Thursday, September 9, 2010

Food from the deep south

I am delighted to see that this blog is now dealing with one of my favorite topics – food!

And an interesting topic it is in the South African context.  So many influences, great diversity, and in a state of flux.

I start with an invitation:  in terms of value for money for eating out, there can’t be many places that can offer more than South Africa at the moment.  Restaurants offer delicious food in a variety of cuisines, with superb wines, at prices that startle visitors with their modesty.  Even though the South African rand has appreciated nearly 30% against the dollar and euro over the past eighteen months, prices are still a bargain for tourists.  A 3-course meal for four with a couple of bottles of good South African red wine and a cup of coffee can be had at many fine restaurants for US$35-40 a head. 

For example, one of my favorite restaurants in South Africa is Cape Town’s Buitenverwachting (pronounced sort of like Beau – tin – fur – vugg – ting, where the ‘gg’ is the typical Dutch sound that sound like clearing one’s throat.).  It means “Beyond Expectation.”  It was originally part of the Constantia wine estate which was founded in 1684 by the Governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel.
Buitenverwachting Estate

Here is a current winter menu from the elegant restaurant at Buitenverwachting.

Winter Special Soul Warmers

Cape Malay pickled Fish Salad
Seared Ostrich in Pumpkin Seeds with a Mesclun Salad
Endive Salad with caramelised Pear & Gorgonzola Polenta
Creamy Butternut Soup with roasted Beef Brisket Ravioli

Fish & Chips
Chicken Curry with Indian Delights
Wiener Schnitzel with Potato Salad, Parsley Potatoes or Chips
Braised Springbok Shank with Servietten Knödel

Milk Tart with Sour Cherry Compote & Milk Foam
Salzburger Nockerl
Malva Pudding with Vanilla Ice Cream
Spägat Krapfen with Caramel Mouse & Raspberry Coulis


~A la Carte~

Starters – R 49 ($6.50)
Mains – R 116 ($15)
Desserts – R 39 ($5.75)

~Set Menu~

2-Course – R 149 ($20)
3-Course – R 169 ($23)
4-Course – R 199 ($27)

A glass of Buitenverwachting Buiten Blanc or Meifort is served with any set menu option from the Soul Warmer menu.
Buitenverwachting dessert

As an interesting aside, it was never acknowledged in my history classes in apartheid South Africa that Simon van der Stel was of mixed blood (Dutch and Indian), what South Africans refer to as Coloured.   One of the bastions of Afrikanderdom, the town of Stellenbosch, is named after him.

Leg of lamb
As a child I grew up eating English fare because three of my grandparents were from Britain (two from Scotland and one from Wales).  We never ate any Norwegian food, though, in honour of my one grandmother.  Nor did we eat haggis!  Regular as clockwork we ate roast beef, roast lamb, fish, stews, roast chicken, and over-cooked vegetables.  Occasionally we would have roast turkey or cold meats, but never anything that was spicy.

This fare was typical of my English-speaking friends.  At that time, most Afrikaners (typically of Dutch descent and usually farmers, or boers) ate farm fare.  Plenty of meat, potatoes, and whatever vegetables that were available.

The only exception to our normal regimen was when the family went away to the Natal coast on holiday – usually in July to avoid the oppressive summer heat of December and January.  Almost all hotels on the Natal coast had chefs of Indian descent.  Large numbers of Indians had been brought to South Africa to work on the sugar cane fields, and with them they brought their curries.  My brothers and I always befriended the cooks and shared their own food, which was hot and delicious.

So curry is a big part of South African cuisine now and is widely popular among all but the Black groups.  Indian restaurants are plentiful and serve a variety of dishes.

Growing up, I knew very little about what Blacks considered normal fare.  Now I know that one of the most popular dishes is pap (pronounced ‘pup’), which is a stiff corn porridge eaten with fingers and dipped it into either a meat gravy or a tomato-onion sauce.  This is widespread throughout southern Africa.  As one would expect, there is a variety of ways of preparing the pap and numerous variations of sauces.  It is gradually finding its way into White households, usually at a braaivleis (or braai), which is the South African barbeque.  More on that later.

