When it came to food on Mt. Kilimanjaro, Elda Martinez had high expectations. She runs the food blog Elda Eats and trekked Mt. Kilimanjaro on Thomson’s Western Approach in July. We caught up with her to talk all things food on Kili–variety, calories, drinks and more. The following interview has been edited for concision and clarity.
What expectations did you have for food going into your trek?
Elda: I will say food is a huge part of my life. A lot of my friends and family were like, “What are you going to eat there? Weird things?” But I had already heard from someone who had done this exact trek with Thomson that the food, and the whole operation, was impressive.
How was your first meal on the trek?
Our first meal was below Londorossi Gate, before our trek really began. We had quiche, snacks, and a salad. Right at the beginning, I thought, “Wow, this is really good quiche.” That was the first time my trekking group was all together. We were bonding over food, which is the best way to bond. The next day on the mountain, eating snacks and thinking about the meal we had, I realized, “Okay, yeah, we’re going to eat really well.”
What was it like, eating on the mountain?
The first meal on the mountain was amazing, tender beef. It amazed me how they made it. Pascal (our chef) and his team hauled everything up the mountain, cooked in a tent, made everything over a little propane burner. Most days, we left camp before they did, they passed us, then they set up camp and were already cooking by the time we got there.
Kitchen staff cooking meals on the mountain
They truly put love into everything they did. Not just with sanitation and food safety, but they set the table, folded napkins and put the silverware in certain place. We ate on a tablecloth. I work at a five-diamond hotel, and the hospitality in general on the mountain was amazing.
What were some of your favorite meals?
I celebrated my birthday on the trek, and lasagna is one of my all-time favorite foods. That’s what they served for dinner on my birthday. Not just with a slice of bread, but with garlic bread, and butter. I’m a lasagna snob, and it was really good. I would buy that lasagna in a restaurant.
For dessert, they prepared a pineapple with cut chunks of pineapple in it. And the presentation, with the custard? Ooh, it was so good. We devoured it. It was like the VIP treatment.
After the Barranco Wall, I was exhausted. I’m super afraid of heights and the Barranco Wall kicked my butt. I was so hungry. For dinner, we had this breaded chicken with vegetable fritters and garlic aioli. The breading was crisp, and the consistency of the veggies inside the squash or the zucchini was so good. I probably ate a pound of it.
I’m not a huge soup fan, but the chicken noodle soup I had on Kili was probably the best soup I’ve ever had. It was the mixture of the seasoning, and it was the perfectly balanced broth. Good chunks of chicken, perfect noodles. Many of us said we would love to have the recipe. But overall, the soup scene on Kili with Thomson? Pretty amazing.
Did you feel like you were getting enough calories to stay energized?
Absolutely. They gave me so much food. I like a good pig-out time, but I kept thinking, “I’m not going to be able to eat all of this food that they’re giving me.” It’s a good balance of fruits vegetables, and carbo-loading foods. Perfectly cooked rice and tender beef, that sort of thing.
Some days we would get to camp when it was still light out, take our boots off, wash up and go to the food tent for afternoon snacks. It was usually hot peanuts or popcorn with a cup of hot tea. I miss that. I really miss it. It was amazing.
What Drinks Were Available?
Unlimited water, of course. They had to haul water up the mountain and filter it, which was incredible. But also, every morning, there is a wakeup call in your tent where your guide will give you hot coffee, hot tea or hot chocolate. I looked forward to hearing them go from tent to tent. It was always in the dark. It was almost like a morning song, the way they would mix someone’s coffee or tea.
They would make my black tea with some milk and a little bit of sugar. I’ve had tea at fancy places in England and France, all over Europe. This tea was perfect. When it was freezing in the morning, and you could see your breath, you just held onto that cup in your tent and thought, “This is amazing.”
How was the variety of food?
There was so much food. One thing that really surprised me was the avocado. I didn’t realize avocados grew in Tanzania. They were so good, perfectly ripe. The vegetables were good, but the salads with the avocados and tomato were incredible.
The crops they grow right there in Tanzania are impressive. Their bananas, everything was perfectly ripe. They’re not shipping things in from anywhere.
What are you taking away from the food on your trip?
It’s the experience of a lifetime. The culinary experience on the mountain was amazing because of the people who not only cooked the food, but also hauled bread and eggs and put all of these little touches everywhere.
The quality of the meat, the beef, everything was great. All the pasta was perfectly cooked al dente. The rice, perfectly cooked. I could cut open an egg and the yolk came spilling out. Most people wouldn’t expect to have a great food experience in Tanzania, but Tanzania is a great food country.
Elda with her guide Polite
I also want to note, I don’t know if I’ve ever been to a country where I felt more hospitality and warmth. I know that not everyone will climb Kilimanjaro, but if more people visited and saw what I just experienced–the hospitality, and the real love and care of the Tanzanian people–the world would be a better place.
Elda and her trekking group ascending through the rainforest