On why I heart Istanbul.

On why I heart Istanbul.

Istanbul collage

Hello world! It’s been a while. Life took one of those unexpected little turns that we like to say are sent to make us stronger, just so we can all feel better about the bad days and have something to put on those motivational posters that feature fluffy goslings swimming against a current. I will tell you about it. Eventually. But for now, suffice it to say I am back, not only to my old self, but out in the world too and I was lucky enough to travel to Istanbul for a few days with Bush Man. I will get round to a walking tour later (turns out hundreds of you are still following my two Shanghai ones every month! Awww shucks guys!), but for now I just want to give you a glimpse into why I wish I could change my marital status on Facebook to “In a relationship with Istanbul”. So here, in no particular order, are the top ten reasons why I am completely in love with this city.

The cats.

If two cats are a party, and three cats are a crazy cat lady, 20150811-P1310825then Istanbul will one day die choking on a tin of Pampers and have her face eaten off by Mugsy, Snowball, Tiger and the rest of them. There are a LOT of cats in Istanbul. So let me just admit that I loved that and get the crazy cat lady business out of the way so we can all move on. If you don’t like cats, remind yourself that in a city with upwards of 14 million people, at least cats mean no rats. Most of the cats don’t belong to anyone, and are instead taken care of by whoever happens to be around. You will find bowls of water and little piles of kibble scattered randomly under trees and in front of shop fronts. Shop owners seem to have no problem when the cats make themselves at home on chairs, bookshelves and windowsills, and I didn’t see a single cat come up for a bit of affection and not get it, no matter how much fur it was missing. There’s something so comforting about watching these street dwelling felines in various states of dishevelment being taken care of by strangers and feeling comfortable enough with people to plonk themselves down for a nap anywhere on a street that could see three million people pound its cobbled sidewalk a foot away from them every day and know they are safe.

The people.

Check any travel forum for advice on tourist scams and they’ll tell you that unsolicited offers to help and lazy pick up lines like “Where are you from?” are the number one way for dodgy swindlers to relieve you of your hard earned holiday funds. But the people of Istanbul are genuinely friendly and open to strangers and, for the most part, honestly just want a bit of a chat or to show you how the metro works without expecting anything in return. I’m actually sorry I brushed off a few well meaning strangers while clutching my bag tighter and checking my pocket for my phone before realising this. My advice? Be friendly and open when approached and just ask yourself WWOD? Oprah would say never allow yourself to be taken to a second location. Anyone who offers to show you a nice place for a drink, haircut or bit of carpet shopping (as this isn’t Thailand, we’re talking rugs here, not ladies) is out to swindle you. (We fell for this one in Bangkok and landed up paying around $15 for two drinks, surrounded by mean looking heavies at the Super Pussies ping pong bar. I wish I was making this up. It was the other kind of carpet shopping.) But if they just leave it at chatting or a bit of advice on their favourite dürum joint, chances are they’re just being nice.


The mosaics.

Whether it’s the spectacular domed ceiling of the Blue Mosque, random bits of pavement or a wall behind a loo, the city is full of colourful tiles and bits of glass. My favourite is the enigmatic full mooned faced of the six winged seraph on the ceiling of the Hagia Sophia, but I loved the random discovery of a mosaic-ed drain cover or bit of wall down an otherwise drab, dodgy alley almost as much. And the great thing is that you can take a little part of the magic home with you in the form of mosaic glass lamps in every size and combination of colours your little heart could desire. Something tells me that the locals feel about these lamps the way South Africans do about those vile wooden giraffes that the tourists love to buy despite the logistical nightmare of getting a 2m tall carved animal home on a Boeing. But I loved the little shops cluttered with rainbow hued balls of light on every corner frequented by tourists with what the Turks probably think is a questionable taste in interior decorating. It is happiness at the flip of a light switch.

20150811-P1310807Tea time.

