The F Word is a British food magazine and cookery programme featuring chef Gordon Ramsay – Cape Town’s F-heritage is as exciting and tasty than can be expected anywhere else on the globe.
What can you expect to eat when visiting Cape Town, the most beautiful city in the world and South Africa’s mother city? A bustling city and melting pot of diversity, its vibrant energy comes from a cosmopolitan mix and a heritage so rich in the melding of many cultures and creeds, it encompasses both the modern and the old.
Early settlers were of Dutch and Portuguese origins and they brought servants from the East as far afield as Indonesia and Malaysia, with them. I tell you this because when you eat our traditional food, the food of our origin and roots – it is so distinctively influenced by all the cultures of the discoverers and travellers to our shores. The Cape of Good Hope as she was originally christened, was a halfway house for many ships and their sailors on their way to and from the Spice Route. Hence the strong influence of warm and flavourful dishes as well as those that are fiery and hot, gracing many a cooking pot in our culture.
Some of these offerings will be the very South African bobotie, a baked minced beef dish infused with Cape Malay spices such as turmeric, cumin and masala. Finished in the oven with a savoury egg custard, it is like nothing you have ever tasted before.
We have oxtail, a dish of rich deep notes from a stock that was built over days and cooked slowly in a low oven for six to eight hours – a truly unctuous yet simple dish.
Souskluitjies (Pronounced soseclaykeys) is yet another traditional dish of sweet sticky notes, a dessert that can best be described as cinnamon dumplings.
Let’s not forget to mention the traditional smoortjie, (pronounced smoorkey) a savoury dish made from lots of chopped onions braised in the pan, ‘till golden and brown, creating a caramel base which is both savoury and yet softly sweet. Chopped tomatoes are then added, a bit of sugar and vinegar to create this sticky, salty, sharp base which is the smoortjie. A base for fish generally, all kinds of mashed up and eaten with soft white bread or as an accompaniment to boerewors (traditional sausage spiced with coriander seeds).
Legend has it that Lady Anne Barnard, a Scottish born and bred socialite, author and artist who came to the Cape in the late 1800s, was extremely partial to smoortjie. She was the official hostess of the Castle of Good Hope in Table Bay, which is essentially the basin that hugs the coastline of the city of Cape Town. She loved a hike up the softer slopes of Table Mountain and would take a party of servants with her and a kettle or two. The servants would build a fire and set about making Lady Ann Barnard her smoortjie for luncheon, while she dabbed away at her easel or scribbled in her diary.
Last but not least, I should not fail to mention the very traditional lamb curry, made with our finest Karoo lamb. As a visitor you cannot leave our shores without sampling this exquisite dish. Here, on our shores the F-word does not have to have the fire of nine devils in it, there are plenty of gentler flavourful options to be enjoyed.
In as much as traditional food is well and alive in Cape Town, we also have the modern-fusion food revolution. Very trendy and available in all the dining hot spots. As expected it is organic, hand reared, artisnal, grass-fed.. (and these are just some of the words that are bandied about to tease your palette into submission).
At the foot of Table Mountain, inaugurated as one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of Nature’ we boast world-class chefs, both the born-and-bred South-African specimen as well as those that come to our shores to lend their culinary skills. One or two of these are (or have worked) in Michelin Star establishments. Some of the dishes on offer would include a seared tuna on wasabi mash, a salad of salmon trout sourced from local dams, a grass-fed rib-eye steak complete with rich marbling, tappas (both the traditional and Spanish variety. You would even find an Indian tappas offering which is the brain child of the famous Irish chef, Liam Tomlin who has come to settle in Cape Town after working in Australia. It is also good to remember that lots of plate sharing for two is offered in our restaurants – a great way to keep the waistline under control yet not lose out on F-culture.
Part of this modern food offering is a powerful coffee culture: the city is mottled with funky coffee stops, where you will be served by young men sporting the pioneer-look: slick hair and waxed beards, emblazoned with bold and storytelling tattoos.
I simply have to mention the success of a craft beer culture – the city has loads of artisnal breweries, popping up from east to west, offered by hip-and-happening millennials whose life purpose is to create a perfect head on an ice cold brew.
And finally… Cape Town has an impressive gin-savouring following. Some of these are fynbos-infused (flaura that is endemic to Cape Town), consisting of a wild and strongly-perfumed scrub, found in sandy soil. Currently South Africa offers in excess of 50 locally-crafted gins and those promise to dance on your palette like angels at a line dance and you will find that you simply have to join the melee…
We have a lot to offer – and I’m only talking culinary here!