To my palate, the tastiest South African food is called Cape Malay cuisine.  It originated way back in the 1600s and 1700s, when the Dutch brought slaves to work at the Cape mainly from Indonesia.  Although I love Indian curries, the spicing of Cape Malay cuisine is more subtle.  It is perhaps the only really South African cuisine. 

Of the many Cape Malay dishes, such as sosaties (kebabs) and bredie (spiced slow-cooked stew), the best known is bobotie – a curried ground-lamb casserole.  Of all the curried dishes I have cooked for my American friends, it stands alone in being enjoyed by all.  Even the cook at Jackalberry Camp in the second Detective Kubu mystery (The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu ( in North America. A Deadly Trade elsewhere) knew how to please his clients.

Here follows Stanley’s recipe – a closely guarded secret!

2 lbs (1kg) ground lamb (Works with beef also, but not as good)
1 slice bread
3 cups milk
4 eggs
1 medium yellow or white onion chopped
Curry powder
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Ground pepper
Lemon juice
1 tart apple grated
1 cup seedless raisins
½ cup slivered almonds
Several bay leaves

1.    Put bread into bowl containing all the milk.  Let stand.

2.    Lightly brown the meat in a skillet, breaking up any chunks.  Transfer to large container with slotted spoon.

3.    Cook onion in remaining fat in skillet until translucent.  Don’t burn!

4.    Add curry powder, salt, sugar, and pepper to taste.  I suggest 2 tablespoons of curry powder to start - more can be added any time up to step 7.  Cook for a couple of minutes.  Add lemon juice to moisten.  Cook for a few more minutes.  Pour over meat.

5.    Take bread out of milk and squeeze out the milk back into the bowl.  Put bread with meat.

6.    Add raisins, almonds, and apple to meat.  Add 2 eggs to meat.  Combine.  (I use my hands to do this because it feels great and I can lick my fingers afterwards!)

7.    Pack the mixture into a casserole dish.

8.    Combine the remaining two eggs with the milk and pour over meat. 

9.    Push a few bay leaves into the meat.

10.    Cook for 45 minutes at 300° F.

Serve hot over yellow rice, with chutney on the side.  Leftovers are great hot or cold.  Also leftovers can be put in pita bread with sour cream or used as a filling in an omelette.  Yummy.

Typical braai fare
Only two things left to mention.  First, among all groups, because of the great weather, the braaivleis (or braai, as we call it) is very popular.  It means ‘cooked meat’ and is the South African barbeque.  However it is no longer just cooked meat.  It is now very common to cook fish on the braai, as well as a variety of vegetables.  Where beer was the traditional drink with braais, now both beer and wine are usual.  And why not, when a good bottle of red can cost as little is $8 - $10.  With a decent white in the $5 - $8 range.  Even the $3 bottles are drinkable.  Although most cooking in South Africa is still done by women, the braai is the dominion of the male, and woe betide anyone who criticizes the king when he is in action.
Biltong sticks
 The final typically South African food is biltong – a dried, spiced meat, similar to but far superior to jerky!  Initially dried with salt, then covered with pepper and coriander seeds and other spices, it is hung out to dry.  The joke is that it is only ready when there are at least several blue-bottle flies embedded in the meat.  For foreign visitors: that is only a joke – it’s not really true.  Biltong comes in a variety of tastes and is often eaten while drinking beer.  It is also a topping for salads.  Delicious.

And now I am ravenous.  Got to run and find something to nibble – probably a pizza and beer.  After all I am in the United States.

Stan - Thursday

PS.  The invitation still stands - come and visit South Africa and enjoy the landscapes, the animals, the people, AND the food.


  1. You lot are making me hungry - I'm so cooking that bobotie this weekend. Will report back!

  2. I am going to pass on the bobotie recipe to my daughter. She is adventurous with curry powder.

    My husband and I grew up with a diet very like your's. I am more willing to try something different than he is. When my daughter is home and volunteers to cook, I tell him he has to try it and I tell her to remember who she is cooking for.

    She makes a fantastic squash soup.