Culinary Cape Town
Visitors to South Africa often ask me what the country’s national dish is. It’s a tricky question because it depends who you ask. The melting pot of South African ethnicity is reflected – how else? – in the food and drink of its people. Fire-grilled meat and sweet puddings? Of course, but also delicately spiced curries and rich vegetable dishes. Sturdy beers and beefy red wine? Yes, but also sparkling whites and craft gins, flavoured with the plants that grow on Table Mountain.
And it is in the shadow of Table Mountain that you can try it all. Cape Town, the Mother of all Melting Pot cities, has become a foodie’s paradise, both in terms of the number of restaurants and the quality of food and wine served. As you might imagine, international dishes dominate the top-end restaurants but local South African cuisine finds expression in two forms: Cape Malay cooking, predominately found in the Western Cape, and a more traditional African cuisine, drawing influences from across the continent.
How to enjoy it all? Instead of making half a dozen restaurant bookings, make it easier – and possibly more fun – by going on a guided food tour. Now you are in the hands of a knowledgeable local. There’s no need to worry about where to go or how to get there. These are walking tours – professionally guided – and all the difficult decisions about the menu are taken care of (what is a koeksister?) and local eating habits revealed (how do you eat pap?). (Answers: a deep-fried dough ball, and with your fingers!)
Cape Malay food is the focus of one tour. The legacy of the historical relationship between the Netherlands and Indonesia (the former Dutch East Indies), Cape Malay food has distinctive flavours, relying more on subtle spicing rather than heating things up with chilli and pepper. The curries are mild and often feature fruit in them – apricots, raisins – and are served with chopped banana and chutneys. European influence, however, shows itself in the desserts; if you love a sticky baked pudding, then you’ll love Cape Malay food!
Traditional African food forms the focus of another tour, comparing the hearty fare of South Africa – meat, veggies and ground corn porridge (pap) – with the tapas-style cuisine of Ethiopia where you share spiced dishes and warm flatbread with your fellow foodies. Walking around the heart of Cape Town, you’ll also have Asian flavours and Cape wines to try as well as opportunities to shop at markets for African souvenirs and clothing.
Taking in historical aspects of Cape Town as well as providing cultural and social insights, these food tours are highly recommended for those travellers who like to see more of a destination than just its most famous attractions. There is alcohol served on the tours but it can be substituted for non-alcoholic drinks, and vegetarians are easily catered for. Vegan and gluten-free diets are best served by booking a private tour.
Running Tuesday through Saturday every afternoon of the year and in just about all weathers, the tours are family friendly and limited to a maximum of 12 guests (and with a minimum of two). Popular over the summer holiday season, tours should be booked in advance if you are looking to secure a particular day or want a private culinary experience. Note these are walking tours that begin and end in the city: you’ll probably need transport there and back which is easily arranged. But above all – as they say – come hungry.