Mapshalia is as unassuming as they come. The entrance – a small doorway down a few steps – is marked simply in Georgian, the throng of locals dragging on their cigarettes outside (smoking indoors is now illegal in Georgia) the only give away that there’s something worth seeing inside. The atmosphere is exceedingly casual. You’ll be as comfortable here as you’d feel showing up at a family braai in slops and a faded “I’m drunk and you’re still ugly” t-shirt. The small dining hall, covered in Soviet era plaster scenes, would be stiflingly hot in summer, but thankfully there are tiny, private cubicles hidden behind swing doors with windows set in at road level that are much cooler. And when I say tiny, I mean TINY. Like don’t bring your big boned Aunt Hilda here for lunch tiny. Small benches, only 20cm wide and not much higher, are crammed right up against the walls, leaving just enough space for the low table on which they will pile on your Megrelian feast, starting with chunks of gloriously chewy bread and a spicy, gazpacho like soup in which to dunk it. If Georgian cuisine was a Magic Mike film, Megrelian would be Joe Manganiello – much heavier on the hotness, so make sure you have a bottle of local Tbilisi beer or cream lemonade to swig before you tuck in.
Our English menus were brought to us by a very friendly waitress, which set the homely tone for the whole meal. You only have to travel in Tbilisi for a short while to realise how friendliness in wait staff is not a given. In fact, it’s the exception to the rule. The staff at Mapshalia were all delightfully welcoming. The menu is small with the most glaring omission being khachapuri, the Megrelian version of which does not only get cheese stuffed between the layers of bread, but also has a liberal dose of sulguni slathered on top. But seeing as you’re in Georgia, and as such probably have khachapuri oozing out your pores as you climb the hills around Tbilisi by now, you can do without the carbs for one meal.
The stand out dish on the menu is what some say is the best elarji in Tbilisi – cornmeal cooked with sulguni cheese till it forms an oozy, stringy, glorious gloop. It is richer than Warren Buffet could ever hope to be, so the simple meats on offer make for the perfect pairing. The roast pork was a little on the tough side (like most of the roast meat style that is popular in the region), but was very tasty and the chicken livers were crispily fried on the outside, just the way I like them when they are done this simply with a bit of onion. The spinach pkhali (vegetable and walnut pâté) was flecked with chilli flakes and the portion was enormous, so save some of the aforementioned bread to use as a transportation device for when it arrives. We did not have the kharcho (beef soup with rice) or the kupati sausage, both of which other travellers have highly recommended when visiting Mapshalia. The kupati was not on the menu, and as I have subsequently learnt that it’s basically intestine stuffed with pig lung, liver, spleen and spices, I’m sorry I didn’t get to try it before I knew what it was, because now I can never unknow those facts…
Mapshalia is a place where you can get raucous with your family while you do supra the Georgian way, or grab a quick bite to eat before you make your way further down Davit Aghmashenebeli Ave. The prices are ludicrously cheap. Our entire meal, drinks included, came to just 20GEL ($US8). A service charge is not automatically added, but you’d really want to tip the wonderful staff in this tiny establishment.The restaurant is located under the once grand Apollo Theatre and apparently used to serve as a ticketing office. On the verge of being condemned, the theatre has now been restored to within an inch of its life, some say for the worse. So be sure to check it out when you leave and ask yourself “What would the Property Brothers say?”.
Address: 137 Davit Aghmashenebeli Avenue, Tbilisi, G
Okay, 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.
Back when we still had a life, we had a lovely, leisurely lunch at La Rosa Blu 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.
The 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 – not too concerned with the happiness of my food – I opted for The Taxi Driver, that came with chicken, crispy bacon, red onions, cherry tomatoes, basil pesto and my Achilles heel, truffle oil. I don’t know why it’s called The Taxi Driver, but it was delicious! Burgers are equally creative, and I’m sure there are few men who would pass up the opportunity to try The Italian Stallion, topped with bacon, feta, mozzarella and salami. Breakfasts range from R36 to R65 and pastas and burgers from R60 to R85. There weren’t flatbreads when we were there, but I am told by a very reliable foodie friend that he has had them and they are phenomenal.
When you’ve had your fill (don’t miss out on the gourmet milkshakes), take your Karoo cocktail outside and sip on this white port and tonic concoction while you drink in the views from the patio. Yeah, I’m jealous.
Is it ethical to review a restaurant when you own one? Or is that only okay when you’re Gordon Ramsay?
La Rosa Blu Café
Rosenhof Estate, N9, Waboomskraal, George, South Africa
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,skilpadjieswere 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.
Dishes 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 lavender crème brûlée or pecan pie with homemade coffee ice cream. Starters range from R30 to R50 and mains from R85 to R190.
The service doesn’t feel like service. It feels more like a friend offering you another plate of food while you’re visiting them. The minute you walk in the door, everyone makes you feel like they’ve been waiting specially for you to arrive. That said, they won’t hover unnecessarily around you like your nosy Aunt Ida, but will keep your glass topped up so discreetly that you won’t be able to keep track of whether you’re over the limit yet. For a taste of the best traditional dishes South Africa has to offer, with a touch of something a little more special, Transkaroo is a great choice! And if you’re lucky, a train will roll past to add to the charm.
Website: transkaroo.wordpress.com (I think these guys are too busy making food to worry about an online presence!)
Address: 1 Morrison Road, Great Brak River, South Africa.
In a supermarket where hermetically sealed packets of jellyfish can be found on the shelf, nestled between Plain Salted Lays and seaweed flavoured Tuc’s, finding a snack that is to your taste might be a challenge.
You might reach for a tube of chips, and land up with a bag of dried fish snacks (you’d be an idiot though, and a smelly one at that).
Or you might innocently peruse the shelves for a dried fruit snack, and come across spicy duck tongues.
Or fancy tucking into some sweet, corn flavoured bologny? No refrigeration required – these babies will last on the shelf forever.
Or maybe some nice spicy bean curd string.
And my personal favourite; those baby-hand-resembling nibbles that everyone in China loves – chicken feet. Vacuum packed, off the shelf, chicken feet. Something us westerners apparently just “don’t get” (like China has the market on chicken feet cornered).
Unsweetened popcorn? Forget it. Some good ol’ cheesy nachos? No chance. But it’s just as well we’re all different, isn’t it? If Chinese people didn’t gag at the thought of cheese (rotten milk, if you ask them, and a little rich if you ask me, seeing as they have that whole stinky tofu thing going on), jellyfish would be taking over our oceans as we fight each other over the last piece of Gorgonzola. So viva le difference!
You’re still going to need a snack though. And if there is one Chinese snack that I absolutely love, it is crunchy broad beans. Also known as horse beans in China, these little beauties are deep fried and then flavoured with various spices – Chinese 5 spice and beef being the most popular. When fried, the beans become a deliciously strange combination of crispy and creamy. You could probably pop the whole thing in your mouth, but I prefer to shell off the tougher outer layer. That way I get to play with my food.
But don’t try these. Floury and flavourless. Unless cardboard is a flavour.
I have tried to make a low fat version of this snack myself. Here is what doesn’t work:
* Boiling the beans till soft and then roasting them.
* Allowing the beans to sprout and then roasting them (this worked well with mung beans though).
* Roasting them.
Do you see the trend here? Roasting doesn’t work. Basically, unless they are dumped into a big vat of artery clogging fat, they are going to be teeth chippingly inedible. But I shall keep trying, so watch this space!
