On Our Minds and Lips This Christmas…

| Tamlin Wightman

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There’s something so very us about Christmas time… about these end of year celebrations.

The togetherness of family and friends, young and old, the clinking glasses and busy little knives and forks. The excitement and reflection, the gratitude and the giving and receiving. They’re values we hold all year round. But now, as one year comes to a close and another begins, it’s all the more exciting knowing that we can add more colour to our tables and trees, that we can indulge more, indulge you more.

There are many things we remember from Christmas each year…

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For our Head Waiter, Dominique, it’s a drink called Seven Days, made from mealie meal that is fermented for seven days. For Head Chef, George it is the beautiful aroma of fresh baked millet bread, known as mangende, a bread made from ground millet. And for Manager, Hessah it is Ba-nene (Grandma in Tonga) roasting goat meat in banana leaves with spicy peanut sauce and mango and rice pudding made with fresh cow milk as dessert.

Food and drink… the deliciousness that brings us together around tables for long lunches and late dinners.

Here is a look at the dishes we will be sharing with you in this year’s Christmas Menu, in a special Zambian celebration of tradition, people and place.Royal Chundu Christmas Menu


A Q&A With Our Culinary Collaborator

We have infused new energy into this year’s Christmas menu, with an innovative take on local Zambian cuisine, in a special collaboration with our foodie neighbour, Annabel Hughes Aston. Annabel is a writer who cooks, gardens and forages, and lives on a farm in the Zambezi Valley, upstream from Victoria Falls in Livingstone, Zambia. She fuses wild edibles and indigenous Zambian ingredients with locally-grown seasonal garden produce and is a never-ending pot of inspiration and flavour.

“The concept of sufficiency is a major inspiration behind my bush gourmet cuisine,” Annabel says. “Zambia is boundless in its natural resources, yet so many of its people live on, or below, the poverty threshold. Many in the rural communities survive on wild edibles, an age-old tradition that is now stigmatised by the more affluent for not being able to afford to shop in the cities’ grocery stores. I want to dispel this stigma by showcasing the gourmet cuisine that can be created out of using wild edibles and indigenous local ingredients.

“Every wild ingredient I use in my bush gourmet cuisine has sustained native tribes throughout southern Africa since the beginning of time. This undomesticated, indigenous food is nutritious, flavourful and inimitable. Sufficiency can be best described as “when we let go of the chase for more, and consciously examine and experience the resources we already have, we discover our resources are deeper than we knew or imagined,” as stated by global visionary, Lynne Twist.”

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Discover more about this year’s Christmas dinner in our Q&A with Annabel below.

What was the inspiration behind the Christmas menu?

The inspiration behind the Christmas menu is our wild, indigenous and garden ingredients that come into season in the Zambezi Valley at this time of year. The summer rains bring with them some of our tastiest bush fruits, many of which are showcased in this menu. Very few people will have tasted the inimitable flavours and natural goodness found in Zambia’s wild fruits and nuts. The indigenous ingredients like sorghum and Mongu rice have been eaten by native Zambians forever. With this menu I bring a contemporary twist to their traditional foods, one which I hope showcases the huge diversity found in this country.

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How was the menu created?

I am the one who creates the recipes and the menus, inspired by the Zambians with whom I work and collaborate. I sincerely believe that the success of my bush gourmet cuisine, as I have called it, is a result of a growing collaboration between me and Zambia, both the people and the earth. The centuries-old wisdom of our neighbouring riverside communities helps us in our foraging for wild food, while the Zambian chefs with whom I work, lead me to the indigenous ingredients in Livingstone’s native markets. As such, it is my sincere hope that by promoting the use of these diverse, and largely unexplored, natural resources, our local economy and culture will also be enriched.

How does the menu celebrate the Christmas spirit?

The menu celebrates the Christmas spirit with traditional holiday fare, but with a distinctive bush gourmet spin on it.

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Where are the ingredients sourced from?

The fresh ingredients are sourced from the bush, the native markets in Livingstone, local producers, and community gardens. Dry ingredients, like olive oil and spices, come from further afield, but we always do our best to purchase what we can in Zambia.

What are your favourite ways to celebrate Christmas in Zambia? 

Christmas in Zambia is in the middle of our wet green season. Temperatures soar alongside spectacular thunderstorms. These are all factors that have to be weighed when considering a Christmas celebration. In my experience, it tends to be more low-key than in Europe and North America. While most of our guests travel south out of their freezing winters, we have to find ways to mitigate the challenges created by our boiling temperatures. Ice cream, for instance, has about a minute once it’s plated before turning into a puddle!

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What is your background in cooking and how did your path lead you to Royal Chundu?

While I qualified as a chef at a French-inspired culinary school in England after leaving high school, my passion for food was ignited when I started growing my own vegetable garden in the United States 25 years later. After I became a Virginia Master Naturalist in 2011 I began to forage for wild edibles in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains where I lived. These three elements would lead me to developing my “bush gourmet” cuisine after I moved to Livingstone six years ago.

As near neighbours, the path that led me to Royal Chundu and to Tina was a mutual commitment to empowering the local people among whom we live, placing special emphasis on hyperlocal sustainability.

Favourite dishes on the menu and why?

My favourite dishes on the menu are the Jewelled Mabele & Mongu Rice with Peppery Leaves, Soft Herbs, Roasted Nuts & Pomegranate Seeds, and the Tropical Fruit Mini Pavlova with Honeyed Nsumo & Mukanonga Cream. Both of these dishes showcase the diversity and fecundity of the Zambezi Valley, and are bursting with unique flavours seldom tasted by those outside Zambia. Mabele is a pink-coloured sorghum grown in the villages along the river, and Mongu rice is an indigenous variety grown in Zambia’s Western Province. Nsumo (False Wild Medlar) and Mukanonga (African mangosteen) are wild fruits, the latter of which shades the deck of Royal Chundu’s River Lodge!

Great drinks to pair with the menu / dishes / to enjoy on Christmas?

We are serving a Wild Kir Royale as an aperitif before Christmas lunch. Instead of using cassis, as the French do, we’re using sindambi, a wild hibiscus grown in the villages up and down the Zambezi River. The native Zambians eat the leaves in a relish, while we use the bright red calyxes to turn into syrup and candied flowers. Sindambi also makes a colourful Christmas mocktail when mixed with fresh lime and soda. We save the sindambi seeds from inside the calyxes and hand them back to the growers so they can plant them again the following season. It’s a great synergy.

 

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