In the small township of Mondesa, outside of Swakopmund, there is a restaurant named Hafeni. The restaurant’s exterior is composed of tin roof and walls resembling a dirty block of Swiss cheese. Yet, inside this tiny building are brightly colored walls showing the history of Namibia, and are very inviting to a weary traveler. Heinrich Hafeni, the restaurant owner and host, showed us a true Namibian welcome.
Hafeni is a cultural tourism specialist and has been through the Mandela’s leadership program. Mr. Hafeni explained that he started this restaurant to offer tourists a chance to truly learn about his culture. I have never been to a restaurant in the States where the whole focus is to share culture and traditions with customers. Eating at Hafeni’s gave me the opportunity to try several foods that we would not have gotten at the lodges in Namibia.
Studying in Namibia allowed me the opportunity to try a variety of foods in an assortment of places. We began our journey in Windhoek, the nation’s capital. Outside this booming city, the Heja Game Lodge houses tourists’ eager to venture into the wild. Dishes such as springbok, kudu, and chicken are served. You can also find schnitzles, steaks and pastas that reflect the German culture that once ruled this land. We learned that great chefs in Namibia are highly coveted and often stolen from travel lodges.
Fast forward a week later in Swakopmund. The Hafeni restaurant offered raw authenticity seeping from the brightly colored walls. The aroma of food filled the place. The fried chicken was thinly breaded, stringy, and a little tough, but had a delicious flavor. Hafeni’s chicken tasted similar to a backyard chicken that is rarely fed grains and is free range. The spinach at the restaurant isn’t the typical vegetable you would find at the store. This plant grows wild in some fields. The women in the community pick, and then preserve it for later months. Spinach is usually eaten before someone goes on a long trip for good luck. The person who cooks the spinach keeps the traveler’s plate dirty until they return to ensure safe travel. The flavor was strong with spices and looked more like typical southern greens.
In Namibia, 730,000 people receive food aid from the government so they don’t starve. This means food is scarce and it’s important that everything that can be eaten from an animal is eaten. Some examples were Marathon chicken, beef intestines, and Mopane worms. In the United States, we focus on the chicken breast, wings, and drumsticks. Most Americans throw away the rest of the chicken as waste. In Namibia, Marathon chicken uses parts such as the feet because there is still meat that can be eaten.
Mopane worms are also used as a source of protein and are a delicacy. The cooked worms had little grey bodies with a black tip for the head. I picked up one, closed my eyes, said a little prayer, and popped it in my mouth. It honestly was not too bad. It had a crunchy outside with a soft inside, and the taste was salty mixed with smoky flavor.
This was a great experience to learn about Namibian culture and food. Everything edible from an animal is used and eaten. After this experience, I can honestly say I waste way too much food and will work harder to not waste when I get home. Namibians is more than willing to share their food and traditions with new people. So, try something traditionally different when you get the chance.