Monday, June 11, 2012

Unearthing Cape Town's Culinary Heritage: A Ravenous Adventure

Cape Town is a true melting pot. I set out to identify a unified style of cooking among the local chefs during my two-and-a-half-week stay—as well as a list of traditional dishes. For lunch the first day, I visited the Earth Fair Market, and my stomach roared at the possibilities: Egg rolls (a southeast Asian dish), massive pans of paella (Spanish)...

...cured meats made from the Kudu antelope...

...meat pies (most likely brought by the British and Dutch) made using lamb with rosemary and oregano, curried chicken, beef, and more...

...biltong (African jerky, which is pretty much the same as regular ol' US beef jerky, except it uses different spices and the meat is usually marinated in vinegar before curing), which can be made from everything from warthog to tuna (tune pictured below)...

...and curries made with huge amounts of spice. Indian curries are particularly common, but Cape Town has created its own style of cooking called Cape Malay. It is a product of the Cape Malay community, which is Islamic and has a Malaysian, Philippine, and Indonesian heritage. I'll talk more about Cape Malay-style cooking in later posts.

As with any gastro-anthropological study, my real research began in the supermarket. Cape Town has several levels of supermarket, from the basic Pick n Pay to the upscale grocery at Woolworths, (yes, Woolworths is alive and well in Cape Town, and the store bizarrely intersperses racks of clothing with curry spices and fresh lamb!). The supermarkets were as eclectic as the Earth Fair Market: The shelves were stocked with foods that our American grocery stores would relegate to the "World Foods" aisle.

It seemed that Cape Town's culinary identity wouldn't be coaxed out of hiding. Many of its most popular and iconic foods were already icons in other countries. Would I find unique South Africa dishes? How about the local chefs: Were they cultivating an identity, both for themselves and for Capetonian food in general? I set out to tour Cape Town's restaurant scene and find out—

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Africa: The Other-Other World

After my visit to South Africa, I can see why some authors have needed to write entire books to chronicle their tales, e.g. Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa—

—and Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible. 

There are those that refer to the parts of South Africa that I visited as "European Africa." I visited Cape Town and drove the Garden Route—a famous road trip along the southern coast of Africa. "European Africa" is quite developed, whereas other areas of Africa are pure lions and water buffalo. When I visited the Constantia wine region, I was surprised to learn that wineries were founded as early as 1685!

Cape Town is not a new part of the world. Most American cities are much younger.

I arrived jet lagged and smoked a cigarette and drank a beer with my college buddy Eli. He had arranged an apartment in the Bo-Kaap neighborhood of Cape Town, famed for its pastel-colored buildings, Cape Malay cuisine, and rich Islamic heritage.

The next morning I woke up around 5am to singing in the streets. It was the daily call to prayer. I was truly shocked by the sheer beauty of the voices, and when I looked out the window—

—I saw Table Mountain for the time, towering above Cape Town. Of course we had to go for a hike.

Celebrate the Holidays With New Washington Grape Varieties

Looking for a rare and unusual wine to sip with Christmas dinner or on New Year's Eve? It's easy to throw cash at a well-known bottl...