Thursday, July 5, 2012

South African Food Adventures

Last month I had the opportunity to travel to South Africa for work - I know, not a bad job, right?! Before leaving I was really looking forward to learning more about what types of foods were traditional there. The only things I had heard about were this beef jerky like snack called Biltong, and that the 2nd city I was going to be in was Indian food central. Given that neither of those things were making my mouth water, I set off to try and find a local cooking class. I didn't have any luck there either! It has been just a couple of weeks since I returned from this trip and I would say that I had three unique, local food experiences and I'm glad to be able to share them with you here.

Hotel sushi, fruit and salad - this is what you get
when you try to be healthy on a work trip
I was surprised to see every type of cuisine possible in restaurant form, except ones that stood out as local African food. For the first few days the food I ate consisted only of salads, sushi, greek, and hotel continental breakfast. I was so excited to see one of my favorite DC casual restaurants, Nando's, all over Johannesburg - and yet, I sadly found no opportunity to actually eat there. The common phrase throughout my trip when I missed out on something was, "I have to leave something for next time" so Nando's was left for next time! I have also had my fair share of dinners at hotels, which I am all set with for the year.
On the fourth night of my trip I was graciously hosted by South African parents of a student of mine. It is common to have domestic helpers in their households, and so their domestic helper cooked an amazing, traditional African meal for myself and a number of other guests from my school that are spending their summer in South Africa! The white sphere in the front, called 'Pap', is a traditional porridge made from ground white maize that had a thick consistency. The only thing sort of close to that texture I can think of is polenta maybe. It doesn't have any sort of strong taste because it is meant to be served under another dish with lots of flavor on its own! On this night it was served with a spinach dish, a pumpkin and roast meat stew, and a couple of sides I opted out of because they were deemed spicy - a tomato relish/chutney sort of sauce, and another meat dish. One of the traditional appetizers they served was a grilled sausage, usually "braaied" (aka barbequed), and the dessert was to die for - a sort of bread pudding that has British ties and was served with fresh mango and ice cream. I could've eat the entire tray, and was so happy to find it on a menu a couple of nights later at a restaurant in Durban!

A second similar meal experience was had during a visit to a Zulu Village about an hour outside of Durban, on the Indian Ocean coast. We got a tour of the village with one of the younger boys and then his family cooked lunch for us in their hut. They served us Pap in a different form - more dry and crumbly. The other different part about this meal was the lack of utensils - how they traditionally eat in the rural areas apparently. They had a similar spinach dish, but no meat - the top left mound is a delicious cabbage dish, to the right of that is a mashed butternut squash and in the middle, another tomato chutney - but not spicy! I couldn't tell what spices they used but I wish I could've watched them cook this because it tasted delicious!

Once I returned back to Jo'burg from Durban I had my eyes set on a restaurant near my hotel called Moyo - it's a chain of high end restaurants that serves more typical African food in a festive environment with live music, traditionally dressed servers, and even staff at the ready to face paint the kids (and even adults if they want!). I had this adorable little romantic table (for just me unfortunately), and the food was good. Sadly they had run out of a couple of dishes I wanted, but I ended up ordering the lamb m'choui - moroccan cumin and sweet paprika roast lamb, served with a red wine gravy, basmati rice and fresh seasonal vegetables, which ended up being sweet spiced carrots with cumin and honey and green beans with sesame seeds. I skipped dessert because they were out of everything that sounded good to me, but ended up at an ice cream shop down the street instead - so much for making healthy decisions all week!

Just some other photos from my week in Africa!
My favorite bottle of Pinotage - so cute! Tasty too!
Indian spice stall at a market in Durban
Mezepoli at Melrose Arch in Jo'burg (Mediterranean/Greek food)
Forgot how unenjoyable plane food can be -
and I'm still not sure why they give you so much of it!


  1. Is that a really long sausage in your airplane meal? Haha! I think the lamb dish sounds the best!

  2. haha - yes it is! you know you're jealous! I think you would've liked the greek place!