Friday, August 10, 2012

Restaurants of Cape Town, South Africa: Bebe Rose

You won't find much of an online presence for this Cape Town restaurant. Bebe Rose serves traditional African food, using many of the culinary traditions and ingredients found in Cameroon and Ethiopia. The restaurant provides the unique opportunity to sample dishes you won't find anywhere else but Africa. I can't think of a better way to describe it than as soul food, and the flavors, even though they were totally foreign to me, somehow tasted comforting—almost like a home-cooked meal. I wouldn't have found it if it weren't for an astute recommendation by Hannah Deall of the Cape Town Tourism Board.

Bebe Rose (left) serves uniquely African food at 112 Long Street, Cape Town, South Africa

Located inside of the African Women's Trading Market on 112 Long Street, Bebe Rose doesn't put its sign out on the street. In fact, it doesn't even have a sign with its name on it inside the market. After wandering among the stalls selling African masks, artisan jewelry, and traditional clothing, I had to ask a man where to find it. He responded, "You mean the African restaurant?" Hmmm, not a bad start.

To find Bebe Rose, walk down to the market's subterranean floor and look for a taciturn sign reading "Ethiopian Restaurant." I don't even think there's an arrow, but you can see the dining room down a short hall. It's spartan: a few brilliant paintings, with bright yellows, oranges, and reds; signs written in an alphabet I didn't recognize; and about five tables, which were clearly acquired haphazardly. I took a seat at a computer desk.

The three other customers looked to be on their lunch breaks, and everyone was eating with their hands. In the middle of the room, a large pitcher stood for washing. Soon, my friend and I were greeted by Bebe Rose, a warm woman with a deep appreciation for hospitality. We didn't realize that there were menus until later, but we wanted Bebe Rose's recommendations anyway: Bring us your favorites, we said.

B H: Vetkoek with fried beans

The first plate was Cameroonian 'vetkoek' served with fried beans ($4). Full of dark spices, the beans were served in the middle of the plate surrounded by six vetkoek, or deep fried dough balls. The vetkoek were like savory doughnuts, and we used them to sponge up the beans. The dish was obscenely heavy and wildly simple, and I found it intriguing but I didn't know why. When Bebe Rose returned, I asked her what types of spices she used. "They are Cameroonian spices," she said, and when I prodded her for more she said, "I don't know the names in English." She asked if everything was delicious, and when we said absolutely she said, "I'm so glad," a big smile spreading across her face, then she rushed into the kitchen.

When she returned, I asked her where she had learned to cook. "Oh, I began cooking all of these dishes when I was a little girl. Every girl had to learn to cook." She went on to explain that she hadn't wanted to cook when she was young for this reason—that she had wanted to be a beautician. It wasn't easy being a woman with the desire to work, but she was determined. Eventually, her love of cooking won out, and she established Bebe Rose.

Pap with spicy tripe

The next plate was tripe in a spicy sauce served with pap ($4). Pap was eaten by the native peoples of South Africa hundreds of years ago, and it's still popular. It is a ball of cooked cornmeal, and it is used like Ethiopian injera bread to pick up food and sauces. I'm not a big fan of tripe, but this was easily the best I've had. Bebe Rose smothered the tripe in hot spices. The pap stuck to my fingers as I used it to pick up large pieces of the gooey meat.

The last dish was a succulent fried chicken ($6). Nothing fancy except for the juiciness of the meat and the crispness of the skin. Delicious!

