Heritage: Taste the Cape

cape-foodRainbow cuisine
Experiencing the best of our rainbow heritage in the Mother City’s melting pot of cultures is a taste extravaganza. By Marion Whitehead

Not for nothing was Cape Town known as ‘the tavern of the seas’ in the days when sailing ships from around the world put in at this port at the tip of Africa to replenish their supplies while plying the lucrative spice trade to the Far East. Many nations left settlers behind and, together with the local people, they have given us a rich heritage of fusion food way before the term became fashionable.

The Mother City's taste sensations provide fun foodie delights with the magnificent backdrop of Table Mountain. “A lot of people don’t realise Cape Town is more than just pretty scenery,” said Lwazi Moletsane on a Sho’t Left trip with SA Tourism. “It offers a rich mix of cultures and is a great foodie destination.”

Here are some hints for where to dip into the rainbow nation’s pot of gastronomic gold.

Cape-dutch-journeysCape Dutch journeys
Food was the primary motive for the Dutch East India Company setting up the first European settlement on our shores so that they could supply their ships. Traders, hunters, explorers and trekboers going on long trips couldn’t take too many pots and pans along and potjiekos, or one-pot meals, was the solution: a meat and vegetable stew slow-cooked in a cast iron pot over hot coals.

One of the few places you’ll find venison potjie in Cape Town is at Ons Huisie, a restaurant across the road from the beach at Bloubergstrand. Other popular traditional West Coast dishes served are lamb stew, mussel pot and smoorsnoek, baked with a dab of apricot jam. “We try to be as local as possible and true to the area,” said manager Mike Ferdenando. “We have to be: this building was one of the original fishermen’s cottages at Bloubergstrand.”

Baked malva pudding and souskluitjies (steamed dumplings in cinnamon custard) are the favoured boerekos desserts at Ons Huisie. “We don’t dare do milk tart because everyone’s ouma makes the best in the world,” declared Mike.

My ouma’s not around anymore, so I pulled in at Jonkershuis Restaurant at Groot Constantia and enjoyed a creamy Dutch milk tart in the historic ambiance of the country’s oldest wine estate.
Signature dish: venison potjie

Spicy Cape Malay
“It tastes like Sunday lunch with family at home - yum!” was the comment from both Muslim and Afrikaans folk in our group as they tucked into bobotie (spiced mince with an egg-based topping) and curried chicken, accompanied by a variety of freshly made salads at Bo-Kaap Kombuis on the scenic slopes of Signal Hill.

This cultural melding is not surprising when you consider that the Cape Malay slaves ran the kitchens of the Dutch in the early days. Originating largely from Bengal, Java (Indonesia) and Malaysia, they brought their cuisine with them and influenced South African food forever, creating the dishes now regarded as icons of our culinary heritage: bobotie, bredies, curries, pickled fish and sosaties.

“Our spices are subtle, there’s no Durban burn – but I can add chillis if you want!” laughed Nazli Larney. When she and her husband Yusuf retired, they decided to take the roof off their house to build a coffee shop. “And the restaurant just grew from there.” Their three sons help wait tables, so it’s a real family business and the welcome is always warm.

With its genuine Cape Malay food and dazzling view of Table Mountain and the city sprawled below, this is a must-do.
Signature dish: bobotie

Braaivleis and sunny skies
Braaivleis is an integral part of South African life and dates back to our hunter-gatherer forebears. Xhosa culture keeps this tradition alive and no celebration is complete without tshisa nyama, Xhosa for braaivleis.

You don’t get more casual than Mzoli’s Place in Gugulethu, a canteen tacked on the side of Mzoli’s Butchery. This is where you’ll experience the genuine township taste of meat braaied over wood fires to add smokey flavour that you simply don’t get from a gas-powered skottel.

Mzoli Ngcawuzele says he expanded his butcher shop with the aim of bringing people together through a piece of meat and boosting the economy of the township.

Meat is dipped in his secret marinade before being braaied and then piled on generous platters, one for each table. It’s accompanied by slabs of pap and fiery chaka-laka (relish or salsa). Don’t expect niceties like plates, cutlery and serviettes – take your own or just use your fingers. Pull up a plastic chair and tuck into a mutton chop, a T-bone, a fat chicken thigh and boerewors.

The place really pumps over weekends when locals crowd in to fill their bellies and dance to kwaito music. There’s a fair sprinkling of tourists as well, out to experience a little township culture.
Signature dish: tshisa nyama

French pizazz
There’s a dazzling array of wine estates in the beautiful Cape Winelands – five routes in the Stellenbosch area alone. Many wineries trace their origins to the French Huguenots who fled religious persecution in France in the 1680s and brought their expertise and vines with them when they settled at the Cape.

The prince of wines is of course Champagne, but in South Africa we’re not allowed to call it that. The House of JC Le Roux in the Devon Valley outside Stellenbosch dominates the bubbly market in South Africa with its sparkling wines (carbonated with CO2) and Methode Cap Classique (naturally fermented in the bottle a second time).

A drive through vineyards took us to a tasting session in their modern facility. We started with a short movie in the auditorium about the Le Roux family’s Huguenot ancestors. Jean le Roux, a viticulturist from Normandy, started planting vines here in 1704 and his descendants made their first sparkling wine in 1983.

We tasted five bubblies, ranging from dry to sweet, paired with marshmallows and meringues. The other option was a pairing with nougat, also a little sweet for my taste. But the elegant ambiance was definitely very chic, very French!
Signature dish: Bubbly!

Salty-Sea-DogTrue Brits
As can be expected from a sea-faring nation that colonised vast tracts of the world, seafood was high on their menu. Not known for being adventurous eaters, good ol’ fish and chips was one of their staples, as was the ‘pudding’ culture.

After the Battle of Blaauwberg in 1806 when they took the Cape from the Dutch for the second time, the Brits upgraded the ports and Simon’s Town’s sheltered harbour became the country’s main naval base. Over time, the navy has transformed from a pucker Brit operation to a multi-hued one more representative of modern South Africa, but the place still looks a bit like an English village, with quaint shops and eateries along the main drag, not to mention the naval museum crammed with big boys’ treasures and the Warrior Toy Museum with its collection of metal-alloy soldiers and model train.

Tuck into an excellent plate of fish ‘n chips in the casual vibe of the Salty Sea Dog at the landward end of the harbour pier but, if you prefer a meaty British-style pie and a decadent dessert, spoil yourself at The Sweetest Thing in Main Road.
Signature dish: fish and chips


This article first appeared in Reality magazine

Handy contacts
Bo-Kaap Kombuis 021 422 5446
Mzoli’s Place, Gugulethu 021 638 1355
Ons Huisie, Bloubergstrand 021 554 1553
Jonkershuis, Groot Constantia 021 794 6253
JC le Roux, Stellenbosch 021 865 8200
Stellenbosch Wine Routes 021 886 4310 |
Salty Sea Dog, Simon’s Town 021 786 1918
The Sweetest Thing, Simon’s Town 021 786 4200
Cape Town Tourism 021 487 6800 | |