I stopped trying to update my About page some time ago. Frankly, I don’t know what I’m about really. I’d just about made peace with the fact that I’d be living out of a suitcase and getting by in a kitchen with one coffee mug, no cream and these ridiculous, tiny little floral things the Chinese call plates for the next few years, and a year later I found myself back in my home town, running a driving range (Matt Damon bought a zoo, we bought a driving range) and trying to Skype my husband in China with a connection that keeps freezing the video at the most inopportune times. I think he’s forgotten what I look like without one eye half closed and my mouth pulled like I’m trying to imitate Sly Stallone after a particularly hard hit from that Russian dude. So if you’re confused, know that I’m confused too.
So anyway, I might not know where I am or where I’m going most of the time, but where I’ve been is a little easier to pin down. Vereeniging, Gauteng. A nice place to come from and the location of a lovely little eatery called Anna’s Kitchen. Now I’m not going to lie to you – I went here with my brother and dad, and in an attempt to solve the Middle Eastern crisis, end World Hunger and come to grips with the best way to treat a Dollar Spot outbreak on your greens (I have been taken into the fold) we were on our fourth bottle of wine two hours in and hadn’t really thought about food, so I can’t tell you too much about it with any real authority. And my camera battery died, so I can’t really show you either. Frankly, If I were a journalist, I’d be miming on the street to supplement my income. But what I can tell you is that sitting under the Stinkwood (no actual stink involved) at Villa Anna Sophia on a warm Autumn day will make you feel like you are a thousand miles away from any sort of industrial town – somewhere a vast number of people who live in Vereeniging would often like to be. With the soft trickling of water from the fountains and the stone urns scattered amongst lavender and white roses in the garden, you could be sitting at a chateau in the French countryside or a villa in Italy. (I haven’t actually been to either, but I’ve watched long, drawn out movies of divorced women trying to find themselves in those kinds of places.). Oh and of course, there are Hadedas there to remind you that you’re still in South Africa, just in case the Bobotie and boerewors on the menu didn’t tip you off.
So on to what little I can say of the food. Firstly, it was beautifully presented. We oohed and aahed over every plate that came past before forgetting again to order. Expect to find a little more than the usual fare. I’ll be going back for the crispy potato and haloumi breakfast, and the fresh fig and goats cheese pizza and – brace yourself – the Lindt chocolate orange milkshake. And the Turkish Delight milkshake. And the fig and port milkshake. Other notables on the menu include Cape Malay Style Lamb Curry, Roast Beef Biltong Salad and the Pancetta & Chorizo Pasta. The last I can actually vouch for, as it formed part of my pasta trio and was delicious nestled between the seafood on the right and the chicken and sundried tomato on the left – the perfect solution for when there are too many things on the menu for you to choose just one without risking order envy. I tend to judge the quality of an establishment’s food on their cream based sauces. The closer it is to something that resembles real cream, packed with flavour, and the further it is from the Béchamel based sauces my grade 9 Home Ec teacher tried to pass off as a cream sauce, the happier I am. I was very happy at Anna’s Kitchen.
We were told by others to expect slow service, but our waiter was pretty efficient. The food didn’t exactly get there in record time, which suited us, but would probably be a bit annoying if we lunched like normal people instead of turning it into a 4 hour marathon. There is a large deck outside under the trees and ample green lawn in a secured area where the kids can play, so it’s family friendly, or get a sitter and go for a quiet dinner and a slightly more sophisticated menu. The wine list is small and somewhat pricey. You can buy freshly baked foccacia, ciabatta and other goodies on the premises which – if the bread plate served with sundried tomato pesto was anything to go by – is highly recommended.
If food is your thing and you don’t normally spend months on end looking for it under a rock, then you probably know who Margot Janse is. This multi award winning gourmet has been named Chef of the Year in the Eat Out DSTV Food Network Restaurant Awards for the second time and – as executive chef at Le Quartier Français in Franschhoek – she has led the The Tasting Room to the number two spot on the list of top restaurants in South Africa – the 11th time that this epicurean institution has ranked among the top 10 under her guidance. One day when I’m all grown up, have put the kids through college and have the kind of settled lifestyle where I can plan my eating experiences months in advance, I too will make it to The Tasting Room. But until then, it’s good to know that we can sample a small part of this phenomenal woman’s genius at The Common Room, Le Quartier Français’s slightly more accessible, but no less remarkable eatery. Don’t let the name fool you – The Common Room is far from plebeian. The decor is lush and rich in plums and reds with quirky chandeliers lighting the vibrant interior. For those who love to people watch there is cafè style seating on Huguenot Street’s ample sidewalk and the back of the restaurant opens up to cool gardens and mountain vistas with comfy couches and a fireplace for the chillier days.
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, The Common Room offers a menu brimming with extraordinarily original small plates designed to be enjoyed as a snack with a glass of bubbly or wine or to accompany one of their witty cocktails (try the passion fruit based Bow Chicka Wow Wow), or to feature as part of a motley cast of plates that make up the perfect ensemble meal. The menu reflects Margot’s ability to zhush up the most humble of South African flavours with humour, imagination and a touch of the exotic. You won’t find a meatball here – instead tuck into succulent lamb frikadelletjies served with flatkoek and raïta. Battered fish takes the form of pops with chakalaka ketchup and the bitterballen (a nod to Margot’s Dutch heritage and one of my favourite things on the planet ever) is made with wildebeest and served with apple mustard. And who can resist something as simple as French toast when it is paired with Spanish cured ham, preserved lime and a summer tomato party? The chicken & duck liver parfait with salted pear simply melts in your mouth and is the closest thing you’ll get to foie gras without the ethical dilemma you normally face picturing all those fluffy, overfed geese. The quail rillettes with mebos chutney is served in a happy little jar and bursts with flavours of the Cape. (I feel like I’m rambling here, but let me continue!). Organic lamb tongue is given the bacon crumble treatment and will warm your heart on the dreariest of days and the wood baked Dalewood camembert (although not exactly original) is simply perfect in its oozy, creamy, rich simplicity. The only dish I didn’t enjoy was the satay spiced squid, but that’s only because it was meltingly tender and as a middle class South African I’m used to the cheap and chewy variety of calamari we have to settle for while the rest of the world munches on our good stuff. Lastly, hand cut chips are served playfully in paper cones and, amongst other sides, you can also tuck into wood roasted sweetcorn with smoked butter or tempura fine beans with a soya dip.
When you’re ready for something sweet, try a jar of brownies or the dainty pear & almond tartlet with vanilla ice cream and salted caramel (it’ll make you forget your manners and you’ll be licking the plate before you’re done). My absolute favourite dish of the day though was the peanut butter parfait with gooseberry gel. The cold, creamy moreish ice cream is paired perfectly with a crunchy, salty, peanut crumb that hits every spot a dessert should and some you didn’t even know it could. THIS is what Sally ate all those years ago. The wine list is small, featuring only Moreson wines, but when you can have Miss Molly Bubbly by the bottles full you probably won’t care! Dishes range from R25.00 to R50.00 per plate, and for those who need a man sized bowl of food before they consider it a meal, there is whole roasted chicken, pasture fed beef sirloin or wood roasted fresh water crayfish for between R150.00 and R190.00. Service is fast, knowledgeable and unobtrusive – everything you’d expect from such a well respected Franschhoek institution.
