Erin writes . . . I have had friends ask me what Seth and I ate in Shenaya. At first I thought it was a bit of a weird question, but then it struck me: what do people focus on most when they talk about their holidays? The food, of course, especially if they've been somewhere strange. And travelling back in time by a thousand years is definitely strange.
So, Shenayan food . . . The first word that springs to mind is ‘wild’ – a bit like the Shenayans themselves. Just about everything they ate – and therefore Seth and I ate too – was gleaned from the surrounding bush. Very little food was actually cultivated there. That is partly because the ruling class – the Defenders – would never dirty their hands by grubbing in the soil. That was a job strictly for the Outcasts. Just so you know, Outcast were Shenayans who failed to pass the stringent tests that would have allowed them to enter the hallowed ranks of the Defenders. Outcasts, manacled together on long chains, were sent out to scour the bush for berries, roots, leaves, and the fruit which accented the Shenayan table, adding variety to their staple diet – meat.
There was no shortage of meat in southern Africa one thousand years ago. Vast herds of impala, kudu, zebra, and giraffe roamed the plains. But no Outcast was ever permitted to hunt. That noble task was the preserve of the Defenders. Our friend Caleb headed those hunting teams. And in doing so, he unwittingly provided the meat for Seth and my most memorable meal. (Memorable partly because Seth and I were fighting at the time) It was a kudu and baobab leaf stew. Like all venison, kudu has a gamy, almost spicy flavour. And the baobab leaves? Well, not exactly cabbage, which I guess is bad enough. Thankfully we followed that meal up with sweet marula fruit. What a treat they are, eaten raw, jellied, or turned into potent alcohol – the kind that even makes elephants drunk!
But in Shenaya the alcohol of choice is shenna – a fiery wine made from palmhearts. I never did get to taste it, but Lady Sophia of Norin did, and she thought it was disgusting. But then she was definitely biased. Coming from Norin, she thought all Shenayans were savages. A view they reinforced when offering her mopane worms and locusts, seasoned with shredded crocodile fillet at her ‘welcome to Shenaya’ dinner. You could be forgiven for gagging; Sophia almost threw up too! I guess it all comes down to what you’re used to. And, by the way, mopane worms are still the world's most relished insect. Millions of people in Africa just love them. I can't understand why. They taste like mud. Tough, chewy, mud. Erin