The lights are low, the coals of the cooking fire glowing orange on a hot, humid night. Above us, the thatched roof is partly open to the sky as the vibrant sights, sounds, scents and tastes of Africa hypnotise us. We’re at The Boma restaurant in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, and I can’t remember when last I’ve had so much fun.
We’re made to feel welcome from the moment we arrive at The Boma, which shelters in indigenous teak forest at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. A vibrant-coloured chitenge (a bit like a sarong) is knotted over my shoulder, wrapping me up in all the warmth and hospitality of the local people.
Once we’re seated at our table, a smiling waiter comes to share with us the traditional and oddly soothing custom of hand washing, pouring warm water from an enamel cup over our hands and into a bowl. Then comes traditional beer and some snacks – mealies, groundnuts, sweet potato. Yum.
This is so much more than an ethnic restaurant; it’s A Cultural Experience, with capital letters. In fact, it’s well deserving of the ‘Most Imaginative Dining Experience Award’ that it picked up recently at the Zimbabwe on a Plate restaurant awards for the third year running.
Yes, there’s good food, including crocodile, warthog, kudu and buffalo steaks and traditional Zimbabwean dishes like sadza (puthu/pap), kapenta (deep-fried little fish, a bit like West Coast bokkems in their dryness and saltiness) and fire-roasted mopani worms.
Relax! If you’re of a less adventurous or vegetarian persuasion, there’s beef, chicken and lots of yummy veggies and salads too.
But more important than all of that is the feast of entertainment provided by traditional singers, dancers and drummers, each vying to outdo the others in colour, costume and spirited energy. We came expecting a meal and we got a full-on thrilling show as well, a wealth of colour, action, music and rhythm all rolled in one and delivered with enthusiasm. Lovely stuff.
For me the highlight came after dinner when they handed out drums to all the diners and we had an interactive drumming lesson. I got totally wrapped up in all the excitement and the rhythm. Once we all got a little better at it – thanks to excellent instructions from Amazulu’s maestro drummer, who didn’t pull his punches when he thought we sucked (which was often) – it was intoxicating to listen to the sound of some 200 drummers giving their all.
The cherry on top was an A Capella group that came to our table to deliver one of the best renditions of The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh) I’ve ever heard. Throat-catching stuff. Or maybe I was just high on drumming.
There was honey and cinnamon ‘medicine’ with a kick of vodka, hair braiding, traditional face painting and fortune-telling by a bone-throwing witchdoctor on offer too, but in Zimbabwe it’s done so amiably and genuinely that it’s a million miles from tacky, even if you’ve lived in Africa all your life as I have. For the foreigners – some Brits, Italians, Dutch, Belgians and Asians – it was a spectacle they’ll never forget.
Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, Zimbabwe
Tel: +263-13-43211-20, www.thebomarestaurant.com
Advance booking recommended