The Common Room is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon or evening sharing food with friends. Bookings are strongly recommended.
My husband plays this little game every now and then. I’m not sure whether it’s his way of preparing for the worst thing imaginable to him. His Armageddon. His Apocalypse. His Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Out of the blue he will ask me: “If you had to give up all but one meat, which one would you keep?”. To me, this question was always a bit of a conundrum. Lamb seemed the obvious choice. Ribs, roasted till the fatty bits are all crispy. Shanks, slow cooked in Port till the meat melts off the bone. Chops, cooked on an open fire, surrounded by friends. Leg, done till slightly pink and served with lakes of rich gravy. But then what about bacon? I mean, pork would lose if not for bacon, but bacon complicates matters greatly. A pickle. But like anything, I needed to lose both to realise what mattered most to me. We technically can’t get bacon in Qingpu. Or at least, we can get something that says bacon on the packet. And “Elaborate Bacon” at that. But it’s some sort of processed, smoked meat chopped into bits and reassembled into a shape vaguely resembling that most essential BLT ingredient. And after our favourite teppanyaki restaurant closed its doors overnight despite being an apparent roaring success, we could no longer get mutton or lamb in any shape or form either. So, in those desperate days where I could not tuck into either a lamb chop or a perfectly crisp slice of streaky bacon, lamb is what I would’ve run to if you’d put it opposite bacon and had them both call me at the same time.
I am therefore slightly embarrassed that it took me four months to discover the wonder that is Shanghai’s Friday morning Muslim market. Here, on North Changde Lu in the Jing’an District, you can get lamb in every conceivable style – fresh, cooked, minced, spiced, baked in dough, steamed in dumplings, skewered onto kebabs. And oh. My. Word. As a half blood Afrikaner meisie it pains me to say that the lamb I have eaten in China is better than any Karoo lamb I’ve had back home. Granted, it won’t be to everyone’s taste. As lamb goes, it’s fairly lean (if you don’t have the tail bit) and it has that really strong animal flavour you only ever get when you know someone who knows someone who can get his hands on one of those sheep who was actually destined to provide only wool, but then met an untimely end in a sausage machine.
But wait! Before we get to the market, a little detour is essential. To get to the market, you absolutely have to take the (less than) scenic route via Yanping Road. What you are looking for is Wuyuan bĭngjiā (or W.Y. Fanriy Cake – fancy cake? fairy cake? I don’t know, but look out for the orange sign). Here you will find xie ke huang – tiny, crispy, golden sweet or savoury crab shell pies. The pies don’t necessarily contain crab (although our interpreter did tell us that the ones we had here were crab roe, which I’m a bit dubious about given the pale colour). Rather, they are so called because the finished product resembles golden crab shells. The savoury fillings can contain fresh meat or crab meal, shrimps, spring onion and lard and the sweet ones are filled with sugar, rose water and bean or date paste – the sweet filling when warm has the consistency of thick syrup. The pastry is made from oiled, fermented flour and is wrapped around the filling, rolled in sesame seeds and then baked on the walls of a clay oven. It it hard to say what it is that makes me yearn for these little pies, even now. But there is just something about the crispy, flaky pastry giving way to the warm, soft, delicately flavoured center that is addictively moreish. We hadn’t made it halfway up the block before we’d polished off the lot and had to go back for more. Would I lie to you? It’s worth getting off a stop early for them. 蟹壳黄 – just find these characters on the menu and point – there is no English here. Pay inside and either eat in or collect your pies from the window outside. The queue moves very quickly. The pies are around RMB1 each.
Anyway, back to the Muslim Market. The red awninged carts and stalls of the market line both sides of Changde Lu on the sidewalks outside the Huxi Mosque. Most of the vendors are Uyghurs from Xinjiang province. This is the region that makes the sheeping world go round – the lamb here is the fat bottomed (or fat tailed to be precise) breed of sheep that gives the dishes you’ll find here that hearty, flavoursome edge. You can stock up on incense, carpets, jewellery, ornate daggers (can’t have too many of those), nuts, dates, fruit, a mind-boggling selection of raisins and sultanas, naan, and, most importantly lamb. Lots and lots of lamb!
Our first stop was at the steamed dumpling stall. They’re made just like every other jiaozi in Shanghai, but instead of pork they are filled with minced lamb and onions. There are virtually no other spices added – it’s just unadulterated lamby yumminess! The paper thin dough is folded around the lamb mixture, deftly pinched along the edges to seal in the meat and juices and the dumplings are then steamed in massive bamboo steamers.
One of the most popular dishes at the market is pulao (or polos) – mutton pilaf. To make this Uyghur dish, great, big chunks of mutton are boiled with rice, carrots, onions, garlic and sultanas. But while this was one of the main dishes I came for, it didn’t really appeal to me once I saw the pans full of rice. I think I was expecting a little more oomphf. Maybe some spices or something. Anyway, we skipped the pilaf and moved on to the langman – a cold noodle dish served with chilli flakes and sliced vegetable. We moved along – cold noodles are probably great for balancing the richness of the lamb dishes, but we were not outlambed just yet.
We crossed the road and headed for a stand selling samsa – baked Uyghur pies made with minced lamb, onions and spices, the Turkic Central Asian version of the better known samoosa. At the first such stall we came across (where they also sold their own version of apo zong) the samsa was fried, rather than baked. The vendor was incredibly friendly, standing with a toothless grin from ear to ear. But I’m sorry friendly mister vendor man, I really didn’t like the pies. They were rather oily (a bit like a bad South African vetkoek shell) and the meat was overpoweringly flavoured with cardamom instead of subtle cumin.
Disappointment was soon followed by elation though, as we came to a vendor selling roast lamb shoulder and ribs. The lamb is marinated in yogurt flavoured with just a hint of spices and a generous lashing of turmeric that turns it a gloriously golden hue. It is then slow roasted to fall-off-the-bone perfection. I have thought of this lamb at least once a week since we had it. Truth be told, I get a little melancholic every, single time. Just point at the bits you want and the vendor will cleave it all up into bite sized pieces for you.
Next up was an altogether better samsa stall. Here the pies are baked on the sides of a tandoor oven in the traditional manner. A bit like a hot pocket, the pies are encased in a bread shell – similar to a thin, crispy, smokey pizza crust – and the meat is very subtly spiced so that none of the beautiful flavour of the lamb is overpowered. The little parcels are slapped against the walls of the oven and poked around for a bit until they’re cooked.
I’ve only highlighted a few of the delicacies to be had here, but it was impossible to try everything. It was one of those days I wished I were a cow with a few extra stomachs (okay, I wish that most days). In between there were also various stalls selling kebabs assembled in every possible meaty permutation and slow roasted over coal fires. We didn’t even get to these, but if they’re anything like some of the other mutton kebabs I’ve had on the street, they’d be beautifully tender and perfect sprinkled with a bit of cumin and paprika and a dash of chilli. There are stalls selling homemade, filled pastas, fried and syrup soaked pastries, baklava and other sweets and bowls full of dogh – chipped ice covered in yoghurt and drizzled with honey. There is also fresh lamb for sale – from whole carcasses to stripped down spines and fat encased kidneys and all the bits in between. If a fly on your food puts you off then… well then how do you eat in China? The Friday Muslim Market was a truly memorable culinary experience and is well worth a visit. I suggest you buy at least two of everything because you’ll be sorry by Saturday if you don’t!
