African Adventures (just a few) in Food & Wine

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Micato Safaris offers the  opportunity for  travelers to break bread with the locals.
Micato Safaris offers the opportunity for travelers to break bread with the locals.

Today’s focus on culinary touring seems a tasty part of the increasing travel demand for new and involving experiences, and in Africa there lies a whole new world of traditional and national dishes, as well as fusion European and Asian cooking, to sample and savor. It’s up-close and personal touring when browsing in outdoor markets, learning to cook native dishes, and ingesting the mix of local foods and wines with local chefs and sommeliers. Selling vacations—and yes, safaris—whose accents are fine dining, wining and hospitality, has got to be a delicious experience for all.

morocco
Taking off on the road to exotic and entrancing Morocco is a journey to a nation that delivers a potent mix of the familiar and the foreign. It’s a land of snowcapped peaks and Saharan deserts, fascinating medieval cities and quiet oasis villages, snake charmers and storytellers, baguettes and crisp white wines, couscous and sweet mint tea. Morocco is just plain magical, and some of the most magical ways to visit new corners of Morocco focus on food.

New from Edible Destinations is a 4-night Enchanting Moroccan Duet Tangier & Tetouan Culinary Getaway. The elegant La Tangerina Hotel, perched above the Strait of Gibraltar, is home for the first two nights in Tangier, where the program includes a welcome dinner at El Morocco Club, a guided tour of the medina and kasbah, a hands-on cooking class preparing traditional chicken tangines, Moroccan salads and helwa (sweets).

Then it’s on, via private car, to Tetouan, staying at the alluring Blanco Riad Hotel, sited in the 17th century medina, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Highlights here include touring the culinary and craft corners of the medina, cooking the traditional harira soup with the Moroccan holy trinity of spices—cumin, turmeric and cinnamon—as well tuna brochettes with spicy harissa or a fish tagine; and for dessert, the traditional muhallabia custard. The tour ends with a day at leisure in Tangier. Operating year-round, cost is $1,498 pp dbl. Edible Destinations also schedules a 6-night Culinary Expedition in Fes and Marrakech.

The International Kitchen offers Feast for the Senses, a new 6-night cooking vacation focused on Fes, the oldest and largest medieval city in the world, whose medina—home to the oldest university, maze of shops, covered spice markets, tanneries, textile weaving quarters, and food stalls—is the most fabulous in all of Morocco. Travelers will learn about traditional foods—tagines, couscous, harira, pastilla and zaalouk—during three hands-on cooking classes, under the guidance of chef Lahcen, a Berber from the Atlas Mountains of southern Morocco; sampling the fare of course will follow lessons, with other special meals including a welcome and a farewell dinner.

Accommodations are in a traditional riad. Styled in traditional Moroccan decor, the riad has seven bedrooms with en-suite baths, and features a lovely library and a terrace with grand views of the medina. Other features of the program include visits to the markets, and to cultural attractions such as mosques, tombs, shrines and the Islamic Universities of Attarine and Bou Inania Medersa. A day’s excursion to the Imperial City of Meknes and the Roman ruins of Volubilis is also on the program, and guests will spend another day in Azrou, a beautiful Berber mountain town, walking through the forest to see the Barbary apes, shopping for Moroccan rugs, and sampling Berber hospitality over hot mint tea.

This culinary tour operates with a minimum of two persons, and is priced at $2,550 pp sharing; the company also offers a 9-night culinary and cooking tour that adds such destinations as exotic Marrakech and the fortified fishing town of Essaouira.

south africa
“South Africa is currently the best-kept secret on the world food tourism circuit,” says Darren Humphreys, who founded his Travel Sommelier company around “insider experiences” in food and wine. “I am absolutely convinced that within the next few years, South Africa will become a culinary destination in much the same way that Tuscany, Provence and the Basque region are revered by gastro tourists.”

Humphreys calls the South African kitchen unique, a distinct melting pot of cooking influences from France, Portugal, Italy, and Malaysia, among many more. He points out that “there are special cooking techniques to learn to produce its cuisine. And when on safari, you can even do this in many of the camps we use, where in teaching how to prepare dinner, guests learn how to butcher an ostrich, debone a kudu, and filet kingklip fish.”

Travel Sommelier offers a 10-day Gastro Safari in South Africa, an insider’s tour of the country’s food and wine landscape. The itinerary starts in Cape Town with a visit to local neighborhood markets, as well as a scenic day tour of Cape Point and the Peninsula. During a 2-night stay at Cape Grace, travelers also enjoy a chef’s table lunch at the seaside home of celebrated chef Bruce Robertson, and cocktails and dinner at The Roundhouse with sweeping views of Camps Bay.

In Franschhoek, the culinary capital of South Africa, highlights include a full-day private wine tour to meet winemakers and vineyard owners, with tutored tastings, cellar and winery tours, and lunch at the Overture Restaurant at Hidden Valley; biking through the Winelands, with lunch at Glenwood winery and its Japanese eatery.

Two nights are spent at Le Quartier Francais, with dinner in the hotel’s top-rated The Tasting Room. The next stop is a 2-night stay at Babylonstoren, South Africa’s foremost working farm. Here, there’s lunch and a private tasting at Glen Carlou; a private tasting and meeting at the home of Jeremy & Emma Borg, owners and winemakers at Painted Wolf; a bread-baking class; a tour of the farm gardens; biking around the 700-acre property and a picnic by the lake; a visit to the charcuterie and cheese barn; and learning how to make relishes and yogurt, followed by a wine tasting.

For the grand finale, it’s safari time, spending three days and nights at the family-owned Mala Mala, the largest private Big Five game reserve in South Africa. The basically all-inclusive Gastro Safari is priced from $5,450 pp sharing in Classic accommodations, from $6,395 pp in Premier.

kenya
“For almost 50 years, adventurers with well-developed palates have been relying on Micato Safaris for the finest dining the African savannah has to offer,” says Saveur magazine, in bestowing its “Culinary Travel Awards for 2014.” In making the “Expert’s Choice” award, the panel pointed out that Micato Safaris makes meals-in-homes a cornerstone of its small group tours, following the belief that breaking bread with locals is the best way to get to know a culture.

Founders and second-generation Kenyans Jane and Felix Pinto welcome guests to join them for a hearty, familial, story-flavored meal in their home in Nairobi’s lovely Lavington district; on the menu are dishes with East African flavors and influences from their Goan ancestry. Additionally, tours feature guides and chefs to provide in-depth exposure to various aspects of regional agriculture and cuisine through visits to a highland tea estate and cattle ranch, Kenyan cooking classes, or a Swahili sailing luncheon.

Archived related articles (available on recommend.com/magazine/issue-archive):
Morocco: Gem-Filled Destination (October 2014)

contact information
Edible Destinations: (800) 390-3292; epitourean.com or epitourean.com/agents/sign-up
Micato Safaris: (800) 642-2861; micato.com
The International Kitchen: (800) 945-8606; theinternationalkitchen.com or theinternationalkitchen.com/tikSignupForm/signup-form/render
Travel Sommelier: (203) 286-8338; travelsommelier.com