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October 06, 2007

Five good places to visit in Gaborone, Botswana

Follow-up to Botswana's finest chefs from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

I have in the past unfairly described Gaborone as “the most boring city in the world”. That’s an overstatement. The home of Mma Ramotswe does have some attractions, especially for a two year old. Here is a list of the five best things to do in Gaborone, with photographic evidence.

Update: there’s a great new place in town – the No.1 Ladies’ Opera House.

1. The National Museum and Gallery

The museum has recently been renovated with many imaginative displays that illustrate the history, culture, geography and wildlife of Botswana. Highly realistic models and reconstructions are used. Traditional lifestyles are depicted with lifelike models of people (this really got Lawrence confused). Best of all are the models of animals and their habitats. An excellent way to learn.

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Lawrence and the lions display (click to enlarge)

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Looking at a reconstructed village scene

The museum also houses a gallery, used for displaying the best of current craft works from around the country (many for sale). There are ingenious sculptures, fine basket works, clothing, and much more. Another room hosts temporary exhibitions. In August 07 we saw some great paintings of anachronistic scenes from Botswana life, such as rondavels with satellite dishes.

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In the gallery

2. Sanitas Garden Centre and restaurant

See the magic work of horticulturalist Dr. Gus Nilsson and his team of gardeners. Visit the best restaurant in Botswana. Chase the cheeky vervet monkey around the big wooden adventure playground as part of a big group of semi-wild african children. What more could you ask for? Sanitas is Gaborone’s best outdoors attraction. Visitors to Gaborone will probably not want to buy plants, but the displays are interesting in themselves. Use the garden centre as an opportunity to become familiar with the indigeneous flora and its preferred conditions. You may want to buy some of the garden ornaments on sale, such as metal animal and bird sculptures.

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A useful coding system is used in the garden

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Lawrence in the play area

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Monkey on the climbing frame

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Kalahari sands

3. Mokolodi Nature Reserve

Mokolodi is about ten minutes drive from Gaborone, along the Lobatse Road. It is a small nature reserve, with largely educational intentions. Non-members can tour the park on an official game drive. Other activities include meeting the orphan cheetahs, rhino tracking, bush picnics, and horse riding. Members can drive around on their own.

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My family and other rhinoceroses

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Poking a pile of rhino dung with a stick

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Drought: normally this would be a lake not a pond

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Drought: even the warthogs are being artificially fed

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Mokolodi kudu

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In the play area at Mokolodi

4. Gaborone Game Reserve

600 hectares of land right inside the city. Gaborone Game Reserve offers a chance to see some of the animals typical of the kalahari. Perhaps more significant is the bird life attracted to the large and smelly sewerage ponds that are part of the reserve. Spectacular sightings are certain. Even flamingoes and pelicans are possible.

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Lawrence watching a zebra

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Lawrence hiding from rapidly approaching zebra

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Zebra in close-up

The zebras in the park have an awkward habit: they will put their heads through an open car window in search of food. I once had one chewing the steering wheel. This time I got the window closed in time. Lawrence was amused to watch it licking the window.

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Ostrich in the sand

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Ostrich burying its head to avoid the smell

5. Garden of the Grand Palms Hotel

Eat nice food. Drink underneath shady trees. Watch water birds in the small lake. Swim in the hotel pool. There’s even a children’s play area.

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Children get a free lolly, dad steals lolly


October 02, 2007

Botswana's finest chefs

Follow-up to My Family and Other Primates, Kruger Park 2007 Part 6 from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Botswana’s menus extend well beyond the cheap nasty fried chicken for which it is often derided. The kalahari is goat and cattle country. As they claim on the bank notes: “digkoma se ya banka ya Botswana” – “cattle are the bank of Botswana”. I can show you photos of roast goat and seswaa. I can make feeble efforts to explain their attractions. But you’ll really have to go there to understand. Well worth the £1000 air fare!
On our last night in the Kruger Park, we all had a great meal at the Letaba restaurant, again surprised at the excellent standards of chefs and waiters in even the most remote of places in South Africa. The next day we left our hire car at National Alamo in Phalaborwa, and drove across the mountains to Pretoria/Tshwane in “Grower’s” Landcruiser. On the way, lunch was had at the historical Dullstroom Inn high up in the hills.

“Dullstroom” – what a great name for a dorp in the middle of knowhere. I suspect that it is actually a little misleading. I bet there’s excitement if not intrigue to be found along its dusty dry streets. Well at least the fishermen are happy, the game fish growing large in the fresh and lively waters of the area. Several monster specimens are displayed around the bar, preserved in cases. A smaller but much more edible individual was served up on my plate. Possibly the best wild trout that i have eaten.

A comfortable night’s rest was had in an apartment at the Courtyard Hotel in the Arcadia district of Pretoria/Tshwane, followed by a short drive through the Magalisberg Mountains, across the Marico, and home to Gaborone, Botswana.

