In the Company of Cheerful Ladies

Royal Chundu

Above: Tina Aponte, Innkeeper at Royal Chundu, and the women of Mushekwa

Everything has a story. Every story has its characters. You might recognise the title of this story from one by Alexander McCall Smith. But these characters are something wholly unique. I’m sure McCall Smith won’t mind us borrowing his title; because while no less distinctive, the women who feature in our tale today, set on the banks of the Zambezi River in Zambia, are just as bold, their stories just as courageous, as those that feature in the celebrated author’s tales of Botswana. And as far as cheerful ladies go, they are the definition of cheer. Our definition: Patience, faith, optimism. And greenfingers.

We arrive at the Mushekwa village, a short boat ride downstream from Royal Chundu. There has been a passing of an elder in the village, but instead of turning us away, matriarch, the mother of Mushekwa, Edith Mushekwa, whose father founded the village, calls us to the riverbanks with her waves and that smile that takes over her whole face. That comes from her whole heart.

Royal Chundu2

Royal  Chundu

Edith is one of the characters of this story, the humble protagonist you could say. She walks with us, through the community veggie garden. The maize, eggplant, tomatoes and cabbage that grow here depend on a woman’s touch to thrive, on Edith and the other ladies of the village. They’ve been away, seeing to a funeral, and the crops have wilted without the company of their cheer. Edith tells us she is trying to get the kids in the village more involved. Kids will be kids wherever you are in the world.

Royal Chundu donates seeds to the villagers, who in turn grow the crops and sell them back to the lodge for an income. The garden also feeds the village and guests at Royal Chundu. Many of the plants are used as medicine, such as moringa, which treats a range of different ailments, including HIV. It will take time, birthing new greenfingers, but until then the Cheerful Ladies are in charge. I know, when I return next, as I have before, the garden’s crops (organic, fresh and tasty) will tower over the walkways between them, with tens of little hands sharing Edith’s touch.

“Daring enthusiasm
And abiding cheerfulness
Can accomplish everything on earth
Without fail.”
― Sri Chinmoy, The Jewels of Happiness

A similar project between lodge and village is at play with the bream fish breeding project set in a large lily pond at the entrance to Royal Chundu. The fish are released into the Zambezi River, and, after time, the local fishermen catch them to sell back to the lodge.

The Women of Royal Chundu

Royal Chundu 7

Edith and two more ladies – Bettina and Josephine – guide us through the village, their long dresses sweeping the earth, their amble slow and strong. The Cleopatras of Zambia. Zambezi River Pharaohs. The owners of those future greenfingers trail after us, as the scene of our story is set, as the senses are called upon. A fire burns somewhere close by; an African fish eagle circling above calls out in competition with the chickens in their roost. Edith holds up a small brown nut for us to taste, the nut of the manketi tree, a nut they grind for oil.

Royal Chundu3

Royal Chundu

Further on, beneath a reed canopy, a modest market has been set up. Here we meet up with the other ladies (the men are out fishing). The beautiful handmade Chitenga cloths that wrap around our leading ladies are draped before us – the colours of Zambia, the patterns of the nation starring alongside carved wooden animals, bracelets, mats and baskets for us to purchase.

This is daily life in rural Zambia. This is how a team of ladies supports a village. Being in their company, you can see it takes something more, however. It takes a big heart, a light heart, and unwavering patience, faith and optimism. That’s what cheer is… patience, faith and optimism. (And greenfingers.) And here, it’s a cheer that doesn’t stop at Edith, Bettina and Josephine.

Royal Chundu 4

Experience the Company of Cheerful Ladies for yourself at Royal Chundu, on the banks of the Zambezi River in Zambia, upstream from the Victoria Falls.

The Pâtissier of Ellerman House

Ellerman House Pastry Chef

Meet Liezl Odendaal

Britta Dahms of Ellerman House sat down with the hotel’s celebrated Pastry Chef to find out where she draws her inspiration from and what ingredients she keeps in her kitchen.

EH: Where did you study and where was your first experience as a Pastry Chef?

Liezl: I studied at the Institute of Culinary Arts in Stellenbosch and my first job as a Pastry Chef was at La Colombe.

EH: Do you think being a great Pastry Chef is a talent you are born with or can it be learnt?

Liezl: I would say both, you need talent but you always need to evolve, learn better techniques, work harder, be more creative and find new ingredients and ways of using them in the kitchen.

EH: What tips would you give those aspiring to become a Pastry Chef in South Africa?

Liezl: Working hard will top my list of tips, but together with that you need to surround yourself with chefs that inspire you and teach you to be better.

Delicious chocolate dessert

EH: Where do you draw your inspiration?

Liezl: I read quite a lot of books from other amazing Pastry Chef’s around the world, new cuisine products and travelling.

EH: Which Pastry Chefs have had the biggest influence on you?

Liezl: There’s a Pastry Chef in Paris, France, Pierre Hermé. He made the humble macaroon famous and he has amazing pastry shops dotted all over Paris. He takes classic pastry and creates a new and modern version.

EH: How important is the relationship between the Head Chef and the Pastry Chef?

Liezl: I think it is an important aspect in any kitchen. The Head Chef and Pastry Chef always need to be on the same page regarding the menu.

Ellerman House Pantry

Ellerman House

EH: What do you love about working at Ellerman House?

Liezl: I love working with the team of chefs currently at Ellerman House. We are a very small team, which makes us close, and we constantly learn new things, as every day is different and interesting.