Not to drink it, but to watch the subtle ritual of others drinking it. Turks love their tea (çay). It is taken in delicate, tulip shaped glasses at any time of the day by just about everyone and is most often seen on the streets in front of the mom and pop shops. A few times a day, as if on cue, a young boy or old man will appear with a tray of tea that they then distribute to the shopkeepers who come out and watch the world go by with a cuppa in hand. The tea is simply sweetened with a bit of sugar and stirred with a tiny spoon that makes a tinkle almost as pleasing as ice in a long G&T. Almost… You get some big Turks, and I could spend hours watching the incongruity of a strapping lad or wizened old fruit seller delicately holding a painted saucer with a fine, flowery glass until the tea is just the right temperature to drink – there being no handles on the glasses. Like the cats I mentioned earlier, the simpleness of being content with a cup of tea while you watch the world go by makes it seem like everything is going to be okay after all. Am I weird? I’m probably weird. But then I’ve always Read the rest of this entry

Smoorsnoek samoosas

Smoorsnoek samoosas

With Oscar’s story seemingly having more holes than a good Emmentaler, and a president whose chickens live in better quarters than the average South African, we are about ready for an icon we can look up to. There aren’t many contenders. Frankly, a dim witted fish would do the job at this point. Take snoek for example. Proudly South African and comfortably located on SASSI’s green list so you can tuck in guilt free without worrying about the state of our oceans, snoek is wonderful smoked and mashed up with a bit of mayo as a pâté, or braaied over the coals basted with lemon and apricot jam. Now that I own a restaurant, my culinary adventurism has taken a turn towards the more sensible. Gone are the days of trying out distinctly un-Hestonesque teqhniques on my friends (who fortunately claim they come to visit me for me and not my disastrous gloopy caramelised white chocolate spheres or exploded truffle croquettes). Now it’s all about creating fool proof dishes that can be prepared in advance and finished off with minimum hassle and in as short a time as possible, and these little morsels fit the bill perfectly. I’m quite proud of the fact that I can give someone fairly good directions when asked how to get to the nearest supermarket without getting them horribly lost or sounding like a total chick, but it will really be a lot easier at this point to ask you to just google how to fold samoosas if you don’t know how to do so. Somewhere, someone with a video camera and a mild case of gastronomic exhibitionism has no doubt captured the whole process on film for your reference. Failing that, they’d work perfectly rolled into springrolls too. If you can’t get smoked snoek, smoked mackerel would work just as well.

Smoorsnoek samoosas


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La Rosa Blu Café

La Rosa Blu Café

La Rosa Blu CafeOkay, so a month or two tops turned out to be more like four. And a bit. I’m not sure where the time went, but it probably has something to do with falling into the money sucking, soul destroying, bottomless pit that is owning a restaurant. Especially in this town. I believe we have discussed this before? What were we thinking, trying to run a restaurant in a town where “value for money” is getting two eggs with your breakfast instead of one? Even if it means eating that breakfast at the corner garage. Owning a restaurant is like buying a room filled with everyone’s mothers-in-law, and your only job is to make sure that each and every one of them is happy. And they all like different things. Ridiculous, impossible to get right every time things, and one might even utter the words “Your pizza bases are too thin and crispy!”. HOW is that even possible? Is thin and crispy even a problem in a pizza? Do I need to change our bases? I don’t know! It is completely and utterly exhausting. And terrifying. And I am not currently loving it, but I’m hoping to get there eventually. Apparently I was meant to do this. You could’ve fooled me. I feel like I am one crisis away from a complete and utter breakdown. Every day.

The other problem with owning a restaurant is that it changes how you partake in the culinary delights your town has to offer. Visiting any restaurant within a 30km-potential-competition radius is no longer a relaxed evening out. It is a field trip. A learning experience. A reconnaissance, as it were. Sure, there are still intimate conversations as you lean over the table, wine glass in hand and whisper into your husband’s ear, but the conversation is now less about what you’re going to do to each other later and more along the lines of “Our X is much better than their Y”. Or “I wish we had thought of that first!”. Must get over this as eating out in a lovely establishment is my single, greatest pleasure in life.

La Rosa Blu Cafe

This isn’t ours, but I wish it were!

