Tag Archives: cape town

Grazing in South Africa

The residents of Cape Town don’t eat, they graze. And they graze exotic. In fact, it is recommended that travellers to South Africa plan their wildlife safaris towards the end of their stay. Else, it is a tad difficult digesting an animal you recently admired frolicking in the wild. Especially the elegant and playful springbok: a small antelope given to jumping into the air for no apparent reason (although possibly the reason why they are referred to as lion diet).

Anyhow, the springbok also makes for a delicious meal in a pot, the potjiekos. Traditionally, this Afrikaner meal is cooked in a pot over an open fire. The ingredients going in usually range from the adventurous to the experimental to the available. Even though it is time (and insides) consuming, the result is almost always delectable. Menus of fine dining establishments also list other game, such as kudu, impala, crocodile (tandoori, if you please), ostrich and the warthog. Penguins and seagulls have fallen off the list nowadays, but they were very popular with the early settlers around the Cape. Even the biltong, another favourite, akin to beef jerky, is prepared from the meat of any animal that was once large and breathing.

But if you’re looking for a tasty and cheap meal on the go, it has to be the bunny chow. This is a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with a spicy curry of minced beef. With its origins in the Kwa-Zulu Natal, (even though Minal Hajratwala attributes this creation to an uncle who migrated from Gujarat roughly a century ago, in her debut novel, Leaving India) the bunny chow is quite a favourite with locals and backpackers alike.

It is however, the ubiquitous barbecue, braai that showcases the historical and multicultural effects on the cuisine of the nation. In brief, spices drew the Dutch, who brought the Malays who brought their cuisine. The French arrived with their vines. Sugar farmers brought the Indians, the gold mines the British and the Germans brought themselves. Meanwhile the local communities continued to eat game, wild greens, root vegetables, cereals and insects.

At a braai, you will find steak, chicken and the most traditional of foods called the boerewors. It is two hundred years old, means farmer’s sausage and was introduced into the cuisine by the Boers. This is accompanied by pap, a stiff savoury porridge made of maize, and a relish of tomato and onions with wild spinach as a side. Malay cuisine, perhaps the best known of South African cuisines, is represented by the bredie, a mutton stew, and a curried meat kebab on skewers called the sosatie. The presence of snoek or fish on the braai grill is purely a delightful treat for the taste buds. Samosas, although not a braai item, are extremely popular as a snack.

Customarily, each visitor brings a marinated dish for the host to braai and share. But I would merely bring my hungry self to one, and then spend the rest of the evening trying to bring my greedy self to stop…

Watering Holes

It was the whimsical name – Cloud Break Backpackers Lodge – that decided my choice of accommodation in Cape Town. Nestled close to the base of the Table Mountain, and not too far from the trendy V&A waterfront, the lodge offered splendid views of the Table Mountain from across a little garden. Each morning, I awoke to the sight of the mountain covered in its trademark “table cloth”. Come evening, the same craggy façade lit up with gazillions of strategically placed focus lights that cloaked it in mystery.

In fact, my favourite travel anecdote about South Africa also transpired atop this singular, flat-surfaced mountain in the world. Not far from the alighting deck of the cable car is situated an open air bar counter. On that fateful visit, it was being manned by a rather glum bartender. Queries brought forth a litany of woes and in a weak moment (maybe it was the chilled beer) I offered to tend the bar for him, an offer he hastened to accept. So there I was, after a quick refresher on the contents of the bar, pouring out measure after strong measure to milling crowds on top of the Table Mountain…the entire day.

Another day found a few of the other backpackers and yours truly at a place called Fatboys. An enormous nightclub, it was spread over many levels, with as many music consoles and dance floors. Packed to the gills, reverberating with loud music, the club was evidently the choice of every tourist, and local, in Cape Town. The reason: free alcohol, as long as you bought yourself a tumbler to drink it in. The catch: trying not to lose the tumbler. And how difficult can that be, you ask. Very difficult, actually, for, as the night progressed, it became abundantly clear that a tumbler could be knocked, nudged, shoved, bumped, or simply grabbed out of your hand.

A slightly less “spirited” experience, but with a decidedly higher kick, took place at the Drum Café. This club is done up in true African flavour and hires out djembe drums to those interested in learning to play. My initial desultory lessons under the guidance of a friendly Rastafarian gradually developed into a pressing desire to be one with the powerful rhythms of West African songs. An unbelievable feeling, once you get over the stinging palms, that is. But then, that’s where the wonderful wines of the region came in handy, literally.

My first ever wine tasting tour took me to the wine lands around Stellenbosch, one of the oldest towns in the Cape region. Not only does this area claim the finest vineyards owing to its near-Mediterranean terroir, it also showcases some of the finest examples of Cape Dutch architecture. Clubbed together with this bacchanalian jaunt was a visit to a cheetah farm. A stroke of genius, I have to say. Clearly, not a soul would be willing to bell this cat sans generous doses of Dutch courage!