ostrich, languishing at the end of the skewer. My, what a revelation this was! After the chewy ostrich steak from the other meal, this was amazing. It was cooked perfectly and was really tender and moist. This ended up being my favourite meat on the skewer, with the crocodile coming a close second.

The only negative of the night was splitting the bill. Strangely, they gave us separate bills for drinks, but all the food came on one large bill. It ended up being over $2000 Namibian dollars in total – guess who got the job of counting all the money!? Even with my superior counting skills, the waitress said we were short, even though most of us had added a tip. I still don’t know if she was cheating us or if I just can’t count. It didn’t matter. We paid extra so we could get out of there, nursing our tummies overloaded with red meat.

African game meat: Oryx and Ostrich

Oryx at waterhole

While in Africa, we had the opportunity to try some game meat at different points along the way. Me being me, I jumped at the chance.

First up was the roast oryx/gemsbok in burgundy sauce that was on the menu in a restaurant in Swakopmund, Namibia.

Oryx are large antelopes with long spear like horns and black facial markings (above on the right). The one above was at a watering hole in Etosha National Park.

When I ordered the meal, I wondered if it was okay to do so (ie were they endangered?). I’ve just read that Wikipedia says that it is considered a threatened species. o_O Anyway, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been on the menu if it wasn’t okay or from an okay source (I hope).


On to the meal – you know how people say, “it tastes like chicken”? Of course it didn’t! It tasted like beef but slightly gamier. The texture was very similar to beef.

That same evening, we went to another restaurant in Swakopmund where ostrich steak was on the menu. Ostrich is a dark red meat, and apparently is very low in fat and cholesterol.

Ostrich meat

Oh, the ostrich. Service at the restaurant was terrible, and I received my meal last – about 20 minutes after Alastair, who got his first! Admittedly, we were a large group, and as our guide Heini always said, “There’s no time in Africa!”

As you can see from the photo, the ostrich was rare – very rare. I quite like my meat bloody, but this was too rare and was very chewy (the larger piece was just seared on each side and completely raw in the middle. However, the parts that were cooked a bit more were nice and tender. Again, it tasted like beef but I thought it was slightly milder in flavour.

It wasn’t the best steak, but it satisfied my curiosity!