Back when we still had a life, we had a lovely, leisurely lunch at La Rosa La Rosa Blu CafeBlu Café on one of those winter afternoons that makes the rest of the world hate us (it’s okay world, we also have Zuma, mozzies and a pummeled currency so it all evens out). Situated on the Rosenhof rose farm in Waboomskraal near George, this vintage café is the perfect place for a first date. There are so many conversation pieces around you that you will never be stuck for something to say! We didn’t even realise that the fridge standing open next to us, spilling its linen contents all over the place, was actually supposed to be closed and wasn’t a part of the display. The gently worn entropy felt perfectly in keeping with the rest of the decor. A stack of well thumbed books is a table center piece. Old records are table mats. The couches on the patio are worn and threadbare, and you probably wouldn’t look at them twice if you saw them at your local charity shop, but here they invite you to sit down, relax, and take in the view. If couches had eyes, these would have bedroom ones. La Rosa Blu feels as inviting as your grandma’s home. If your grandma was a quirky, funky old lady who liked to collect pretty things and was a kick ass chef. Much of the decor is for sale, so you could take that Frida Kahlo print or odd tea cup home with you if it has grabbed your fancy.

La Rosa Blu CafeThe food is nothing fussy – breakfasts, pastas, sarmies and burgers. But one look at the menu and you know this isn’t your average plate of pasta or sandwiched bread. Vegetarian pasta options include The Capering Cow (rocket, basil pesto and capers) and The Happy Sheep (cherry tomatoes, mushrooms and olives), but – Read the rest of this entry

Cream cheese & herb stuffed chicken with braised leeks & bacon

Cream cheese & herb stuffed chicken with braised leeks & bacon

I don’t trust people who don’t particularly care about food. You know the type. They eat because they have to and wouldn’t particularly care whether you gave them Marmite on toast or seared tuna with truffled cauliflower puree for dinner. In fact, they’d prefer the toast, because the whole thing would be over faster. If they could, they’d pop a pill three times a day in lieu of eating a meal if such a thing were possible. I just don’t trust them. It’s not normal, I tell you! I’m quite sure they’re just waiting for a signal from the mother ship and then they’ll all start shedding their borrowed human skin and start converting nitrogen straight into whatever cells make up their weird-ass, food disdaining, alien bodies. Fortunately (and maybe because of this fact) I married a very appreciative eater. I love cooking for bush man. He makes these little noises as he eats when he’s enjoying the food. Little “hmmm”‘s and “sho”‘s and “that’s good, add it to the list”s (there is no list of dishes I must remember to try again, but I really should start one, because he’s often told me to add things to it and I’m buggered if I can remember a single thing on there now other than this chicken). Anyway, when I made this dish, there were no less than five “hmmm”‘s in the first two minutes of eating, so I knew it was a winner. The original recipe is one concocted by my mom – one of my food heroes and the reason that “Must appreciate food.” was at the top of the list of attributes I looked for in my man. I just added bacon because, well, it’s bacon, and it should be added to stuff. Cream cheese stuffed chicken with bacon and leeks

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Molecular gastronomy: When playing with your food is totally okay.

Molecular gastronomy: When playing with your food is totally okay.

Balsamic jelliesLime drops on soba and lemon whip chicken. Balsamic caviar and foamed olive tartin. Wild mushroom powder that’s washed down with bling. Either Willy Wonka has ventured into savoury, or these could be a few of my new favourite things.