Take line 7 on the MTR. If you’re going to stop off for some crab shell pies first, then get off at Changping Road. Head west on Changping Lu until you hit Yanping Lu. Turn left. The bakery is about 300m down the road on your right. From here, head back to Changde Lu and just follow it north until your nose finds the market. If you’re allergic to shellfish (the only conceivable reason why you’d miss out on the crab shell pies), get off at Changshou Road and head north from there.
It turns out that blogging is not like riding a bike. Rather, it is like a gym routine – once you’ve missed a few days, even sorting your sock draw somehow seems to take priority over getting the next post out. And so it is that more than a month has passed since I got back to South Africa and I’ve hardly written a thing. To be fair, I have not touched ground till now. We moved house, saw friends and family and tried to pack in as much of the SA sunshine as we could before hubby headed back to Shanghai without me. But the dust has settled a bit, my sock draw is sorted and there are no more excuses.
Where is the first place you go to eat when you’ve spent a few months away from home and are craving all things South African? Well, apparently my family thinks it’s to a Greek joint. So Mezepoli is where I found myself a few weeks ago the day after I landed back home. I was not expecting to say anything about it here and didn’t even take my camera. The plan was just to catch up with my family. But oh. My. Word. One bite of their decadently thick and creamy tzatziki and I knew I had to spread the word! So I grabbed my phone camera (hence the quality) and started taking notes before the Rosé could go to my head.
Mezepoli is like that guy at school who everyone wants to be like even though he’s only ever in faded jeans and old t-shirts – it is just effortlessly cool. The waitrons are knowledgeable, efficient and attentive without bothering you with too many “Are you okay?”‘s, the decor is simple and fresh and menus are printed onto paper that doubles as your table cloth. This is not the place for a quiet, romantic meal (unless it’s a first date and you’re worried about awkward silences, because there will be none here). Mezepoli is vibey and energetic and brilliant for a big group of friends. All those vague acquaintances you accepted on Facebook? This is why you put up with them! Get together as many people as you can so you can order and taste a bit of everything! Virtually the entire menu consists of meze. Various olives, cheeses and dips and vegetarian, seafood and meat meze can be mixed and matched as you like. You could get stuck here for an entire afternoon working your way through plate after plate. They describe their own dishes as being simple and paired down with unmasked, pure flavours so that matching dishes together is easy. There is even a food pairing suggestion if you just want to have drinks and one plate. Ha! Like you’ll manage to stop after one plate. I am no Mediterranean food expert, but I have never had meze like this! Start at the very beginning and order a bit from each section. Don’t skip the dips just because they might seem pedestrian compared to the rest of the menu. The tzatziki will have your uvula throwing little ceramic plates down and shouting “Opa!”. But if you think that that is expecting a bit much from a bit of yogurt and garlic, then try the melitzanosalata (roasted aubergine blended with garlic) and tirosalata (feta blended with peppers and chili). You’ll be praying for a successful solution to the Greek crisis so your supply never gets cut off. Be sure to mop it all up with lots of their fantastic pitas! Mezepoli is not the place to come if you’re worried about food miles as many of the yummy ingredients on the menu are imported. But I say rather plant a few extra trees and tuck in to the Spanish Jamon Serano ham or Italian prosciutto. And even if you’re lactose intolerant, practice your “it wasn’t me” face, put up with the bloat and have a few of the feta and gruyère cheese croquettes. The calamari grilled with onion and garlic and chicken wings done in delicate peri-peri are two other not-to-be-missed dishes, both bearing testament to the fact that simple, uncluttered flavours are sometimes the best way to go. The bekri meze (beef fillet with peppers and white wine) wasn’t to my taste, but then peppers can be a hit or miss for me at times. I still had two helpings though! Just to make sure. But there is so much more to choose from. I will definitely go back to try the htipiti (feta grilled with tomato, pepper and chilli), baby octopus and fava (split pea and cherry tomato dip). And it goes without saying that you should save a spot for that quintessential Greek dessert – baklava.
The wine list is small, but excellent and has some of everyone’s favourites – Zandvliet Shiraz, Haute Cabriere Chardonnay Pinot Noir and Pierre Jourdan Brut MCC to name a few. Best of all is that you can have any wine on the list by the glass, so you can pair wines to the different dishes. Try the L’Avenir Rosé – like a toffee apple for grownups without all the sweetness, it is happiness in a bottle. There are also all the old standby cocktails to choose from and, of course, ouzo for those who want to go completely native.
There are restaurants in Melrose Arch and Camps Bay. I will try the Camps Bay branch as soon as possible. In the interest of thorough investigative eating of course.
I have been so busy shoveling mooncake into my face, trying to determine which ones are tastiest (in the name of investigative eating of course) that I forgot to write about them before they started disappearing again! Blame the brain slump after the sugar rush. Mooncakes (yuè bĭng) are sweet or savoury cakes eaten all year round, but especially during the Mid-Autumn Festival when the selection on offer balloons from a few choices in the corner of the bakery to what seems like hundreds of sizes, shapes, colours and flavours. During the festival (also known as the Moon Festival or Chinese Lantern Festival) which celebrates the end of the fall harvest, mooncakes are offered between friends, business associates and family. They are packaged in anything from single cakes in simple cellophane wrappers, to a selection of cakes wrapped in delicate tissue paper and nestled in beautifully decorated, elaborate boxes. (You know how you are always thinking it’ll be there tomorrow, I’ll do it tomorrow? Well, that’s what happened with all the beautiful displays of packaged mooncakes I kept swearing I’d photograph the next day. It never happened. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.)
Typical mooncakes are round or rectangular thin pastries with a rich, sweet, dense filling. Traditional mooncakes are made from red bean or lotus seed paste around a salted duck egg yolk that symbolises the full moon. (Salted duck egg in a sweet pie is a lot tastier than it sounds.) The cakes are embossed with various drawings and characters that might say the name of the bakery, the type of filling or the Chinese characters for “longevity” or “harmony”. Other imprints might depict flowers, leaves, vines or one of the various legends surrounding mooncakes:
– Chang’e, the Chinese goddess of the moon – who landed up living there due to an unfortunate string of events involving ten suns in the form of three legged birds living in a mulberry tree, a kick-ass archer and half a coughed up pill – is often depicted. And you thought Scientology was weird.
– Rabbits are another popular choice, with some cakes even baked in the shape of a rabbit. In Chinese mythology, the Jade Rabbit lives on the moon where he pounds away at herbs trying to make another pill for Chang’e so she can get back to earth. I believe this. I’ve seen him. Although to me it looks like he’s lying in a bed with a patchwork quilt, which fits better with the other legend claiming that three fairy sages transformed themselves into pitiful old men and begged for something to eat from a fox, a monkey and a rabbit. The fox and the monkey both had food to give to the old men, but the rabbit, empty-handed, jumped into a fire to cook himself so that they could eat his flesh. Touched by his sacrifice, the sages let him live in the Moon Palace.
