Written by Graham Howe Photography by Alain Proust
Graham Howe tempts football fans with a culinary preview of the regional flavours of the 2010 FIFA World Cup host country: South Africa. He stirs the melting-pot of ‘the rainbow nation’ to discover the not-to-be-missed gastronomic specialties of the main host cities.
South African food is commonly called ‘rainbow cuisine’ as it is inspired by many cultural influences. A melting-pot of culinary traditions, it has been shaped by waves of settlers and indigenous communities over the centuries – Xhosa, Zulu, Khoikhoi, Cape Dutch, French Huguenot, Indonesian, Malaysian, Indian, British, and Portuguese.
Cass Abrahams, a renowned South African food historian and cookbook writer, contends, “Indigenous South African cuisine is the first fusion cuisine. South Africa is here because of its position on the spice route. Today, our cuisine is a fusion of all cultures – Khoikhoi and Dutch, the slave cuisine of Bengal, Java, and Zanzibar…”
Founded in the 17th century as a vital supply station on the spice route between Europe and the East, the Cape was planted with fruit orchards, vegetable gardens, and vineyards to provision the spice fleet. Centuries later, this culinary legacy has made the country a global gastronomic destination renowned for its fine food, wine, and hospitality at restaurants of traditional and modern South African cuisine.
In the early days of the Cape colony, a lookout stationed on Signal Hill kept watch over Table Bay – and fired a signal cannon to warn residents of approaching ships. A series of cannons on hills throughout the countryside were fired in relay to call farmers to supply passing ships with fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, and wine. Visiting fans at the FIFA World Cup will receive an equally warm welcome – from food producers, farmers, winemakers, and chefs who are ready to feed the greatest show on earth!
Wherever they are in Cape Town, visitors hear the loud boom of the noon gun, which has been fired over the centuries from Signal Hill – a landmark which overlooks the new Green Point Stadium where eight matches of the 2010 FIFA World Cup are taking place. Fans can set their watch by the cannon fired every day at midday (except Sunday) and enjoy a taste of authentic local cuisine at the Noon Gun Tearoom on Signal Hill, or at Signal at Cape Grace – two restaurants named after one of the city’s best-loved traditions.
Malay cuisine is one of the dominant regional flavours in the Cape. Restaurants in the Bo-Kaap (the city’s historic Cape Malay quarter) and winelands recreate the fare brought over by slaves on the spice route. Cape Malay curries are sweeter – using dried apricots, peaches, almonds, and raisins – and more gentle than their Indian counterparts. Try specialities like the fragrant bredies (spicy stews), biryanis (rice curries), bobotie (a spicy cottage pie), denningvleis (slow-cooked mutton), and sosaties (satays) with blatjang (fruit chutney) on the side. Fans with a sweet tooth will enjoy marvellous Cape Malay desserts of malva and boeber (sago pudding).
Ringed by mountains, the Cape’s winelands are among the most scenically diverse in the world, ranging from maritime vineyards on the Cape Peninsula and Walker Bay to high-lying vineyards in a maze of valleys inland. Food and wine tourism is the big drawcard in the winelands. Visitors are spoiled for choice with hundreds of cellars, farm cheeseries, restaurants, farm stalls, and delis on 16 wine routes (see box).
Many of the Cape’s 650 wine producers are open to visitors with sophisticated tasting facilities, cellar tours, fine restaurants, delis, and bistros. While the Constantia and Durbanville wine valleys are minutes away from the renowned wine routes of Stellenbosch, also easily accessible from the metropolitan area are Somerset West, Franschhoek, Paarl, and the Breede River Valley.
With its long coastline, one thing you can be certain of in South Africa is the excellent local seafood. While following the football at one of the three host cities on the coast – Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and Durban – be sure to try the fresh ‘fruits’ of the Atlantic Ocean – specialties such as snoek, hake, kingklip, yellowtail, Cape salmon, cob (kabeljou) and tuna. Crayfish (spiny rock lobster) is a sought-after delicacy – along with highly-prized perlemoen (abalone). Mussels and oysters – farmed and harvested wild along the west and east coast – are a specialty on seafood menus.