Goat
And the goat is served (ckick to enlarge)

And what of Botswana? Somehow it has acquired a reputation for dull food. Our friends Peter and Johanna are working hard to disprove that claim. The kalahari being goat country, they prepared and cooked a fat juicy leg, marinated in garlic. Fantastic! When slaughtering their own goat, they discovered an extraordinary world of beaurocracy, so now they prefer to buy their meat at JT Butcheries. No matter, it was perfect. Goat is a fine meat, with more depth to its flavour than all but the finest lamb. And yet even in Botswana it is known through the euphemism of “mutton”. At the Taj Indian restaurant, for example, many great goat curries (not curried goat) are served, amongst their other nice dishes.

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Seswaa with morogo and pap

More evidence of great cooking in Botswana may be found at the Sanitas Garden Centre near to Gaborone Dam. Seswaa, the classic dish of the Batswana, is often on the menu. It is a tasty dish, but hard work to make. Essentially a cow, pounded and smashed to smitherenes, it is slowly cooked to a dry and stringy result, with plenty of fragments of bone and attendant marrow. Alongside the pulverised bovine, one traditionally recieves a good helping of mealie pap (polenta), gravy, and a concoction of green vegetables called ‘morogo’. Spinach seems to be part of the mix, however I’m also told that various kalahari grown wild herbs are essential exotic requirements.

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Bobotie and rice

Another southern African classic from Sanitas, bobotie and rice. Minced beef, with a combination of fruit, curry and pepper typical of Karoo cooking, and topped with an egg mix. Again excellent.

A further recommendation: the patio of the Grand Palms Hotel, next to its lake, swimming pool, and play area, serves good home made burgers and salads.

Botswana then is a place for good food. Yes, there are many second or third rate restaurants springing up amongst the brash new shopping malls. And yes, Motswana are adicted to badly fried chicken. But if you know where to look, there are some world class gems.


August 08, 2006

Crab House Café, Dorset

A visit to the acclaimed Crab House Café seafood restaurant on the Fleet, between Weymouth and Portland in Dorset.

Crab

…moments later shrapnel from the first mighty hammer blow cut through the air, perilously close to the left ear of an otherwise relaxed elderly lady sitting at a table towards the other end of the patio outside of the small wooden shack. Health and safety? Protective goggles are definitely not provided as part of the small set of offensive implements delivered by the waitress alongside the vast decapod crustaceans that form the café's trademark dish.

Impliments
Implements for the job: authentically aged woodwork hammer, crushing board, crab pliers and flesh–prodder (for want of a better word).

A neatly folded apron is also included. I chose instead to become dressed with crab juice and flesh, smashed, splattered and spurted out of the claws and the legs of my victim.

Smashed crab

After an initial tentative attack, I retreated into the runny brown material within the natural bowl of the crab body. Unfairly described by some as 'grey gunge', a less than delicate taste of the sea (or in this case the Fleet lagoon) is the reward. Delicious whole grain bread helps to mop up the juices, while a few ink–dyed legs of octopus and olives added variety (nibbles provided while waiting for my main course). And then the onslaught really began. Half an hour later, with more calories lost than gained, I had ripped the monster crab to shreds, having extracted all of the good bits – some of them extremely good, the best being the firm pink point triangles pulled from within each claw.

Sitting at the Crab House Cafe

The Crab House Café is perhaps an odd candidate for being one of the trendiest restaurants of the moment. As John Walsh explained in his recent Inependent review, it is both basic and quirky. Straw hats are available for loan to diners, who may sit outside under pink plastic straggly retro–sixties umbrellas. But the food is excellent. Other diners were overheard heaping praise onto the variety of dishes consumed, including hallibut, skate, john dory, sardines, eels, bream and lobster. I chatted briefly to the manager and one of the chefs. They really know their seafood. They are also motorcyclists – a clear sign of cullinary genius.

Should I mention that the Hugh Whittingley Fearnley celeb pig farmer bloke rates it as one of his top seafood spots in Britain?

Crab House Café
Ferry Bridge Road
Weymouth
Dorset


September 09, 2005

Food Report: Mushroom and spinach risotto with scallops and samphire

A trip to Regency Fisheries in Leamington (49 Regent Street, just off the Parade) resulted in a haul including two of my favourite sea bound ingredients: scallops and samphire. A great risotto was subsequently created and consumed.

Risotto is usually impressive, but easy to create (tip for single men, this works wonders!). For this I used Sainsbury's Risotto Pronto, fish stock, organic baby leaf spinach, chopped chestnut mushrooms, finely chopped courgettes and shallots, and frozen peas. The scallops were gently grilled with some salt. The samphire was boiled for a minute (less if you like it to have a strong flavour). The risotto rice should not be too dry, as the liquid gives it a creamy texture.

A quote from Emma: "I really liked the risotto, moist, the flavours of the vegetables".