– A popular legend claims that moon cakes were instrumental in the overthrow of the Mongol dynasty that ruled China from 1271–1368. As group gatherings were banned, it was impossible to make plans for a rebellion and so the Chinese rebel leader Zhu Yuanzhang had to devise a sneaky plan. Noting that the Mongols didn’t eat mooncakes, he timed the uprising to coincide with the Mid-Autumn Festival. He sought permission to distribute thousands of moon cakes to the Chinese residents in the city to bless the longevity of the Mongol emperor. Inside each cake, they inserted a message on a piece of paper that read: “Kill the Mongols on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month”. On the night of the Moon Festival, the rebels attacked and overthrew the government and the Ming Dynasty was established. Altogether more my kind of coordinated attack than waiting it out in a smelly wooden horse with thousands of other stinky, farting soldiers. A nice little story (unless you’re Mongolian), but as the Ming troops entered the Mongol capital 7days before the festival, it is probably just that – a story. Also, if mooncakes are eaten to commemorate this legend, then how did they use mooncakes to create the legend? A predestination paradox if you ask me.
But back to the cakes. Bakeries, restaurants, pastry chefs and even ice cream makers have started creating ever more elaborate and interesting mooncakes. If you can stick it in a cake, someone somewhere has made it into a mooncake. Besides the traditional fillings of bean and lotus seed paste, you can also get cakes with jujube (date) and other fruit fillings (MU.Bread’s mango is my absolute favourite!), various chopped nuts and seeds, jams, cheesecake, custard, yams, chocolate and coffee and also savoury fillings like minced pork. (I joined a random food queue in Nanjing East last week on the assumption that if people are queuing for it it must be good and when I got to the counter it was pork mooncakes that had everyone in a frenzy.) And like with all things, you get what you pay for. So you can buy the Twinkie version of a mooncake for a yuan or two at your local supermarket (just with bean paste instead of cream), or splurge on brandied cherry truffle or single malt whisky truffle fillings. Other lavish ingredients include ganache, salted caramel, black truffle, caviar, foie gras and gold leaf to decorate the cakes. And if you’re watching your weight, there are also yoghurt, jelly and fat free ice cream versions. Depending on the region or producer, the crusts can be chewy, crumbly or flaky but will usually contain lard. The mooncakes are cut into little wedges and enjoyed with tea.
You can find mooncakes in just about every bakery, supermarket and corner store in China year round, but the real festival cakes appear in August and for most of September. Outside China you can get them at Asian food shops beginning around mid-August.
As I mentioned in my previous post, this weekend I finally got around to trying century eggs, chicken feet and jellyfish. I have had a punnet of preserved duck eggs sitting in the fridge for weeks now and just haven’t had any ideas on what to do with it. The only recipe suggestion I could find was century eggs with silky tofu. Ew. But when it was served to me on a plate on Saturday night I had no more excuses. Ditto with the chicken feet and jelly fish. Chicken feet are ubiquitous around here. They are available on the street as a deep fried, boiled or battered snack and they are plentiful at the supermarket, both fresh and frozen in open cases at the butchery as well as vacuum packed in the snack aisle. Jellyfish too are available at the fish counter and vacuum packed as a snack. But unlike those sneaky chocolate bars that slip into your trolley as you pass through the snack aisle, chicken feet and jellyfish don’t exactly jump off the shelf at you now, do they? As I pointed out to my husband the other night when a tiny, disorientated beetle took a nose dive into a boiling pot of pasta I had on the stove, our perception of what is acceptable to eat is almost entirely a state of mind. I have no problem wolfing down a platter of prawns, legs and all, but I would spend ten minutes trying to fish the now partially disintegrated beetle out of the pasta. By the time I got it out I actually needed the crunch it would’ve provided as by then the pasta was overcooked and nothing was “too the tooth”. It was just the idea of eating this beetle. Big, fat, bug-eyed cockroaches of the sea? No problem. Flying insectile sources of protein? Hell no!
Which brings me to the century egg. To be honest, if you had blindfolded and fed it to me (blindfolded me, not the egg) and told me it was a hard boiled egg with a bit of cream and beautifully ripe Camembert inserted into the centre for a creamier yolk with a delicate ammonia flavour I would’ve loved it and declared you a Heston Blumenthal-esque genius. Because that is exactly what it tasted like. Just a little more sulfurous. But it isn’t a hard boiled egg with a creamy center now, is it? It’s a raw egg, immersed in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime and rice hulls for anything from a few weeks to several months. This turns the egg white into a firm, translucent, dark brown jelly and the yolk a grey-green, creamy consistency with a slight sulfur and ammonia taste. I tried the egg white first and it didn’t taste like much – pretty much like a very firm, boiled egg white. Then I tried the yolk on it’s own and I really struggled to keep it down. I don’t know why! The flavour was creamy and delicate and everything but my eyes told me it was something I should love! But as I took the second bite, getting a bit of everything in, some of the green yolk sort of glooped off the chopstick on to my plate and I was done. I really am rather disappointed with myself on this one I have to tell you. Century eggs (quail, chicken and duck eggs) are available everywhere and can be bought singly as a vacuum packed snack, by weight or prepacked in punnets. They are also labelled as preserved eggs.
The chicken feet were a bigger success. I’ve suspected all along that I’d actually like them as one of my many secret shames is that that little gristly bit on the end of a drumstick is my favourite part of the chicken. But when it comes to animal bits, what puts me off is the package deal. Chicken feet on their own are fine. Chicken feet still attached to the chicken, not so much. So when you’re standing in the butcher, contemplating the chicken feet right next to other chicken feet still part of a whole chicken, you have one of those “Usual suspect” moments. You look at the feet, you look at the chicken, you look at the feet… Wait… The feet… are part of the chicken! I need to get over this. After all, as a South African the concept of “walkie-talkies” (chicken feet and heads) is not foreign to me, even though it is not a staple of the average white South African. Personally, I think this should change because, as I suspected, I liked the chicken feet. Not so much how they were served on Saturday night (boiled and then served cold with chillies and vinegar), but nibbling those little gristly bits off was really good, and I can quite imagine myself working my way through a big pile of roasted chicken feet washed down with an ice cold beer.
As for the jellyfish, you might as well find the dullest person around and ask if you can nibble his ear a bit. Tasteless with a sort of squeaky crunch. A bit like trying to chew that rubber skeleton toy we all had when we were kids, just with some sesame oil and a bit of soy. I am dumbfounded as to why anyone would eat this. I will try it again though, just to be sure. And as with all things, you shouldn’t take my word for it either. Who knows? Century eggs and jellyfish could just be your dream meal!
The things we do in the name of investigative eating! Last night I finally bit the bullet. And the chòu dòufu, so to speak. It probably seems crazy that it has taken me three months to pluck up the courage to actually do something as simple as sampling tofu. But the assault inflicted on your olfactory senses by this very popular Shanghainese street snack is not something you can adequately explain to anyone. At least not without a dead pig and some poop to use as a scratch-and-sniff prop. Like walking behind a sweet old lady in a shop when she lets off a silent-but-deadly fart, the smell accosts you when you least expect it. You’ll be innocently crossing a street or rounding a corner when BAM! Is someone… frying human excrement?? If you could somehow solidify the breath of a halitosis sufferer who has just licked the sweaty butt crack of a hydrophobic garbage truck driver coming off the end of a hot summer’s day shift, you would have some idea of what these fried cubes of fermented tofu smell like. But when in Rome right? At least it’s plant related and didn’t wag its tail at some point. Fresh tofu is fermented in a brine containing fermented milk, vegetables, dried shrimp (in non-vegetarian versions), amaranth and mustard greens and herbs. Fermentation can take up to 3 months and the tofu is then cubed and fried on a cast iron plate with herbs and spices. The smell is so rancid that stories claiming that rotten meat and dead flies and even actual human faeces is used in the fermentation process are easy to believe! Apparently when it comes to chòu dòufu, the smellier the better. But I was assured that, like with durian fruit, once I get past the first bite, I would love it. “It doesn’t smell once you eat it!”, they said. “Just think blue cheese and you’ll love it!”, they said. Well, they lied. I managed four bites and I still thought it was vile. Yes, it’s cheap. Yes, it’s silky, but crispy and warm and salty. But it still smells like poop going down. I think I will have to change the tagline of this blog to “I make the mistakes so that you don’t have to”. But there are those who absolutely love it and swear you are only a true Shanghainese when you start craving stinky tofu. For now, I am happy to stay a boeremeisie and crave biltong.