EH: Do you have a favourite pastry to make, and what is it?

Liezl: I don’t really have any favourite but if I had to choose it would probably be Pasteia de Nana because I’ll most likely eat the entire batch after it comes out of the oven.

EH: Do you have an inspirational quote to live by?

Liezl: I don’t live by quotes but one by the Dalai Lama recently inspired me: “There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done, called yesterday and tomorrow. So today is the right day to love, believe, and mostly live.”

EH: What three ingredients do you always have in your kitchen at home?

Liezl: Butter, raw honey and Nutella

Ellerman House


Thank you to Liezl for letting us into her mind and kitchen for a day.

Discover more about Ellerman House and in the name of sharing inspiration, whether from the kitchen or garden, ocean or wilderness, let us know what quote you live by…

Top 20 Foods to Savour in South Africa

“Take milk with your rooibos? Fancy some pap with your wors? Brave enough to try some skop or mashonzha?” ask the ladies and gents at The Greenhouse at The Cellars-Hohenort.

If you’ve ever considered yourself an explorer of food, a gastronomic libertine, take a look at our glossary of South African cuisine below. Some dishes might sound a little more enticing than others…

“South Africa is home to myriad ethnic and racial groups, many of them migrant communities, all of whom have contributed to the country’s rich cultural mix. The resultant kaleidoscope – the famous ‘rainbow’ – applies not only to the people but to the food, for one finds in South Africa the most extraordinary range of cuisines.”


The Greenhouse

Top 20 Foods to Savour in South Africa

Brush up on your culinary vocabulary with our quick list of indigenous South African food terms. The glossary represents ethnic dishes of particular groups, many since adopted by other groups and no longer the preserve of the group of origin. It is far from exhaustive, representing only a sample of the full South African menu, but here are our top 20:

  1. Achaar – Imported to South Africa by migrant Indians, achaar is a salad made of mango and oil – comes spiced.
  2. Amanqina – A hoof of a cow, pig or sheep. It is boiled, then spiced for taste. It is very delicious but sticky.
  3. Biltong – Dried and salted raw meat similar to the beef jerky made in the USA. An older Afrikaner delicacy, can be made of ostrich, beef, kudu or any other red meat.
  4. Bobotie – Of Malay origin, made with minced meat and curried spices. An egg sauce is poured on top of this and it is then baked.
  5. Boerewors – A traditional spicy South African sausage made of beef or lamb. Popular at open-air braais (barbecues), where it is grilled over charcoal.
  6. Chakalaka – A salad of Indian/Malay origin made of onion, garlic, ginger, green pepper, carrots and cauliflower, spiced with chillies and curry.
  7. Chotlo – A delicacy of the Tswana people, this is meat cut into extremely small pieces with the bones removed. The meat is first boiled, then ground before being put back into the pot and stirred until it becomes very fine.
  8. Frikkadel – Traditional South African meat balls. Made from tomatoes, onion, minced beef and other ingredients, and shaped into round balls.
  9. Koeksusters – Traditional Afrikaner, plaited dough cakes. They are syrupy, sweet but sticky.
  10. Mala – Intestines, especially those of chicken. They are thoroughly cleaned, cooked in boiled water, then fried. Eaten with pap (see below).
  11. Mashonzha – Worms, similar to caterpillars in appearance. These establish their habitat in and around mopani trees found in the Lowveld areas of Mpumalanga and the Northern Province. Popular with the Shangaans, Vendas and Bapedi of the Northern Province.
  12. Mogodu – Tripe, thoroughly cleaned then boiled for two to three hours. Once softened, allowed to simmer before being served with pap (see below).
  13. Morogo – Wild spinach, the most popular being thepe; delicious when boiled, softened and served with stiff porridge.
  14. Pap – Boiled corn meal, often served with sous – a sauce, usually featuring tomato and onions.
  15. Samoosa – A small, spicy, triangular-shaped pie that has been deep-fried in oil. Made by the Indian and Malay communities, samoosas are popular with South Africans in general.
  16. Serobe – A dish of the Tswana people. Thoroughly washed, then boiled mixture of tripe, intestines and lungs. They are cut into small pieces with a pair of scissors before being spiced to add taste.
  17. Snoek – This is a popular and tasty fish, caught off the Cape coast and often eaten smoked. If you’re lucky, you may get to experience a snoek braai – a real South African treat.
  18. Skop – Head of a cow, sheep or goat. The head is first scrubbed with a sharp instrument like a razor to remove skin and unwanted parts like ears and the nose are then cut out. The head is then boiled and allowed to simmer. Favoured by African men.
  19. Ting – A sour porridge made of sorghum – great for breakfast and favoured by the Tswanas in South Africa and Botswana.
  20. Umngqusho – A delicacy among the Xhosa people, this is samp (maize kernels) mixed with beans. It is boiled over three hours then mixed with beans. Salt and oil are added and the dish allowed to simmer.

The Plettenberg

When it comes to drinks, be sure to try Rooibos tea, a popular South African herbal tea made in the Cape from the Cyclopia genistoides bush. Rooibos (Afrikaans for “red bush”) has no caffeine and less tannin than regular tea.

Discover More

Go on your own gastronomic journey through Africa with us and watch our interview with Executive Chef for Liz McGrath’s The Collection, Peter Tempelhoff, as he explains South Africa’s local ingredients.

What are your favourite dishes from the list above?