To the north in FIFA World Cup host venues such as Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, and Pretoria, traditional boerekos (farmer food) is one of the main regional flavours.
Traditional Afrikaner cuisine is hearty and healthy – from free-range Karoo lamb, beef, and boerewors (farmer’s sausage) to ostrich, venison (springbok and kudu), and potjiekos (stews cooked in cast-iron pots). Around the stadiums, you’ll spot the tell-tale smoke signals of braaivleis (meat barbecues) – a popular leisure pastime. Inside the stadiums, vendors will sell biltong (spicy dried meat – like jerky), droe wors (dried sausage), and boerewors rolls (spicy hotdogs) – the not-to-be-missed national snacks of sports fans. You’ll also come across specialties such as mielies (corn on the cob), mielie pap (maize-meal mash), sweet potatoes, and pumpkin fritters – and delicious desserts of koeksisters (a syrupy doughnut), melktert (milk tart), and vetkoek (deep-fried bread).
A taste of Africa
Indigenous African fare is another strong regional flavour of South African cuisine. Take your palate for a walk on the wild side in FIFA World Cup host venues in the far north such as Polokwane, Pretoria, and Rustenburg. Adventurous fans should try a regional delicacy such as fried mopane worms (a peppery snack), a ‘smiley’ (a whole sheep’s head), tripe, or umngqusho (a traditional dish of maize, samp, and beans) – served with locally fermented sorghum beer. Specialist African restaurants in the city and shebeens (informal taverns) serve these specialties across South Africa – while guided township tours offer tourists the opportunity to try indigenous African fare.
Gourmet appetites will enjoy exploring the regional flavours of Mpumalanga – home to Nelspruit, one of the minor host cities in the northeast of the country. The gateway to Kruger National Park, this fertile area is renowned for its produce and ‘sunshine’ cuisine – from the trout of Dullstroom to the tropical avocado, mangos, papayas, macadamia, and lychees grown in the White River area. The Lowveld gourmet route takes visitors on an exciting culinary journey.
Last but not least, South African Indian cuisine is one of the strong regional flavours found in the city of Durban. The city – which is home to the third largest Indian community outside India – celebrates the culinary legacy of the workers who were ‘imported’ to Natal in the 19th century to work in the sugar cane fields. Many fine Indian restaurants serve regional favourites such as fiery Durban mutton, chicken, and prawn curry, as well as street food such as Durban’s signature ‘bunny chow’ (curry served in a hollowed loaf of bread), samoesas (triangular Indian savouries) and roti wraps.
Fans following their teams around the ten host cities during the FIFA World Cup can feast on the regional flavours of South Africa – and enjoy the rich culinary diversity of rainbow cuisine. The country at the foot of the African continent has come of age as a global gastronomic destination – a culinary melting-pot enriched over the years by the indigenous communities and all the settlers who have come here from West and East.
A taste of the winelands
Take a day-trip to the big five wineland attractions within easy reach of Cape Town.
South African Flavours
On the way to the World Cup Soccer Stadium at the sea, fans should explore the main culinary districts of Cape Town – from the world-renowned V&A Waterfront and De Waterkant to Sea Point, Camps Bay, and the city bowl.
10 to try
Try ten city restaurants with a traditional South African flavour: Africa Café, Baia, Belthazar, Cape Colony, Cape Malay at Cellars-Hohenort, Emily’s, Mama Africa, Mzoli’s, Noon Gun Tearoom, and Nyoni’s Kraal.
A taste of Egoli – City of gold
Soccer fans visiting Johannesburg for the big opening and final matches of the 2010 FIFA World Cup will explore a city renowned for the most vibrant nightlife on the African continent. Fans should try the sophisticated fare at the restaurants and informal bistros and cafés in the main culinary quarters of Norwood, Parkhurst, Greenside, Gold Reef City, Sandton City, Nelson Mandela Square, and Rosebank Mall.
Rated one of the top 20 bars in the world, the Radium Beer Hall in Orange Grove is the oldest bar in Johannesburg and one of the most famous pubs in Africa. Opened in 1929, this beer hall is a shrine to football with old photos of teams on the walls.