A Taste of Namibia: From Bush to Table
By: Carolina Ramirez Herrera
Food has always been an integral part across all of our Habitas homes. We believe there is no better way to discover a new country, culture and most importantly the people that make it so magical than by breaking bread, sharing experiences and taking in all the new flavors. While our Namibian home in the wild is no different, our flavors and ingredients look a little more earthy in the bush, where venison or game meat is king and no spice is left behind.
We sit down at the table with Mercy, one of our resident chefs at Habitas Namibia who tells us how hailing from a big family inspired her to pair her creativity in the kitchen with the colorful flavors of the region.
“I always strive to replicate the same experience I had at home with my family.”
“I was born and raised in Ohkajanda, a small town near Windhoek. Some of my earliest memories are in the kitchen; from a very young age my mom was always busy working multiple jobs. Because she was out of the house quite early and back very late, I naturally gravitated to cooking for my six siblings. Since I didn’t really have anyone telling me what to do in terms of ingredients, ‘don’t cook with this or don’t use,’ that I was able to get creative with flavors and used my siblings as my taste testers.” says Mercy. Her passion for cooking continued well past childhood and led her to attend one of Namibia’s leading hospitality management schools. Upon graduation she traveled to the US where she was mesmerized by the melting pot of flavors that still translate in her dishes today.
Strong spices are a quintessential flavor of the region; “savory more than sweet. Especially spices like Kapana, which is what we use to marinade almost everything – especially our meats. It is a blend of fennel seeds, turmeric, basil and chili flakes – almost like a bbq spice.” she explains. For the carnivores and meat aficionados, Namibia is a feast of flavors; ostrich, springbok, oryx and kudu are just a few of the game found in the region. “For those that have never really had “game” meat or are apprehensive, I always recommend to try Oryx first, (also known as gemsbok; a large African antelope native to the region) as it tastes quite similar to beef but leaner and more succulent. For the more adventurous carnivores, kudu (similar to a deer, spiral-horned large antelope) offers a rich, gamey flavor and is one of my favorites” says Mercy. Biltong is a must to try and staple in Namibian cuisine. With consistency not quite that of prosciutto or beef jerky, the dried meat is preserved with vinegar and later pan-fried. This delicacy is not only a local favorite but an ideal safari snack. What better place to step outside your culinary comfort zone than that of the bush, where the term farm to table takes on a whole new meaning?
Sticking true to Habitas tradition, the menu at Habitas Namibia offers a refined yet rustic style featuring local ingredients. “Given our location, we cook with the seasons, meaning our menu changes depending on what is available. I like adding my own twist to dishes – a traditional oryx carpaccio with a touch of chimichurri or swapping your beef tartare for a rich, sweet and savory beetroot tartare. Contrary to popular belief, there are vegetarian options in the bush! I was actually a vegetarian for a couple of months and can proudly say our locally sourced vegetarian-forward dishes are full of spices and flavor even the non-vegetarians end up loving them, the beetroot tartare being one of them.” says Mercy.
Mercy is nostalgic in her approach: “Dinner has always been my favorite – it was always a full house, everyone loud and rambunctious; excitedly telling their stories from the day and sharing plates. There is nothing I love more than seeing everyone enjoy the dishes I’ve created – it’s definitely something I brought with me to Habitas, I always strive to replicate the same experience I had at home with my family.”