Tsatsiki spheresWe spent an eye opening morning this week watching a molecular gastronomy demonstration hosted by Adrian Louw at Margot Swiss. What a treat! I’ve always thought of molecular gastronomy as being the domain of bald über chefs who cook out of labs in that wonderfully quirky world where food and  science meet. Not that being bald is the prerequisite, but you understand what I mean – fancy gadgets and dangerous gas bottles and equipment and processes with names that contain words like “centrifugal” and “hydrocoidal” and “thermoirreversable” and other terms that you would never associate with food. It’s a world where a humble hunk of blue cheese is not just relegated to a cracker or melted down with a bit of cream over pasta, but can be a foam, a powder, a gummy bear, a gel or anything else you could imagine. It has always seemed a little scary, a little too much to take on for the average home cook. But if there is one thing I learnt this week, it’s that ANYONE can take their cooking up a notch with just a few basic techniques and chemicals. Armed with one or two everyday kitchen gadgets, a handful of chemicals and a battalion of reappointed hair colouring tubes and nozzles (I kid you not), Adrian had us all oohing and aahing over his balsamic spaghetti, tzatziki “ravioli” and blingy, glittery honey pearls that you could pop into a glass of champagne. Other than the liquid nitrogen that could blow your arms off if not respected, there was nothing scary about creating extraordinary special touches out of store cupboard ingredients. Opalescent balsamic caviar lay shimmering on a salad in all of five minutes, and it took even less time to whip up the smoothest, creamiest ice cream I have ever tasted. I was honestly so inspired and so astounded at how easy some of the techniques seemed to be, that I rushed straight home and… did a quick roast chicken for dinner. Because, well, it was only a Wednesday and some things never change. But I’m bloody useless really, so don’t let me put you off! Molecular gastronomy is for everyone and I really want to encourage you to give it a bash! Despite my slow start, I definitely plan on incorporating more of it in my cooking!

For an absolute wealth of information on molecular gastronomy, including a free, downloadable pdf packed with recipes and how-to’s, visit Khymos.org.

Liquid nitrogenBalsamic spaghetti

On being 36 and childless

On being 36 and childless

I finally tackled the dishes in the kitchen this morning. It was a pitiful pile. Nothing more than a few side plates with toast crumbs on, the remnants of a solo eater’s culinary adventures these last few days while the other half is playing away in a golf tournament. As I scraped the crumbs off the third little plate, I was gripped by a deep sense of loss so sudden that I felt like I was falling into a void that I hadn’t realised until that moment was even there. I didn’t want to be scraping toast crumbs off lone side plates anymore! I wanted to be cleaning out platters of food that I’d fed my family the previous night. Out of nowhere, I felt like there was supposed to be a little girl there watching me do this as she ate her corn flakes for breakfast, kicking the table leg while she told me what she wanted to do on this beautiful Sunday. My little girl. Our little girl. The one we haven’t had.

I don’t want to have children. I have never wanted to have children. I would have those words tattooed on my forehead in an attempt to stop all the questions if not Read the rest of this entry



Transkaroo "wine list"In a beautiful old railway station, beside a quiet lagoon in the tranquil town of Great Brak River, Transkaroo dishes up plates full of passionately created South African cuisine. The vaulted wooden ceilings, delicate ostrich egg chandeliers, and rustic wooden benches that are perfect for al fresco dining on a warm evening or sunny afternoon, all serve to create a warm, relaxing atmosphere that feels a little more special than the norm when you enter. Just like the song* says, Transkaroo brings you home. If home is where mom spent hours cooking lamb neck till you could eat it with a spoon, skilpadjies were made from scratch and served with onion marmalade and pies didn’t come from the 24 hour garage shop. Chef Stefan Jamneck is serious about making everything from scratch (bar, by his own admission, “the ice cream in the Dom Pedro’s”) and his kitchen uses the freshest, local, seasonal ingredients to influence the dynamic menu. But it’s not only the menu that changes regularly to keep up with what’s good right now. The wine list comprises a trip to the wine racks in a corner of the restaurant, where the selection on offer changes as new favourites are showcased.

Curried fish cakes

20130806-P1250718Dishes are unpretentious, but exceptional. As the menu changes so often, it’s difficult to recommend a dish. But no matter what you choose, you can be sure that it will be rich, packed with in-your-face flavours, and not found in any diet recipe books. It’s best not to set your heart on a firm favourite, but should you come across them, to start, the snails vol au vents (okay, I realise that sounds totally pretentious, but if escargots vol au vents could be unpretentious, this would be them) blanketed in the silkiest, creamiest blue cheese sauce to ever enrobe a molusc is an absolute must. We also had the curried coconut fish cakes which packed a real Cape Malay flavour punch and the balsamic onion marmalade and Camembert tart (the marmalade on the latter, while beautifully sweet and gorgeously jammy, overpowered the delicate Camembert to my taste though). As a main, the lamb neck – Transkaroo’s signature dish – is highly recommended. The lamb is cooked for 4 hours and would fall off the bone if you shook your plate too vigorously! For dessert, try the chocolate orange fondant. (What a ridiculous sentence. Like anyone has to tell you try a chocolate orange fondant.) That is, of course, if you can look past the Read the rest of this entry

