For most people, the words "Namibian cuisine" probably conjure up images of a succulent springbok steak, a bag of cured kudu biltong or perhaps even the infamous fried mopane worm - chewy and spicy. But one of Namibia's greatest culinary treats is surely more associated with Parisian restaurants and Champagne than with Africa: the oyster.
However, visitors to our coast would beg to differ that the French have all the fun when it comes to the original aphrodisiac. Served in beachside restaurants from Swakopmund to Lüderitz, the fresh, local oysters are best eaten raw, with lemon, pepper or a few drops of tabasco to truly appreciate their subtle marine flavour. Slightly more squeamish customers can try a cooked dish, such as oysters Rockefeller.
But the best oyster experience has to be out at sea, within sight of the oyster "nurseries" themselves. Boat tours leaving daily from Walvis Bay cruise past the seal colonies, hungry pelicans and playful dolphins to the mouth of the bay, where blue flotation barrels bob in the waves. Tied beneath the barrels are baskets filled with succulent oysters. A single oyster can filter an incredible 30 liters of water an hour to feast on plankton, so it is essential that the seawater can circulate freely. For this reason, the baskets are raised and thoroughly washed every six weeks, removing algae, barnacles and limpets which can stop the oysters feeding. On board, the captain serves trays of fresh oysters with lemon wedges - which spoiled passengers can wash down with glasses of ice-cold sparkling wine, surrounded by views of the bay and leaping dolphins. The bracing sea breeze certainly helps work up an appetite!
Passengers enjoy a tray of fresh oysters on Mola-Mola's boat tour of Walvis Bay
So how did a species which can only breed in warm water come to thrive in Namibia's chilly seas, with an average temperature of just 14 degrees centigrade? Originally, the oysters were all bred in and then imported from Chile, and allowed to mature in Namibia. More recently, a heated aquarium in Swakopmund means that they are now bred locally, before being transferred to the ocean baskets.
But why go to all that effort to farm oysters outside their natural habitat? It turns out that Namibia's cold Benguela Current is the secret... While a classic French oyster takes three years to grow, Namibian oysters can be harvested after just eight months! The cold water contains more oxygen and plankton, allowing for super speedy growth. Our oysters are exported across the globe - but there's nowhere you can eat them quite as fresh as in Namibia - on a boat, a jetty, or during a romantic sunset meal.
A bowl of oysters is served in a Swakopmund restaurant
Join a tour in Lüderitz to find out what happens before the oysters reach the table. Tours start at the processing factory and end with an optional tasting with wine at the Oyster Bar.
Take a boat tour in Walvis Bay - see the barrels where the oysters grow, and eat fresh oysters on board your boat as it bobs around in the ocean breeze.
Enjoy a sunset meal at Swakopmund's Jetty 1905 restaurant - live and cooked oysters are a specialty along with other seafood treats. The restaurant is at the end of the pier so diners will enjoy glorious views as well as the sound of the waves crashing beneath them.
The Lighthouse restaurant overlooks the beach in Swakopmund, and also serves fresh oyster platters in an informal setting.