That said, Shanghai street food (and street food in Asia in general) is fresh and tasty and very, very good. And it’s incredibly cheap. For around 20元 (US$3), two adults with healthy appetites can eat till they want to pop. Above all, it is safe. We have eaten our fill in China, Thailand and Vietnam and have yet to get sick. And as I have mentioned before, you might not always know what you’re eating, but I can guarantee you that you won’t unwittingly eat dog – beside it being far too expensive for the average street vendor, these days most of them prefer petting their domestic animals to seasoning them and then roasting till just done. So tuck in with abandon and don’t be scared to make mistakes. Street food is how the masses eat, whether it’s from a food cart attached to a bicycle, a basket hanging from a biǎndan across a little old lady’s shoulders, or sitting on undersized plastic chairs outside a store front. Amenities are limited to the essentials. There might be a scale, a propane tank or little coal fire if they need heat and a naked light bulb if they’re really fancy, but don’t expect refrigeration. The concrete cuisine you will find when you hit the streets will of course depend on where you are. Specialities differ from region to region, city to city and even from district to district. In Shanghai, shengjianbao is ubiquitous, but there is so much more nosh on offer, some of it surprising. Who would think that one of the tastiest naan breads I’ve ever had could be found in a little alley in Qingpu Town. The thin, crisp and chewy loaves are kneaded on the spot by the mom, sprinkled with sesame seeds (a little nod to where in the world we are) and then baked in an oven made from an old oil drum by the son. A little further down a small shop sells Chinese style fried chicken so crispy the colonel would return from his grave to get the secret recipe if he could. If you’re counting calories (and yes, you can stick to a diet quite easily here), you can tuck into subtly spiced, tender chicken drumsticks grilled over a coal fire. For the more adventurous, there is all manner of meat on a stick – from tender lamb kebabs and whole, tiny birds to skewered sausage and squid with a spice that packs a tremendous punch. Friendly vendors with smoking woks will whip up a mean chow mein for you – just nod your head when they point at the ingredients you want and shake your head at those you don’t. And if you like things only a little spicy, I suggest you shake your head vehemently when it comes to the chilli!
And when you’re almost (but not quite) stuffed, save a spot for a piece or three of warm, prepared-on-the-spot peanut and black sesame brittle. The smell of roasting peanuts and sesame seeds and slowly caramelising sugar that hits you just when you think it is, sadly, all done is enough to make you start your street food adventure all over again.
The few things I mentioned here were eaten in just one night, after a stroll down just one street (muffin top explained). But there is so much more to taste and experience when you hit the streets in China. Some of it will be really, really bad, but for the most part it will be very, very good. Vendors often move to where the crowds are and you won’t necessarily find the same person in the same spot twice. So my suggestion? When the opportunity presents itself, grab it. And if you’re not sure where to go, just follow your nose. If you smell stinky tofu, drop everything and run.
This is just a quick post dedicated to bread. Not all bread. Just a bread. But a bread so very, very good I think it deserves its own post. And while I realise that getting your hands on good bread in China is pretty much like the opposite of getting your hands on tea in China, and that that might slightly skew my perception of what actually constitutes good bread as I should be really easy to please, I think you should still trust me on this. After rifling through shelves of sweet Chinese baked goods this morning to find that one elusive savoury bread, the loaf I am longing for is De Oude Bank Bakkerij in Stellenbosch’s coriander honey-rye loaf. Oh. My Gracious. I don’t really like traditional rye, but the subtle use of coriander (the spice, not the herb – yuck), makes it utterly delicious, adding an earthiness that seems to refine the flavour of a bread that could otherwise be a little on the sour side. Owner Fritz Schoon worked under Île de Païn‘s Markus Farbinger, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that meals at this little establishment are dedicated to making bread the star of every dish. Choose a few slices of bread (besides the rye there is also ciabatta, baguette and sourdough, amongst others) and then pair it with as few or as many accompaniments as you want: creamy buffalo mozzarella and other cheeses, olive tapenade, Jamón serrano ham, slow roasted tomatoes, shiitake mushroom pesto and loads more goodies. Simple eating at its best.
Getting there: De Oude Bank Bakkerij is located in the Oude Bank Building, 7 Church Street, Stellenbosch, South Africa, opposite Vida e Cafe at Die Boord.
You cannot throw a well aimed grape in the Cape Winelands without hitting a picture perfect wine farm, complete with towering oaks, buildings that would have centuries of secrets to share if they could talk, award winning wines, sumptuous food, friendly and efficient service and spectacular views of the Paarl, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch mountains. But even in this epicurean and oenophile’s Shangri-La, La Motte is something special. It has everything you could possibly want from a wine farm: A tasting room, restaurant, farm shop & deli, gardens, vineyards, breathtaking views and European tourists walking around with sunburn and a questionable grasp on how one should pair socks with shorts. The newly refurbished tasting room looks like it comes straight from the pages of Architectural Digest with vaulted ceilings, original art, conversation pieces and ample comfy couches. Two of the walls have floor to ceiling windows so that you can view the working maturation cellar as you sit by the huge fireplace, nestled into a couch while knowledgeable wine experts guide you through the estate’s different vintages. The farm shop and deli sells artisan breads, baked with flour ground on the premises in the historical water mill, gift items designed exclusively for La Motte (if I wasn’t spending my husband’s money, I would have taken home a set of the handmade glass oil and vinegar sets), La Motte’s own coffee as well as deliciously indulgent body products. There are breathtaking mountain views from just about everywhere, sample vineyards so that you can get to know the different varieties (once you’ve tasted a Cabernet grape you’ll agree that stomping on it and then sticking it in a dark vat to ferment for a while really is the best thing to do with it), a Protea garden and even roses – resplendent in shades of coral and orange – named after the owner, Hanneli Rupert. And for those who are further horticulturally inclined, fifteen hectares of the estate are dedicated to the growing of aromatic oil producing plants such as buchu, lavender and rose-geranium and the they also grow special disa and serruria hybrids.The museum is dedicated to the history of La Motte and the Rupert family and showcases work by international artists and one of South Africa’s masters – Pierneef. From here you can depart on the La Motte historical walk or if you’d like to burn a few calories before tucking into lunch, start from the tasting room and do the grade 1B, 5km hiking trail that winds in a circular route through the vineyards and surrounding mountains. Of course, that’s not what you’re here for though, right? You’re here to drink. And eat. And you have definitely come to the right place!
All the dishes have a wine suggestion paired with them. The wine list caters for every taste and budget, from La Motte wines by the glass to their vinoteque collection and everything in between. If you are one of the aforementioned rich people who can turn delicate dinner ware into chandeliers and have people serving them lunch and refilling their glasses, there is a large champagne selection, but if your dinnerware is used exclusively for eating, then there are also loads of MCC’s to choose from. There are also a host of other local and international wines on offer to suit any budget.