It had been a pleasure talking with Bebe Rose and hearing her story. She seemed overjoyed that we loved her food, and I really can't recommend the restaurant enough. It's full of African dishes, including Doro Wot, an Ethiopian stew of meat and berbere spice; Kondre, a plate of beef with raw plantain in a freshly ground peanut sauce; Achu, a traditional Cameroonian meal made of Taro and rock of salt mixed with spicy palm nut juice and beef; and a "vegi combo," comprised of spicy split lentils, yellow peas, potato, and carrot in a spicy sauce with greens, chickpeas, cabbage, and shiro and served with injera bread. For the true ravenous traveler, look no farther than Bebe Rose.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

How to Harvest Wild Fennel Flower (with Fennel-Flower-Crusted Pork Recipe)

How to save loads of money and be even MORE of a gourmet—

It's wild fennel season here in Oregon, which means its the right time of year to harvest fennel flowers. Also known as fennel powder, fennel flowers are a traditional cooking ingredient in Tuscany, and, though they cost a lot at the store, they're easy to harvest (not to mention free) if you live where wild fennel grows. Fennel flowers seem to be everywhere these days. In the spring, Mattie watched Tuscan butcher and celebrity Dario Cecchini use massive amounts fennel flower to add flavor to a pork dish, then I received the latest issue of Lucky Peach cooking magazine and it offered instructions for harvesting your own fennel flowers. After harvesting my own fennel flower, I looked online for a good recipe, but  I couldn't find one that showcased the fennel flowers. As a result, I came up with my own, and I think it's simple and flavorful. But first, here's how to harvest fennel flowers in 5 easy steps:

Find blooming wild fennel. Bring a knife and a brown paper bag.

Cut off the flowers.

Put in a paper bag, and let dry in a dry place (dampness causes mold). Alternatively, spread them out on a baking sheet.

After two weeks, the fennel flowers will have fallen off. Pour through a wire strainer to remove debris.

 Take the remaining flowers and stems and thresh two or three times.

And now you have fennel flower for cooking.

Fennel flower is good for digestion, and it is often paired with pork because pork is a less-tender meat. Here's a simple recipe for Fennel-Flower-Crusted Pork Loin Steaks.

Recipe for Fennel-Flower-Crusted Pork Loin Steaks:

Fennel Flowers
Sea Salt
Black Pepper
White Flour
Pork Loin Steaks
Oil For Frying (Canola, Vegetable, etc.)

1) Liberally rub fennel flower into the pork loin on both sides (you just harvested it; use a hefty dose), followed by thyme, salt, and black pepper.
2) Heat enough oil in a frying pan for frying pork loins (about 2-3 millimeters deep).
3) Pat flour onto both sides of the pork loin. Only use as much sticks easily.
4) Add pork to oil (be careful, it's hot!). Let cook on one side until you see the edges of the pork begin to brown. Flip, and do the same for the other side. For a 3/4 thick loin, I usually let it cook for 3-4 minutes on each side; cook until cooked through.

Serve with mashed potatoes or couscous or whatever, and prepare to taste the wonderful flavor of hand-harvested fennel flower! —Kristin

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Brief History of South African Cuisine

At this point in my trip, I'd found plenty of elevated, internationally-inspired cuisine in Cape Town, but I still hadn't found a traditional African restaurant. An African restaurant... That's like saying a North American restaurant. Before the Europeans arrived in 16th century, various peoples lived throughout the area now known as South Africa. I believe that the Xhosa people, the San peoples, the Bantu-speaking peoples, and the Tugela peoples were some of the more prominent, but don't quote me on that. Some of these peoples herded livestock, but agriculture was not popular and most fruits and vegetables were foraged. To try and grasp the effects of that these native people's culinary traditions upon modern South Africa would be like trying to show the effects of Native American cooking traditions on modern America.


When the Dutch colonized South Africa, they brought with them European ingredients and cooking traditions. This was back in the 17th century. To untangle to origins of the numerous dishes that arose back then would require a grant or two, suffice it to say that some of these dishes are still popular. They include potjiekos, a thick meat and vegetable stew; Tomato bredie, another stew only heavily spiced and typically featuring fewer vegetables that potjiekos; melktert, a milk tart that tastes a bit like horchata; and koeksister, a fried pastry absolutely saturated with sugar syrup.

