Travel and a bit of shopping
First published in Juice, Mango Airlines magazine in December 2015
Bunny chow, Gatsbies, koe(k)sisters. Vetkoek, braaivleis, biltong and amadumbe. Chakalaka, sosaties and bobotie.
If all of this is foreign-speak to you, you are definitely not South African.
South African cuisine is multi-cultural – from indigenous cooking to early Cape Dutch cooking, from Malay-Indonesian influences to Indian dishes like samosas, atchar and biryani.
Durban is the heimat of bunny chow (a hollowed out bread loaf filled with curry). I vividly recall my first Durbs bunny chow takeaway from House of Curries. The tantalising aroma seduced me thus the first bite, and the second, was taken on the front seat of my rental car.
If you are travelling in the Overberg, The Red Windmill outside Napier makes a mean lamb bunny chow too.
If you want to taste about a dozen curries in one sitting, head for the curry buffet at Oyster Box Hotel in Umhlanga, KwaZulu-Natal.
No-one seems to be sure of how Gatsbies originated though some would have it that a shop owner called Rashaad Pandy made the first Gatsby for casual workers in Athlone.
A Gatsby is traditionally a French loaf halved and filled with anything from slap chips, polony, masala steak, cheese, viennas to fried calamari – the more, the merrier. Or tastier. Lastly a good dollop of piri piri sauce. A Gatsby is meant to be shared; of course you do not have to adhere to that rule.
A koeksister is not a koesi(e)ster. Neither is it a koek or tert.
Koeksisters are plaited strips of dough dipped in syrup. It’s usually made by Afrikaner-tannies who are not afraid of rolling up their sleeves, deep frying koeksisters in sizzling oil and eating half a dozen in one sitting.
Koesi(e)sters, of Cape Malay origin, are deepfried doughnuts, spiced with cinnamon, cardamom and ginger, and sprinkled with desiccated coconut .
At Bo-Kaap Kombuis they serve – apart from the best crispy flavoursome koesiesters – milk tartlets served with stewed fruit, and artepil porring, a pudding made with mashed potatoes!
Johannesburg has its own District Six Eatery with “Malay KU Sisters” as well as denningvleis (slow-cooked lamb) and samoosas. At Papa’s Real Food you can have malva pudding with traditional custard under the trees in Duncan Yard, Hatfield.
At Mrs Simpson’s in Dullstroom, Mpumalanga you can add your own wedding picture to the wall, swop your slinky shoes for a pair on display, and enjoy springbok carpaccio with wasabi cream cheese as well as traditional bobotie or fresh deboned trout from the area followed by malva pudding.
At Mzansi Kitchen in Langa you get the real thing if you are partial to vetkoek (fried dough bread). Nomonde and Ace Siyaka own and run this restaurant that was started by Nomonde’s late mother. They serve African traditional foods in their extended home whilst you listen to a live band including a saxophonist.
Not too far away from Mzansi you will eat the best braaivleis (barbecued meat) of your life. At Mzoli’s you choose your own piece of meat from the on-premise butchery, hand it over to the braai masters and then settle in for a real township experience with hundreds of people taking to the dance floor.
Go to Atlas Trading in the Bo-Kaap or The Spice Emporium in Durban for amadumbe, bobotie-spices, whole star anise and bird’s eye chillies. Just about every corner shop and butchery in South Africa sells biltong and droëwors (dried sausage).
Chakalaka has become a staple household ingredient in every South African home. South Africans are nothing if not innovative – Spice Route Winery came up with a Chakalaka Shiraz that displays aromas of cinnamon and pepper; they say it represents a fusion of flavours as does chakalaka relish.
Jonkershuis at Groot Constantia offers all the classics in their Cape Malay-inspired kitchen. Karoo lamb chops are served with pea puree, oven-roasted pork belly is to die for, and enough to feed two, and The Estate Tasting Plate offers a smaller portion of all the Cape Malay specialities served with sambals.
If you haven’t had a smiley at least once in your life, you do not deserve carrying a South African ID. Apart from the head of a sheep, cooked over a fire so that its lips pull back into a smile, (some) South Africans happily eat afval (tripe or offal), venison like springbuck, kudu and impala, and lately pork and beef cheeks have become de riguer.
At Racine on Chamonix Wine Estate in Franschhoek the beef cheeks have become so popular that the chef has had no option but to keep it on the ever-changing menu.
At Silver Orange Bistro on the R513 at Hartbeespoort you cannot go wrong with their slow-braised springbok shank with harissa mash. The presentation thereof is an art work in itself.
Pioneers Butcher & Grill in Hazyview, Mpumalanga was the regional winner in the 2015 Wolftrap Steakhouse Championships. They serve marrow bones as a starter and the meanest steaks in the Lowveld.
South Africa as we know it today came about because of spices. Jan van Riebeeck was sent to the Cape of Good Hope to set up a refreshment station for ships passing on their way to the lands of spices. And the rest is history, as they say.
Bertus Basson at Spice Route just outside Paarl serves caraway jam and mosbolletjies (fresh sweetish buns) with chicken liver parfait, cumin yoghurt with lamb bobotie, and coriander seed ciabatta with orange marmalade. He embraces traditional South African dishes and his own family recipes but he adds new flair to Ouma Jossie’s baked tongue with slaphakskeentjies (sweet and sour pickled onions), his mom’s apple tart and his own pumpkin pie served with a dollop of dark chocolate ice cream. Bertus adds biltong to a boere-salad and creates his own milktart fudge.
Not too far from Spice Route, Noop in Paarl encapsulates South African cuisine with Kalahari gemsbok carpaccio, pork belly served with carrot puree instead of soetwortels, a staple vegetable from my childhood; panfried abalone served with risotto and lemon beurre blanc, as well as the South African (Dessert) Plate that includes a milk tart spring roll.
Cape Dutch cookery is characterised by the use of nutmeg, allspice, and lots of sugar, in desserts such as milk. This harks of my childhood as does macaroni and cheese.
At Rupert & Rothschild chef Carmen Muller reinvented this classic recipe to a ‘Baron Edmond Braised Grass-Fed Beef ‘Mac & Cheese’. Sprinkled with parsley gremolata, nogal.
If you find yourself in Bloemfontein you can relive your childhood with an old-fashioned cream soda float or a Fanta “It Freshivates” Cocktail at Seven on Kellner.
If you are feeling brave or after you have tried too many South African delicacies, throw back a tot of witblits as it is called in the Western Cape; in the northern provinces it’s called mampoer. For those not in the know – it’s a home-distilled white spirit with a lot of skop.