I hate food blogs– nobody cares about the picture of the food you felt the need to post on every social media sight. But, sometimes, especially for a foodie such as myself, a gastronomical experience is too good to leave undocumented. So, try to not drool too much as I recount my recent gourmet adventures in the Western Cape, and the experiences to follow.
My week of fine dining began with my roommate Nicole’s twentieth birthday. As I know from my very own twentieth birthday, and my soon to be twenty first birthday, important celebrations abroad are exciting, but there’s really nothing like being home with your family and best friends. To make the day special for Nicole, we convinced 10 of our closest MSU friends to head to a Mexican restaurant for the festivities. From my experience, Mexican food from other countries is mediocre, so I wasn’t expecting too much. But, these were honestly the best tacos in the world. Never mind the fact that my tacos did not come with chips and endless salsa, and my dad’s voice was in the back of my head, telling me how nothing can beat El Azteco. These tacos were phenomenal, end of story, and we all had a great time celebrating with Nicole. We finished the evening with a chocolate cake from our favorite supermarket, and the endless enjoyment of our new, tight knit group’s company.
By the time Friday rolled around, I was ready for the weekend. Cape Town is set up in such a way that there are many towns outside of the city bowl, each with their own sub-culture, name, and spot on a map. I work in a place called Observatory, or Obs. If you continue down Main Road, from Obs through Rondebosch, you’ll hit the affluent town of Claremont. My boyfriend Luke is lucky enough to work for a consulting firm in this prosperous community, so I met him at a coffee shop on Friday to explore. Claremont does not feel like Africa. Near the southern suburbs, Claremont is a wealthy, white community. Legacies of apartheid, while obviously improving, are still relevant in South Africa. In fact, I was just speaking with my boss, and she was telling me how novel it is for her to have black employees and friends. As she grew up under the apartheid regime, that had never before happened– it is revolutionary, and she loves it. She couldn’t stop commenting on how friendly and great the people of South Africa are. Despite that, communities largely remain visibly segregated.
We forgot our hectic workweek over a pot of rose tea. With every sip I was more rejuvenated, and ready to explore. We headed to a newly opened restaurant for dinner: Bentley Oyster Bar and Bistro. This place was incredible. We made our dinner into a three-course meal, with a hearty potato soup to start, tapas of calamari and prawns to follow, and six oysters each to finish. Since it was an oyster bar, we ordered per oyster. Trying a few fresh oysters each, we supplemented the raw oysters with innovative ones, such as a Cajun grilled oyster, a garlic seasoned one, and a bacon wrapped oyster. It was the perfect activity to end the week with.
Stomach’s still full of oysters, we woke up bright and early for our big excursion of the weekend: a wine tasting event in Stellenbosch. You may not know, but South Africa is one of the leading wine producing countries in the world. I was lucky enough to be exposed first and foremost to wine in Spain, which is the second leading producer behind France, with a strong affinity for and culture of wine. South Africa is similar, with a leading region being Stellenbosch, located just outside of Cape Town. Through the Connect 123 program, we boarded a bus bound to Stellenbosch, a mere 25 minutes away. The area is gorgeous, with wine estates disappearing into the distant mountains. We had the perfect day to enjoy the landscape, as it was 65 and sunny.
Our first stop was at Neethlingshof wine estate, where we were privileged to try 5 different wines, two white, two red and a dessert wine. The estate was gorgeous, with mountains rising in the background over a perfect view of the estate. The tasting was fun, and we learned a lot about the different wines. The most interesting were their “story” wines, each made and named because of a story unique to the farm. The wines, of course, were fabulous. From there we headed to another estate, Spier. This tasting was more casual, and we even tasted some directly from the barrel. After we had finished our tasting, we headed to an incredible restaurant, Moyo, right on the estate. The area was unique, complete with small hidden tree houses rising from the foliage, decorated with interesting lanterns, lights, and waterfalls. The food was set out as a buffet, with various different stands like “chicken” “venison” “fish” etc, each containing a distinct selection of African cuisine. My plate was packed by the time I sat down, with impala steaks, pap, spinach, pumpkin, kudu mincemeat, snoek, ox tail, potatoes, vegetable briyani, and so much more. The African food here is unlike anything that I’ve had before, but I’ve enjoyed it immensely.
Just as we were finishing off our plates, a woman came around to paint our faces with dots, traditional in Xhosa ritual. Xhosa is a language and culture prominent in the Western Cape and elsewhere in South Africa. Many of my coworkers fluctuate between speaking English and Xhosa in the work place. It’s a clicking language, so when you say the “xh” part you click the back of your tongue. A prominent Xhosa is Nelson Mandela. As a side note, Xhosa is one of the main languages of South Africa. The country has 11 official languages and many unofficial, as well as variations and dialects. The official languages are: English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana, Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Northern Sotha, Venda and Southern Nbedele. After the fall of the apartheid government, emphasis was put on educating in the home language to preserve culture. This is a huge problem with education today—exams and instruction are primarily in English, and students simply do not understand the language and are not competent in the language enough to reach their full potential and they slip through the cracks. This is something that ORT SA CAPE is trying to combat.
So ends another exciting week of gastronomical experiences and adventures. By merely living in the area I’ve been lucky enough to absorb the vibrant culture that Cape Town has to offer.