‘Come Eat’, as they say, in Cape Town, the city with a rich history of culinary influence. Lyle Michael takes up the offer, while touring South Africa’s joy with its warm people, spectacular wine trails and exhibitions, olive tastings, natural wonders and captivatingly stunning beaches
It’s 2010 and the roar around the Spanish football team’s victory vibrates through the city of Johannesburg, giving South Africa a larger than life platform to showcase its beautiful cities, people and infrastructural potential. Yet, it was the Mother City that captivated tourists, having played host to eight matches that year, none other than Cape Town. As today’s world calls to be different in the face of competition, the diversity and openness of its people coupled with the warm culture of a wine and dine trail places Cape Town among the top contenders in the global food and hospitality tourism sector. Whether it be a family meal at a wine estate or a traditional spread at a living museum restaurant, a flavourful Indian repast or a 15-course African serve, we – a group of first-time ‘Capers’ – find warmth in the city that creates a value-for-money experience with flavours that cater to the heart.
We hit upon Gold in Cape Town with its vibrant atmosphere in a rustic setting while we take our buds on a latitudinal journey. A 15-course set meal, that varies each day, could include a smooth South African spiced tomato soup with baby vetkoek – fat cake – that’s a larger version of our little East Indian balls of dough. Granny under the Blanket may not be appetising upon first read, but the soft beef and ostrich meatballs wrapped in cabbage with a rich tomato smoor is worth cozying upto. Veg substitutes are also on offer, starting with the putu pap (maize meal). The Cape Malay region is wrapped in the pea and potato samoosa (with the added ‘o’) with cream chutney while traditional sosaties reveal the love that South Africans share for fruit with their meat – the dried apricots in rooibos (herbal tea) syrup with the lamb kebabs work refreshingly well; the veg substitute is patat- the generic name for a single serving of fries. Moroccan prawn briouats – small, crispy pastries – present themselves deliciously, a veg substitute in maize nut fritters. Kenya serves a coconut chicken curry with mango achaar or a Malay lentil dahl for the vegetarian. Lemon and peanut rice soaks up any gravy flavourfully while the Nigerian corn and beans are light on the palate, traditionally, samp (dried corn kernels) and beans is served, but here corn from the cob is a lovely replacement. Morog is a feature of rural Africa that brings forth the flavour of wild flowers such as spinach, served at the table in the wholesome Congolese Morog. Another Cape Malay treat ends the feast. Boeber- a luscious pudding with milk, sago, vermicelli, sultanas and roasted almonds is flavoured with cardamom, cinnamon and vanilla and in signature style, a touch of gold dust. However, the cadence of the award-winning Pan-African restaurant comes alive in Mali Gold featuring singers, dancers, Mali puppets on stilts and musicians
while you dine… beats dinner and a movie any day!
Taking cue from the staple putu pap, the daily food of Black South African families can be traced to the indigenous foods that their ancestors ate. A typical meal in such a household that is Bantu-speaking is the fluffy maize porridge, with light stewed meat gravy. As for the scrumptious sosaties, you cannot return home without a Braii experience, where the love for barbecued foods is grilled into several meats such as beef sausages, which we relished with the tangy tomato smoor and cabbage gravy. Now, if you’ve got a sunset upon the banks of the Breede as your setting, then it’s a pleasant languor, indeed.
