Rainbow Cuisine

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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.

Signal Hill

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).

Cape Vineyards

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.

Fresh fare

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.

Durban delights

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.

  1. Constantia Wine Valley
    Constantia is the cradle of viticulture in the Cape, where the first vineyards were planted in the late 17th century. Try the superb contemporary South African cuisine at cellar door restaurants at Buitenverwachting, Constantia Uitsig (especially La Colombe, rated twelfth best restaurant in the world in 2010), Groot Constantia, Catharina’s at Steenberg, and The Greenhouse at The Cellars.
  2. Franschhoek Wine Valley
    Settled by French Huguenots in 1685, the gourmet capital of South Africa is renowned worldwide for its classic French and contemporary cuisine at Fyndraai at Solms, Grande Provence, Haute Cabriere, Le Quartier Fran?ais, and Reuben’s – and artisanal cheeseries and chocolatiers. Boschendal is a must-see cellar attraction with a renowned Cape Dutch restaurant.
  3. Helderberg Wine Route
    This historic settlement lies 30 minutes from Cape Town in a panoramic valley between three mountain ranges. Named after Lord Charles Somerset, Somerset West is home to a handful of exclusive wine estates – including Vergelegen, Morgenster, and Lourensford. Founded in 1700, Vergelegen is renowned for its Cape Dutch architecture, fine country cuisine, and wine cellar.
  4. Stellenbosch Wine Route
    The second oldest city in South Africa is a bustling university town of churches, museums, art galleries, and Cape Dutch restaurants such as De Volkskombuis and Lanzerac. Explore the new organic cuisine at Eight at Spier winery – and dine at the cellar door in the ‘golden triangle’: Bodega at Dornier, Guardian Peak, Rust en Vrede, Terroir/Kleine Zalze, and Overture at Hidden Valley.
  5. Paarl Wine Route
    The genteel town with the longest main road (12km) in South Africa, Paarl is ‘the pearl’ of the winelands. Quaint Cape Dutch homes line jacaranda and oak avenues, leading to the famous cathedral cellars of the KWV. Don’t miss the fine Cape Dutch cuisine at Laborie, Seidelberg, and Rhebokskloof.
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