In my opinion, La Motte offers exceptional value for money. The portions are generous and the food is beautifully presented without trying too hard. You can grab a bottle of wine for as little as R50.00 (US$6) or splurge for a special occasion (like winning the Euro millions) and get the 1998 Château d’Yquem for R2905.00, so there really is something for everyone. Starters begin from R55.00 and mains from R62.00. Where can you eat such exceptional food in such glorious surroundings for that sort of money? The service is impeccable. Friendly, knowledgeable and down to earth waitrons keep your glass magically full at all times. And yes, that is how I judge a good waitron! I can think of few things I’d rather do than getting stuck out on the deck or under the oaks on the lawn here on a summer’s day, with a glass of bubbly and good friends and food.
Getting there: From Cape Town, take the N1 north. Take the R45 / Paarl Main Road off ramp and turn right then take the R45 towards Franschhoek. The estate is on your left a little way before you get into town.
The concept is quite brilliant actually. Label your wines with brightly depicted, buxom blondes, brunettes and redheads and watch the bottles fly off the shelf! (I would certainly judge such a wine by its cover.) And that is exactly what Juno Wines did when they commissioned Tertia du Toit to design their distinctive wine labels, honoring women, art and wine.
The tasting room for this all female winery is also a quirky café and the artist’s studio and gallery in Paarl’s Main Street. From still life’s to saints to scantily clad females, the various rooms in this Cape Dutch house are adorned with bright and beautiful art work. And for those less into art and more into attempts at getting balls over and under cross beams, there is a big screen TV too. The menu is modest and uncomplicated and the food is delicious. Old standbys like omelets, sandwiches, focaccias and baguettes from the bakery jostle with traditional South African fare such as boerewors spears and exotic stir fries. The peanut butter prawns with Asian noodles and savoury mince topped rösti with fried egg were particularly good. All the art work is for sale and if you need further retail therapy there is a small selection of clothing as well as a deli. And, of course, all the Juno wines are available for tasting and purchasing.
The venue caters for all types of functions and would be the perfect setting for a bridal shower for a bride with no self esteem issues.
“Holrug gery” is one of my favourite Afrikaans phrases. It means that a subject has been discussed so many times that, if it were a horse, it would’ve had a back like Paris Hilton’s mattress – worn out and ridden till it’s hollow. Fairview might just be one of those subjects. It almost seems to be ubiquitous in the Cape winelands – you can’t but hit it somewhere along the line on a trip there. But with good reason. With a tasting room, shop and deli, restaurant, beautiful views and shady gardens and lots of room for the kids to play and goats to stare at, it is a great place to take the whole family for an afternoon.
The tasting room at Fairview is beautifully appointed with various “pods” with a dedicated host at each so that guests get loads of personal attention. For R25.00 (US$3) you can taste whatever cheeses they have available on the day plus 6 wines which you may choose from their massive selection. The Beryl Back tasting room is a beautiful, private space where, for R60.00 per person, up to 8 guests can enjoy wines paired with cheeses and olive oil. The estate has vineyards in Paarl, the Swartland, Darling and Stellenbosch, so you can get completely plastered whilst pretending that your copious consumption of all the wines is simply an attempt to compare the various terroirs.
If you are a cheesy person, then Fairview is where you should come to die. The selection on offer is just mind boggling and there are constantly new, innovative cheeses to try. Goats’ milk, cows’ milk, washed rind, white rind, blue cheese, cream cheese. It almost reads like a Dr. Seuss book. There are cheeses flavoured with dukkah, lavender, herbs, spices and everything else you could think of to add to a cheese (and some things you never would’ve thought of). The shop & deli offers a cheese only tasting for R12.00. Six to eight Jersey cows’ and goats’ milk cheeses are available for tasting and the selection varies slightly from day to day. Goatshed artisan breads which are baked daily on site, preserves, sauces and other condiments as well as various olive oils are on sale. The Lemon & Lime as well as Red Pepper jelly from Zest are utterly divine!
The residents of the goat tower that welcome you when you walk into Fairview (the residents welcome you, not the tower (although a talking tower would really draw in the crowds! So would a talking goat for that matter.)) are synonymous with the estate. As much as I’d love to talk about goats, there isn’t space, but by all means read more here!
The Goatshed Restaurant is a veritable celebration of all that is cheese and Mediterranean gastronomic goodness! Cheesecakes, cheese plates, and cheesy exotic mushroom lasagne share space on the menu with filled foccacias, slow braised springbok shank, and prawn risotto amongst lots of other goodies. Breakfast is served till 11:30 (cycle in and present your helmet to get a 15% discount) and lunch until 16:30. If it’s chilly out, the warm, wooden interior is the perfect place to sip a coffee and on one of the Cape’s copious completely glorious days then the deck with its 180 degree view of the Paarl valley and mountains is just as perfect for sipping lots of bubbly. Wines on offer are from the Fairview, La Capra and Goats-do-roam range and are sold at cellar door prices. If you’re a softy then a selection of 200ml carafes are also available. A weekly bread market is held on Saturdays.
Fairview is open seven days a week from 09h00 to 17h00. Last tasting vouchers are sold at 16h30 (standard tasting) and 16h00 (Beryl Back tasting). Closed on Good Friday, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
Getting there: From Cape Town on the N1: Take exit 47 (Stellenbosch/Wellington/Klapmuts) Turn right towards Klapmuts At the four-way stop turn left onto R101 After passing Simonsvlei on your right, turn left into the Suid-Agter Paarl Road (follow signboard to Fairview) Fairview is on your right hand side, about 3km along the road.
Don’t you just hate it when you travel on a passport that is easily falsely forged all over the African continent, thereby making it virtually useless for travel because no country trusts it anymore, resulting in your having to go home to get a new visa because traveling to Hong Kong for a new one will only get you another two weeks in China and the Entry and Exit Burea in Shanghai will then only give you a further ten days and so the pages in your passport would run out before you are next due to go home? Yeah, me too. So here I am back home for a few weeks when I had only just started finding my feet in China. I am surprisingly unhappy about this. As wonderful as it is being back in SA (especially at the start of Spring with the crisp blue sky and wild flowers popping up in any open space with a bit of dirt), it makes it very hard to feel like you belong anywhere when, well, you don’t. It’s impossible to settle down when you’re living out of a suitcase half the time and don’t know if you’ll be let back into the country two weeks from now. Oh well. I suppose I have no choice but to bask under the South African sun and eat and drink my way through the winelands while I’m waiting for my paperwork to come through. Woe is me.
Who would’ve thunk it a few weeks ago, but I kind of miss Shanghai. Okay, maybe not “miss” or “Shanghai” so much as I wish Adam were here and he’d bring along some of my favourite things from there. Most notably a few brown paper packets filled with cong you bing. I am jetlagging a bit and despite it being 5:30 in the morning my body clock thinks it’s lunchtime, and it wants them. Now dammit! Cong you bing (Chinese scallion pancakes) are probably my favourite street snack in a city that knows a lot about street snacks. Little old grannies and grandpas get up in the wee hours of the morning to prepare, knead and whack the crap out of the dough needed to make these thin, flaky bing. The greens of chopped up scallions are scattered into the dough which is folded and rolled a few times to create thin layers of flaky pastry – almost like puff pastry. The bing is then cooked on a cast iron pan with not a modest amount of oil and brushed with a delicate, almost jammy spice mix (the recipe of which is guarded more closely than Colonel Sanders’ eleven herbs and spices) and sprinkled with sesame seeds or fresh scallion. Sounds pretty basic right? But trust me – it is the perfect balance of doughy and crispy spiced goodness. The little mom and pop stalls are usually run by the women in the morning and the men in the evening. So, if you prefer your vendor to wear a shirt, get there early as the grandpas aren’t always all that partial to covering their torsos in the heat of a Shanghai summer evening. (It’s best not to think whether this adds to the secret flavour…) The bing are sometimes folded around various other fillings such as spicy pepper or egg. You can eat your fill on about US$0.50’s worth.