Steeped in rich history with a complimentary progressive outlook, Cape Town earns recognition for the mélange of Dutch, Indian, Malaysian, European, Mediterranean and Afrikaner cultures that plays itself out. An interesting platter is hence presented to us, with a stark European flavour that was born from tracing the earliest settlement of South Africa with the arrival of Dutch commander Jan van Riebeeck in 1652 at the Cape of Good Hope, along with the French and the Germans. The confluence led to the use of cinnamon and nutmeg to season many a dish, while a light spice mix of nutmeg, allspice and hot peppers was an African concoction to spruce up an otherwise bland meal. So we indulge in a Boerekos spread – literally ‘farmer food’ – at the modest Worcester Museum’s Kleinpasie restaurant. To whet the palate, we start with the national favourite, biltong- a salty dried meat, from any game, although it is often from different types of antelope or other venison, followed by the oh so hearty whole wheat meal, served fresh from the outdoor brick oven. ‘Curry powder flavouring’ is next revealed in the Malay Bobotie- a beef mince bake with a golden custard cover, finished with sliced bananas. If you have to think twice, then perhaps the indulgent Chicken Pie de Luxe – yes, luxury to the full – would be a good choice or even the mussels floating in cream sauce, if the mollusk is your weakness. But we must pay obeisance to the Waterblommetjie, the seasonal flower offers a wholesome meal served in a lamb stew. Hearty portions with sides of cream spinach, cheese cauliflower, rich orange sweet potatoes, boiled potatoes with a bottle of Nuy Valley’s white sparkling… now that’s VFM. We cannot call it a day without a sampling of the melktert (milk tart), our Indian bread pudding a close acquaintance. Other sweet Dutch influences that we stumble upon through our sojourn come in the fried dough bits that are dipped in sugar syrup (hot or cold) to create the lovable little koeksister. Yet, if we were to crown king of the desserts, it would go to the divine warm apricot sponge in a thick custard blanket, known as Malva Pudding; even Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef, Art Smith had to give it place of importance at the Christmas dinner he arranged for the pupils of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa!
Of Cape Dutch origin, the pudding is one of many such popular dishes of this cuisine, which would serve as the second distinct type, after Boerekos. It owes at least as much to the cookery of the slaves brought by the Dutch East India Company to the Cape from Bengal, Java and Malaysia as it does to the European styles imported by British settlers (Boer Wars of 1805 and 1820). Inevitably, the Khoisan – the earliest representatives of the nation’s history – were pressed by difficult circumstances into service for the colonists, which brought a potent new ingredient in Karoo salt to South Africa’s mix, also with Islam, from slaves of Madagascar and India. So you have spicy curries, sambals, pickled fish and a variety of fish stews. That’s where Noon Gun – a purely Malay restaurant perched on top of a hill overlooking the city – with its sumptuous Chicken Biryani, tangy sambals and spicy masala fish earns top score. As Cape Town unfolds itself, we also find innovative takes on Malay cuisine with the Cape Curry, a lamb preparation with roti, papad, curd, kachumber and banana
By the time Van Riebeeck left in 1662, white people began to live in what was a developing colony where immigration was later encouraged in Cape Colony. And the Indians introduced a different line of culinary practices, including a variety of sweets, chutneys, the samoosa and a Durban local, Bunny Chow which is curry in a hollowed-out loaf of bread for that neat dish-in-one. The British influence was limited to beef steaks and Osso Bucco, which we discover is a large part of the SA menu, with a twang added in the sauces served. Take for instance, the monkey gland sauce, which we found overpowering, created from a mish mash, perhaps an attempt by the French to please the African palate! And as independence was finally earned by SA in 1962, Italian POWs brought with them several cheeses, olives, pasta, the bird’s eye chilli and the premium Rubicon wines.
A Wine and Olive Trail:
Plato remarked, “Nothing more excellent or valuable than wine has even been granted by the Gods to man.” True, as the wine subsection thus takes us on many a fruitful trail through estates and cellars with breathtaking acres of landscape and cute little fireplaces to keep us warm as we tuck into fresh, crisp salads that lay credence to the wonder food being a whole meal by itself. Jason’s Hill, at the foot of the Slanghoek Mountains is one such where we swirl some fine Viognier Wooded 2009 on the palate and relish the chicken salad with pear, strawberry, olive, Feta and fresh, crispy lettuce; colours and flavours in a sumptuous blend. A visit to SA’s first winery, Groot Constantia established in 1865 is a blessing for the picturesque drive to, and its large vineyards along with the ornate Dutch Imperial Manor which now serves as a mini museum. Stellenbsoch, however rules the roost with stunning estates such as Warwick where we indulge in a little game play, sipping Trilogy (a Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot ruby red) from the legendary Wedding Cup, defeating the purpose by spilling a drop and more. Walk through the pretty little college town here and grab a quick bite at the many cafés that don the area. We suggest a thin crust pizza, perhaps with pepperoni, Feta and avocado that truly offers a slice of the good life.