Browned butter lemon curd

Browned butter lemon curd

My idea of a well balanced breakfast is to have a slice of lemon curd toast in one hand, and a spoon full of cremezola in the other. Granted, you will not find this as the de jour diet in any of the glossies, but if you landed here by searching for lemon curd, then you probably don’t follow those things anyway. I absolutely adore sweet, tangy & jubilantly yellow hued lemon curd. Not that luminous yellow stuff that could double as a traffic cone in a pinch that you buy ready-made off the shelf in the supermarket. Real, homemade, butter laden curd made with love by your mom and packaged in a great, big glass jar that you can scoop spoons full out of when you need a culinary cuddle. But if mom is far away, or you’ve actually learned how to be self-sufficient, it is fantastically simple to make your own sunshine in a jar.

A few years ago, I had a Blue Mountain lemon curd at our local cheese festival that I fell into instant besottedness with (only to hear that they were discontinuing the range!). The curd had a gorgeously nutty flavour. The type of gorgeously nutty flavour that can be achieved by doing one thing and one thing only: browning butter. You know what I’m talking about. And now you can’t imagine why anyone would ever make curd without browning the butter first, right? You can use your favourite lemon curd recipe and just brown the butter before using it as directed, or follow this easy one here. I used a recipe from that old standby that makes up a large portion of every warm blooded Afrikaner girl’s recipe repertoire, Kook & Geniet, and just tweaked it to reduce the risk of scrambling and make it a little more buttery. When in doubt, more buttery is always the way to go.Browned butter lemon curd Read the rest of this entry

Fillet of beef with Dijon tarragon sauce

Fillet of beef with Dijon tarragon sauce

Blogging is not for sissies. It takes a massive amount of time and dedication, neither of which I have in excess right now. It also requires the ability to switch your creativity on at will when you do actually find yourself with thirty minutes to spare. I really suck at that too. One solution, they say, is to write drunk and edit sober, and frankly I can’t afford to be inebriated that often. This means that I have a draft folder positively brimming with unfinished posts. A little reminder, whenever I log into WordPress, of my ability to cling, hoard, procrastinate and just hope for the best when I know nothing will change. Every now and then I will go back to it, and listlessly page through the articles, knowing that I will never get round to sharing them with you because they either no longer seem relevant, or I’ve forgotten what I wanted to say in the first place, or in one sad case, the restaurant in question had inexplicably shut down before I could tell everyone why they absolutely had to go there. And yet, I hang on to them, even though I know that it is over and that they will never be written.

I know I will never get round to showing you the Qipu clothing market in Shanghai, with its mind-boggling selection of clothing stores, where the items get more expensive and the sales ladies get less pushy as the escalator goes up.

Qipu clothing marketQipu clothing market

See? Start low, finish high.

Or the street-food-vendor-packed alley behind said clothing market, where I finally came across sanxian doupi with its delicate tofu skin encasing shrimp flavoured rice, and jiān bǐng with the fried pastry center that the my local Qingpu lady never added and I had been obsessing about since first hearing it was missing from mine.

sanxian doupi jian bing

No really. If you’re in Shanghai, and you love shopping and eating, then this is a must-add for your trip list!

In order to tell you about the massive Tianshan Tea City that we visited, I learnt more about tea than any sane person should be expected to.

Tianshan tea city

But now you’ll never know the difference between the tea on the left and the tea on the right. (There, there now. You’ll get over the disappointment soon enough.)

I have a slew of posts on Shanghainese street food waiting to be written. For example, bet you didn’t know that Shanghai has more than 10,000 mobile food stalls? Or that in a government survey it was found that of 650 vendors surveyed, 609 had no business license? Or that sometimes your lamb skewer might be rat? Possibly poisoned rat. But that wasn’t going to stop me from encouraging you to try fire roasted sweet potatoes.

