Here on the Swahili Coast of Tanzania you find fruits that are more than rare or totally unknown in Europe, e.g. Jackfruit (green fruit with spikes and up to 10kg heavy), which produces a huge mess if you don’t know beforehand, that the white stuff is better than any glue you can buy.
Or the Cherimoya (or Custard Apple), which is small and green and also spiky and also easier to handle if you have time (and you do have time in Tanzania) to take out all the little black seeds and make it as a parfait or a nice ragout for desserts.
But of course there are also the fruits that are less known like Baobab seeds (you know, from these huge Baobab trees), which are great together with Vanilla in a juice.
And then there are the ingredients, from which we don’t know the names in anything besides Swahili and which even most of the locals don’t know what to do with them and are surprised to see them used in the kitchen of a lodge. Some examples here are Tonga (see picture) or Bungu (looks a bit like passion fruit, but is really sour – lemon is nothing compared to Bungu).
The worst is the Bibo, this is the fruit (not the nut) of the Cashew, which looks a bit like an apple. I tried to make it into a juice or as a cocktail, to cut it into thin slices and bake caramelized chips – the problem stays the same: it’s impossible to get rid of this floury taste that it has. The only option that I know of is to produce beer from it like the locals do – but well, come on, I am a chef, not a German beer brewer. If you know of anything that could help get rid off this floury taste or have any idea, you’re more than welcome to post them… Cheers!
Running a kitchen in Africa is really exciting, because you get really fresh and untreated products from the sea and the land; but also unknown products you will find, for which you have to first figure out what it’s good for at all. The big benefit of a family-run lodge here is, that if we have new unidentified products, we try them ourselves – until now everybody is still alive 🙂 and you get an honest feedback as the chef.
But there are also lots of difficulties that you have to face (in Germany certain things are working, but not here), like the humidity, which makes you bake some stuff just on time, but also the wildlife (little tiny ants), which force you to work extremely clean and fast.
Also good and exquisite products are possible to afford without going bankrupt, like lobster for example. On the other hand many products are not always available, so that as a chef you have to be very creative and organized with your stock – you don’t get the supplies delivered to your door (ok, besides the fish and the seafood coming right from the ocean). And you also have to be very careful with your resources like water and electricity since Tembo Kijani is a self-sufficient lodge and these are very limited resources and don’t just “come out of the tap or plug” like in Europe, but it definitely makes you appreciate them more.
All in all it’s great to cook in Africa if you know the basics in the kitchen, because you have to make everything by yourself – bread, gnocci, parfait, where in most other places you would take the shortcut and just order it, but I hope you’ll feel the difference when enjoying your next dinner at Tembo Kijani.