I did not know what to expect from the Online Picnic on Lake Burera… How can a professional chef like me, used to kitchens of international hotels, adapt to an island with no electricity, no fridge, no oven, …?
It wasn’t my first time to cook at an Online Picnic — the previous event at Musanze gave me a good idea of what was expected of me. It also wasn’t my first time at Rwanda’s Twin Lakes — I used to get crayfish from Lake Ruhondo through the sisters of Foyer de Charité. (For a culinary man, Lake Ruhondo is in fact more interesting because they have proper fish there while Lake Burera offers only tiny silver fish “sambaza” and crayfish.)
But this absolutely was my first time to cook on an island! I knew it wouldn’t be easy to set my dining table so that 10 people could be served proteins, starches, vegetables, and carbohydrates… Before stepping on Cyuza Island I was expecting a lot of things but I had to adjust my mindset quickly. For example: I had a plan of baking some breads, yet without the right facilities it proved more efficient to steam them.
It surprised me that once you are on Cyuza, your healthy diet doesn’t need to stop. It actually is an ecofriendly and self-sufficient island. They eat fresh organic vegetables from their garden, drink fresh milk from their cows and they even have a piggery. Personally I most enjoyed the prospect of tasting crayfish straight from the lake!
CRAYFISH SOUP BY CHEF RAMA (serves 8 people)
Whenever you reach Cyuza Island yourselves, don’t hesitate to grab a pot and start cooking based on my recipe below… If you alert the management in advance, they will catch the crayfish for you and you will find them fresh and ready.
50 g crayfish
10 ml oil
22.5 g (1.5 tbsps) onions
7 g (1/2 tbsps) garlic
15 g (1 tbsp) leek celery
7 g (1/2 tbsps) celery
7 g (1/2 tbsps) fennel
10 g tomato paste
500 ml crayfish stock
7 g (1/2 tbsps) coriander
7 g (1/2 tbsps) dill
7 g (1/2 tbsps) oregano
0.75 g salt
0.75 g white pepper
I also noticed the beauty immediately: it was going to be amazing to cook near the lakeshore, with a serene view of the Muhabura volcano!
Cyuza Island complies with some basic kitchen facilities and dining tools, a bonfire is always there (even in front of each and every tent), and there is an engine boat and kayaks. I slept in a nice clean tent with twin beds, a warm blanket and a comfortable pillow but it is important to note that you need to bring your own bed sheets. It’s all very calm and you will be woken up with songs of birds and with a continental breakfast awaiting you.
However, we are not there yet! Not at all! We haven’t reached our Sunday relaxation time, we are still on Saturday 27 March 2021!
The day was tight and busy but I made it happen, alongside Madam Bella who is the owner of Cyuza island, manager Kayijamahe and Jane from our team. They all went an extra mile to make it easier for me, and Miha’s daughter Enya was moving around every corner, directing the lens where it was needed.
Remember, the picnic had two dimensions, the physical and the virtual. I was supposed to answer questions of my followers on the other side of the iPad or a smart phone, and many of them were very curious because this was a new experience to them.
When we were about to finish the feasting, our clients finally returned from the boat! They had been taking a cruise around the lake and we didn’t want to rush them. It made me very happy to serve my fellow chef, Stefan, who is an experienced professional from Germany. His positive comments were an extra boost for me, I felt encouraged. Stefan’s wife Andrea is from the hospitality industry as well — they used to work in catering — and now they will help upgrade the Isange guesthouse in Musanze.
After the picnic I treated everybody to a mountain of chicken meat and then went to sleep happy and satisfied. Next morning I realised that one couldn’t see the sunrise from my tent, ha ha — maybe it is possible possible on the other side of the island?
All in all, I wish to advise my colleague chefs to be adventurous and showcase their talent outdoors, at different pretty places in Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo, utilising delicious local ingredients. You can eat anywhere really, so we need to help people enjoy the beauty of the Gorilla Highlands region in a natural setting!
I assure you: this was not my last picnic at Cyuza Island! I loved it and many people are very interested to taste Lake Burera and my dishes. Moreover, after looking at Muhabura for the whole weekend I want to hike to the lake at its peak and make something there!
Recipes from the Video
Get as many of the items on the list as you can get. Fresh herbs can be substituted with dried ones and crayfish with shrimp. If you can’t get good avocados, you will simply stuff the rolls with the rest of the ingredients!
BURERA SPRING ROLLS (serves 8 people, one roll each)
2 whole avocados
8 rice wrappers (8.5 inch diameter)
24 cooked crayfish – peeled, deveined and cut in half
1 ⅓ tablespoons chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (coriander)
2 leaves lettuce, chopped
4 teaspoons fish sauce
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons white sugar
½ teaspoon garlic pili pili sauce
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon finely chopped local peanuts
1. Slice your avocado into long slices.
2. Fill a large bowl with warm water. Dip one wrapper into the hot water for a second to soften. Lay wrapper flat. In a row across the center, place 3 crayfish halves, a handful of avocado, basil, mint, cilantro and lettuce, leaving about 2 inches uncovered on each side. Fold uncovered sides inward, then tightly roll the wrapper, beginning at the end with the lettuce. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
3. In a small bowl, mix the fish sauce, water, lime juice, garlic, sugar and pili pili sauce.
4. In another small bowl, mix the hoisin sauce and peanuts.
5. Serve rolled spring rolls with the fish sauce and hoisin sauce mixtures.
CYUZA BUNS — BAO BUNS STUFFED WITH FISH CAKE (15 pieces)
BUNS — if you wish to be advanced or can’t find bao buns in your shops:
525 g mix flour (150 g millet flour, 100 g cassava flour, 275 g wheat flour) plus extra for dusting
1½ tbsp caster sugar, plus a pinch
1 tsp fast-action dried yeast
50 ml milk
1 tbsp sunflower oil, plus extra for brushing and for the bowl
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp baking powder
4-5 spring onions (thinly sliced on the diagonal)
6 tbsp mayo mixed with 1 tsp radish paste
450 g potatoes (chopped into chunks)
450 g mixed frozen fish
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 egg (beaten)
vegetable oil (for frying)
freshly ground black pepper
4 fat garlic cloves (finely chopped)
thumb-sized ginger (peeled and finely chopped)
1. Make your mashed potato ready.
2. Put the frozen fish on a roasting tin and cook in the oven for about 10-15 minutes until opaque and starting to flake. When cool enough to handle, remove the skin and any bones and flake the fish into large chunks.
3. Mix the fish, mashed potato, parsley and egg together until well combined. (Mix together carefully so as not to break up the fish too much.)
4. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Shape the mixture into 8-12 patties, depending on how large you want them to be and set aside to chill in the fridge for one hour.
6. Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan and fry the fish cakes until golden brown on each side and heated right through.
7. Serve with tartare sauce and a simple salad.
8. When your fish cakes are ready, spread your mayo into the bao bun and stuff with your fish cake, pickled carrot and spring onion.
photo by Enya Logar