Fire roasted sweet potatoes

Or warm, cumin-y, delicious shao kao (street barbeque). “Lamb” and all. Read the rest of this entry

Self-guided walking tour: Shanghai’s Former French Concession Area

Self-guided walking tour: Shanghai’s Former French Concession Area

Author’s note: If you have made use of this tour, please pop me a note to let me know of any changes that might have occurred so future travelers can be aware of any closures or business location changes. And if you have anything to add, please leave a comment here too. Other travelers would love to hear from you!   – LK

The Shanghai French Concession (上海法租界Shànghǎi Fǎ Zūjiè), was a foreign concession in Shanghai from 1849 until 1946, and was the premier residential and retail district of Shanghai for much of the 20th century. With its European style cafes, quiet, leafy, tree lined avenues and tudor houses nestled in beautiful gardens interspersed with hole-in-the-wall eateries and local colours and flavours, it is a popular tourist destination. You could pretty much get off at any stop in the area and just stroll around the shops, boutiques, restaurants and deli’s. Or follow this self guided walk to hit some of the best spots between Xintiandi in the East, Tainzifang in the South and Fuxing Middle Road in the West.

French Concession lane

Time: A full day

Distance: +/- 7km

Start: South Huangpi Road metro station

End: South Shaanxi Road metro station

Xintiandi in the Former French Concession.

Xintiandi 2Start your tour at (A) South Huangpi Road metro station. Leave through Exit 1 and head south on Danshui Road. Turn left on Taicang Road till you hit the Starbucks. You can’t miss it. The two block area behind Starbucks is the heart of (B) Xintiandi, an upmarket, pedestrian only, shopping, eating and entertainment district composed of refurbished shikumen houses, narrow alleys and stone paved courtyards. With its stone gate buildings, it is a beautiful area, and you could spend a whole morning here browsing through book shops, cafes and delis selling French cheese, wines and Moët & Chandon, upscale boutiques and restaurants. In the south eastern corner of this block is the (C) Site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China which has now been preserved as a museum. The museum houses exhibits about the history of China and Shanghai and the foundation of the CPC.  Entry is free. Head north on Huangpi South Road until you hit (D) Huaihai Road and turn left. Cross the road using the pedestrian bridge at Chongqing, because, well, it’s kinda cool. And also, you do not want to miss the little hole-in-the-wall establishment that sells (E) radish cakes a little way down from the corner on the north side of Huaihai Road. I can’t sell radish cakes by using the term “radish cakes”, so you’ll just have to trust me on this. These pastries have a warm, fresh filling and a flaky, crisp coating and make a perfect mid-morning snack. The shop is no more than a bamboo steamers filled window with a little sign hanging above it. Look for the green painted window frames with red writing. Skip the shāomài (sticky rice dumplings) here though. Maybe I caught them on a bad day, but I thought they were awful.

Site of first National Congress

Take the next road left and head down Yandang Road towards (F) Fuxing Park. This cobblestoned road is semi pedestrianized and lined with Chinese shops and restaurants. The park is a feast for the senses. Vendors sell fresh seasonal juices at the entrance, the gardens are a riot of colour and fragrance, little old people do tai chi around every corner, and young and old sing karaoke on portable speakers. There are spontaneous ballroom dancers, mahjong playing enthusiasts, laughing children, pensive pensioners, kite flyers, fan dances, card games, makeshift tables where doctors take blood pressure and dispense advice and lots of music and random singing. The 10 hectare park is designed in the French style, with a koi filled central lake, fountains, covered pavilions, and colourful, seasonal flowerbeds. Exit the park through the north western exit.

Fuxing Park (2)Fuxing Park (3)

Fuxing ParkKaraoke in Fuxing Park.

Turn left on (G) Sinan Road and head south. On the left when you reach Xiangshan Road is the Shanghai Museum of Sun Yat-Sen’s Former Residence. Sun Yat-Sen was the forerunner of the Chinese democratic revolution and the founder of the Republic of China. The museum contains the original furnishings used by the family as well as displays of Mr. Sun Yat-Sen’s activities from his stay in Shanghai. A little further down, behind a red lacquered door lies the former residence of General Zhou Enlai, a former Premier of the PRC. The residence now houses a free museum that depicts the history of the Chinese Communist Revolution. Read the rest of this entry