A safari feast in thriving Africa

Rugged countryside and thriving bushland make South Africa's Phinda sanctuary a place spoiled with colour and movement. But what would you do if your lodge was surrounded by lions at night?

Australia's favourite food blogger, Not Quite Nigella, aka Lorraine Elliott, basks in Zulu cuisine with but a torch to keep the beasts at bay.

"I am one of 26 children. I was born in 1950. I have a grade zero education but with cooking I am grade 12. I want to be winning always, I don’t want to lose…I have two wives, at the moment. I am looking for a third wife. I have a girlfriend too, she’s my baby chicken…You must do things that you love with love. I think you are ready for my dinner. I love you all I kiss you for free…”

So says chef Sam Nguni, the chef at andBeyond’s Phinda Forest Lodge in South Africa. The chef, dressed in traditional Zulu dress clapped with a rhythm until everyone was silent and then delivered a 15 minute introduction speech peppered with anecdotes about how he became a chef, his wives and his food philosophy. He may introduce his food while climbing a tree and he may also share how he helped his mother feed 63 family members while he was growing up.

Phinda’s Forest Lodge is one of South Africa’s destinations for safari or game drives. We’ve flown from Cape Town to Durban and driven four hours to reach Phinda. On the way, we pass women selling fruit carrying the baskets on their heads. They rub themselves with red or white dirt which softens their skin and protects it from the sun. We bought bunches of bananas and drove past the shops selling pineapples, rugs and other assorted items watching as the countryside gets more rugged by the hour.

phinda south africa

We arrived at Phinda Forest lodge, one of the four lodges on the enormous property. Phinda, meaning "the return” in Zulu, is a series of eco lodges from the "andBeyond” group. The focus here is on preserving wildlife and they have worked to return the land to a thriving state after years of agricultural management and misuse. Phinda Forest which is one of the series of lodges, is an adults only lodge with 11 rooms and a maximum of 22 guests. It’s in the bush so there is just one rule: no walking around the property by yourself at night. The reason? The wildlife, including lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo, snakes and scorpions can wander around the property as it is not fenced off. And you can bet that I almost chewed my nails off at that warning!

...After checking in, I call 300 and ask for security to take me to the Verandah restaurant where we meet Sam and partake of dinner. I have to admit, even the idea of having a leopard in the bushes scares the sense out of me and I may have been a little irrational and skittish. The security guard arrives with a torch and this is supposed to scare them off. It is a conservation reserve and I’ve just happily signed my life away on an indemnity form. And I never got a good answer to the question "what exactly is a torch going to do against a hungry lion?

...We start with our first course: a salad with papaya and avocado and leaves dressed with a thyme and coriander seed dressing. I’ve never had that combination before with papaya and avocado but the two similar textures with different flavours and levels of sweetness work well together.

phinda south africa

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