An olive oil trail was fortunately on our list, with Nuy Valley’s 400-year-old Willow Creek a lovely choice with its staggering production of 450,000 litres in a single year. While Spain may lead in this field, SA does well within, and the tasting certainly had us nod in favour.
Cherish the Adventure:
Quad biking through a game reserve and returning to a warm corn fritter, or sipping on a glass of champagne after a ride through the breathtaking Maiden’s Cove… Cape Town gives us plenty to write home about. Yet taking a cable car up 3560 ft above and watching awestruck as it slices its way through the clouds to reach one of the seven natural wonders of the world is an experience that will forever remain in our hearts. Table Mountain, with its thin strip of covering cloud, known colloquially as the “tablecloth”, is magnificent as we look down at the City Bowl view, cupped by Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head on either side.
The city that gave of itself, heart and soul to us, with its essence in the history and rhythm of its warm people, its scenic beauty and creative energy couldn’t have been more succinctly described as with, “God did something very special when he created Cape Town. This city where the currents of two oceans meet is the entry to a beautiful continent and her people.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu hit the nail on the head.
As we take a luscious sip of Amarula, that famed African liquor, let us leave you with some experiential advice: For a vegetarian, home food’s the best with several city establishments serving Indian fare. For us though, Taj Bombay Brasserie’s Paneer Tikka offered a lingering taste – the soft morsel of sumptuous delight was finished off well with a fine Delheim Riesling dessert wine. While Bukhara offered a refreshing alternative to us meat eaters with a Beef Pudina Tikka, the popular standalone does well enough with its Palak Paneer too!
So we’re left with that flavour which the palate embraces well, but it’s the heart
that is gladdened the most in homely Cape Town.
Uncorking the Cape
Wine a bit… you’ll feel better’. It’s no wonder then that South Africa is filled with a salubrious air and a warmth that can only come from a wine-loving nation. Several estates open up splendidly to an aficionado of the drink while offering a picturesque sojourn gracing the Cape’s charming towns. And when the many glorious wines come under one roof at the International Convention Centre in Cape Town, it can mean only one thing. Cape Wine is here! This year, however, running parallel was the newborn Vindaba – the South African Wine Tourism Show – a small start, with the potential to grow.
Hosted by Wines of South Africa (WOSA) which is a non-profit industry organisation to promote all South African wine exports in key international markets, Vindaba is to serve as a launch pad for the country with 1.5% of the world’s total wine production and more than 100,000 hectares of grape-producing vines, to create the perfect blend of tourism backed by the wine sector and occupy terra firma on the global wine tourism map. The vast regions of Constantia, Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschoek primarily with strong varietals in the Chenin Blanc and Pinotage, favourable terroir and micro climates have resulted in stellar wines by several estates. The exhibitons played host to a notable many such as Spiers, Asara, Delheim, Thelema, Painted Wolf, Elgin, Glen Carlou, Wellington and the like.
Spiers dates back to 1692 with premium wines such as the Frans K. Smith after its Cellar Master, while Asara (1691), offers Bell Tower- a 16% superb Bordeaux Blend. India has the good fortune of Thelema and Distell, with the former’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 and Shiraz 2008 from their estate in Stellenbosch and the Sauvingnon Blanc Sutherland 2010 from Elgin; and the latter’s Two Oceans (sold on every continent) among others. For a unique dessert sampling, Delheim’s Riesling Edelspatz Noble Late Harvest is an elegantly unique wine. As for wine with a cause, Painted Wolf is the perfect example; to support the cause of the endangered African wild dog, the winery produces a modest range inclusive of the award-winning Black Pack Pinotage 2010 and Den Chenin Blanc 2010.
Andre Morgenthal, Communications Manager of WOSA rightly said, “A bottle of wine is but a bottle of wine, it’s the tourism that creates the overall experience.” So whether it was the inviting array at a wine exhibition like Vindaba or on a trail through a renowned winery such as Backsberg on the Paarl route, South Africa presents the perfect setting that results in magical wines from a magical place.