Rainbow Tours Cookery Event:
I know very little about African cooking, so I was thrilled to be invited to Hoxton Open Kitchens for an evening of cookery with Chef Attoma Mandji. After a generous glass or so of wine and some African nibbles, we made our way upstairs to learn a bit more about Rainbow Tours and to get cooking!
Rainbow Tours is an award winning holiday company with a focus on custom trips in Africa and Latin America. They promote the idea of responsible travel with a commitment to economic, social and environmental responsibility in all the trips they organise.
I particularly liked the quote I found on their blog
“A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his father but borrowed from his children”…John James Audubon
None of that means that their trips lack excitement – Rainbow Tours aim to ensure that every holiday is as comfortable or as challenging as the individual want – so if you want to get out in the wilderness and spend time in a tent or a small lodge, they will organise it. What it does provide is reassurance that they will make every effort to ensure your trip improves the lives of local people and does no harm to the environment.
Not surprisingly they’ve recently picked up an award from Food and Travel Magazine as the best tour operator 2012, to go with a whole host of previous achievements.
Back to the cooking, we made two African dishes.
Samakiwa Kakuango was a steamed fish dish, with a parsley, tomato and onion dressing. I’m planning on trying my own version of this dish soon – adding some coconut milk to the sauce to make it creamy (I’ve been googling and have found variations that do just that).
I was quite intrigued by the beef dish which was rather prosaically called ‘Beef with Greens’. We’ve since been given the African name for the dish and a bit of background about why it is popular in Madagascar: The food in Madagascar tends not to be as spicy as the rest of Africa and beef is a popular ingredient. Zebu cattle are a traditional meat source and less prone to risk of contamination in the hot climate than pork or lamb. And Romazava Vary is a one pot dish that would traditionally have been cooked over an open fire with rice added into the stew and cooked so that it absorbs the stewing liquor. The version we cooked may have suffered a little because we didn’t have green peppercorns and because we cooked the dish very quickly (we DID all want to eat!). I’m curious too about the ‘greens’ used and how important they might be. The various recipes I’ve found use a Madagascan leaf called anamalaho which is peppery, slightly aniseed flavoured and hot and I’ve seen suggestions that mustard greens are a good substitute over here. It’s the sort of stew I imagine might benefit from be cooked for a couple of hours before the rice is added for the last 20 minutes.
Madagascar itself is a country where food has been greatly influenced by its history. On the Slave Trade route, American and European visitors in the 18th Century introduced new fruits and vegetables including sweet potato, tomato, maize, peanuts, tobacco, lima beans and the prickly pears that are important now as food stuff for the Zabu Cattle. And in the 19th Century the country had a sucession of monarchs who set up a tradition of royal festivals where the ‘hanim-pito loha’ were eaten.These were seven dishes said to be the most desirable in the realm. Dishes were voanjobory (bambara groundnut), amalona (eel), vorivorinkena (beef tripe), ravitoto (grated cassava leaves) and vorontsiloza (turkey), each cooked with pork and usually ginger, garlic, onion and tomato; our own romazava,(vary refers to the rice) and varanga (shredded roast beef). That tradition ended with the colonisation of Madagascar by the French in 1896 but Romanzava remains a National favourite.
It was a great evening of eating, drinking and socialising – and learning a bit more about the cuisine of Madagascar and Tanzania. And, I have rather enjoyed rooting around and finding some more African dishes to try. The recipes we used are both on the Rainbow Tours site and as I am planning on experimenting a bit, I won’t reproduce them again here till I get round to doing that!