Melktert, eaten at Village Shop in Hoekwil

The Trekboers, who were somewhat like our pioneers, were groups of nomadic colonialists who left Cape Town to move throughout South Africa's interior, subsisting off of herded livestock and temporary farms. The Voortrekkers were a similar group, only they set out from the Eastern Cape. Together, these people eventually became known as the Boers: rough-around-the-edges farmers of European ancestry who lived alongside the native peoples. They created frontier towns and they too developed a somewhat cuisine independent of the coast colonial cities.

Boerewors sausage, photo by by AndyRobertsPhotos

One of the reasons I bring up the Boers is the Boerewors sausage. Because of the name, it would seem as though the Boers invented this delicious sausage, which is typically heavily spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon, but spiced sausages were already a part of everyday life in The Netherlands. Boerewors have become a South African staple.

The Boers and the native peoples developed the language Afrikaans, which gave us the wonderful term, braai. Braai is an event and a cooking style. Similar to a barbecue, a braai involves grilling meat over an outdoor, wood-fired grill, and the cooking style is common throughout most countries in the southern portion of Africa. It is a truly authentic African meal, and you better believe you'll find Boerewors sausage in spades.

In the 19th century, Indians came to South African, and they quickly helped shape South African cuisine. The first Indians were Dutch slaves. Whether they or the curry-loving Dutch are responsible or a combination of both, curry dishes soon became popular in South Africa, beginning in the Eastern Cape around Durban, and one of South Africa's most famous dishes was born: Bunny Chow. Bunny Chow is a half loaf of bread hollowed out and filled with curry. Sadly, because I spent most of my trip on the Western Cape, I never came across this Bunny Chow.

What I did experience was Cape Malay-style cooking. Cape Malay cooking was developed by the community living in the Bo-Kaap neighborhood in Cape Town, which is known as the Cape Malay community. This community, like the Indians on the Eastern Cape, also finds its roots in slavery, These people came from Southeast Asia, India, and Indonesia (Malay as in Malaysian). Today, the Cape Malay community is Muslim, and the Bo-Kaap areas is one of the most beautiful parts of Cape Town, with wonderful mosques and brilliant, pastel-colored homes. I highly recommend taking the Andulela Culinary Tour, which takes food lovers into a local home, where they prepare awesome dishes with home cooks who've made the dishes a million times already.

Lamb curry (Cape Malay-style)

Cape Malay-style food involves masalas, curries, and delicious breads, including roti and samosas. Some traditional Cape Malay dishes are bobotie, comprised of mincemeat spiced with curry and other spices and topped with an egg-based topping (this dish is very versatile, and I had a tremendous bobotie that reminded me of a crust-less mincemeat pie topped with whipped potatoes); oumens onder die komber, which are similar to dolma; and smoorsnoek, white fish gently smoked then simmered with tomatoes and onions. Of course, rich curries made from the excellently prepared, fresh masalas (curry mixes) of Cape Town are truly unbeatable.

Antelope steak, eaten at 5 Ryneveld in Stellenbosch
Thanks to this mix of cultural influences, South Africa's cuisine has earned the monicker, rainbow cuisine. Other traditional dishes that I found during my time in South Africa include sosaties, or kebabs; biltong, a very tender beef jerky; lots of steaks, from South African lamb and beef to ostrich and antelope; frikkadelle, meatballs; the Gatsby, a Capetonian sandwich involving a baguette, French fries, and meat (late night food!); and smoked fish pate, aka snoek pate. Two dishes I didn't come across but that sound pretty wacky are Walkie Talkies, deep-fried chicken heads and feet, and Mashonzha, a dish of mopani caterpillars sauteed with onion, pepper, tomatoes, and curry spices.

Mopani caterpillars by NH53

Today, South Africa's cuisine continues to develop, and, as the prior posts suggest, many of the restaurants draw international inspiration. Sushi restaurants are just as common as Ethiopian restaurants, and local fast food chains compete with the bizarrely popular Kentucky Fried Chicken chain. I still wanted to taste something truly African, and I found it at Bebe Rose restaurant in Cape Town, which will be featured in next week's post.

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