Ah Po Cong You Bing on Xiangyang Nan Lu is supposed to be one of the best places to get your bing fix, but really, if a flaky puff pastry, a slightly chewy but crisp, thin pizza base and a perfectly spiced dukkah got together for a ménage à trois, then cong you bing would be the love child everyone fights over at Christmas, so I’m sure it must be pretty good anywhere you try it.
When we first visited Shanghai a few years ago, I (needless to say) consulted all the books, forums and websites out there to plan our gastronomic excursions. Top of many people’s list was Yang’s Dumplings – a bit of an institution in Shanghai and apparently one of the best places to get your shengjianbao. That’s quite an impressive accolade in a sheng jian crazy city! So we took our place in the queue and half an hour later were rewarded for our patience: Soft on top and fried on a cast iron pan to a perfect crunch below, these dumplings contain a delicious, scaldingly hot broth and juicy pork filling perfectly flavoured with sage and spices. They are, in a word, sublime. Don’t just bite into them without a little planning first though, or you’ll blister your lips, your chin and possibly your thighs as the soup explodes from its casing and dribbles down your front – a sure sign that you are new at this and a rite of passage for anyone living in this city (yeah, been there.) Pierce the dumpling with a chopstick and allow some of the heat to escape before biting into it. The hole will also help to release a bit of pressure so that it does not go bang in your face. You can also just slurp out the soup first, but I like to try and get as much of it into a bite with everything else!
There are many street vendors that sell these morsels all over the city and I’m sure if you keep looking you’ll find ones even better than Yang’s (if you’re serious about this whole business, then follow CNN Go’s Great Shengjianbao Food Tour of Shanghai), but you’ll probably have to go a long way. At only US$0.90 for 4 hearty dumplings, you’ll be hard pressed to find a cheaper, tastier meal anywhere. And the good news is you no longer have to queue at one of only a few restaurants in the city – Yang’s now has over 40 locations, including (oh the joy!) one right opposite our hotel all the way out in Qingpu.
There is always one major concern that I think most of us food loving people have when we try a new restaurant in our area.The worry is this: What if they’re good, but they don’t make it? And after a long and lazy lunch at Royal Siam Thai at Milkwood Village in Wilderness, I was very worried indeed. As I have mentioned before, being a restauranteur in the Garden Route takes balls. We are a fickle, lazy, unadventurous bunch and I can just imagine the legion of clientele who would not return because they can’t pronounce half the dishes on the menu. (“Where’s the crumbed calamari starter and steak with mushroom sauce?”.) But if you’re not the type of person who’ll worry about sounding like you’re ordering an overweight exotic prostitute when all you want is Phad Thai, then you will absolutely love this place!
The food is utterly delicious. That perfect Thai combination of sour, salty and sweet is zhushed up with the heat intensity of your choice if you like it hot. The menu is extensive with a huge array of starters and I could happily spend an afternoon there just working my way through prawn tempura, springrolls stuffed to bursting with generous portions of duck and fresh veg, satay and crispy, juicy wontons. I forwent the Tom Yum soup as it never particularly appealed to me the few times I’ve had it in other places before, but if you really want a taste of hot and sour the way the Thai’s do it, then this is the dish to have.
Predictably, what I really wanted to try was their Phad Thai – you don’t judge a seafood restaurant on the quality of their salad buffet. I became addicted to this most quintessential of noodle dishes in Thailand and attempted it myself one evening for friends with fairly disastrous consequences. If you don’t get the flavour balance just right, then it’s all wrong. Like going off sushi after combining it with too many blue drinks at a roll-your-own dinner party one night, I had managed to completely put myself off something I had previously loved. But the only way Royal Siam’s Phad Thai could’ve tasted any more authentic is if I’d had a lady boy passing me serviettes while (s)he complained about how the heat was making h(er)is mascara run. The balance between sweet, sour and salty combined with the plump prawns and more-ish peanuts was simply sublime.
The Thai Red Curry Adam had was beautifully fragrant and was a really silly thing for him to order considering how easy it was for me to just dunk my spoon in there for a taste whenever he looked away. Utterly scrumptious. I was rather devastated when, at the end of the meal, I realised I had eaten so much that there was no place for deep fried ice cream. In fact, I was rather miffed that I didn’t have four stomachs like a cow so I could try more of the dishes on the menu! Massaman curry (traditional curry with coconut milk and peanuts), Phlaa Goong (Thai salad with prawns, lemongrass and mint), Happy Duck and Angry Duck (who wouldn’t want to order these just to see the personality differences?), Garlic Pepper Prawns and How Mok Talay (a steamed seafood curry terrine with sweet basil) are just a few of the many dishes on the menu.
Unlike the unflattering fluorescent lights and plastic chairs that look like they’re made for Lego man proportions that usually accompany any authentic Thai meal, Royal Siam is an opulent blend of warm reds, sensuous blacks and soft lighting. You also don’t have to worry if you can’t use chopsticks – in true Thai fashion, food is eaten with a fork and a spoon. The wine list is small, but reasonably priced (as are all the items on the menu) and there are a few Thai beers like Tiger and Singha. This is definitely the place to take as many of your friends as possible, order one of everything off the menu and eat and share with abandon.
Royal Siam Thai Milkwood Village Beacon Street Wilderness +27 44 877 8815
So further to my post of a few weeks back decrying the lackluster service we received at Salinas , I am happy to report that we revisited this seaside restaurant last night and were very happy with the service. I have heard from numerous people that they have sorted out their teething problems and this indeed appears to be the case. The service was fast and friendly without being obtrusive and the fare was gorgeous.
Let’s be completely honest here. If you’re going to go to a restaurant in the Wilderness area for the excellent service you get there, you’re going to be disappointed. A lot. It might be the sea air, but the Outeniqua rust seems to be particularly corrosive amongst restaurant staff in the area. But if you’re going to have to wait 20 minutes for your drink order to be taken, then you might as well do it at Salinas. Spectacular views both over the sea towards Lientjie’s Klip as well as over the lagoon and Wilderness Heights make the deck a perfect place to slowly sip a cocktail while the sun goes down over the ocean.
The menu is a fusion of Creole, Portuguese and Spanish inspired tapas, steaks and seafood dishes with a smattering of local favourites. The tapas menu is extensive – Thai fish cakes, spanakopita, chorizo in beer, humus with pita, chicken satay, prawns done in a variety of ways and much more. The seafood tapas platter was a total bargain, and at R95.00 for a huge plate of calamari, marinated seafood, scampi and fish cakes with crusty bread, would easily feed two people. If small plates are too finicky and you like to sink your teeth into something more substantial, then you can’t go wrong with the steaks either. I have it on good authority from all the carnivores at our table that they were well prepared and tender. I can’t quite remember all the different ones they had on offer and I’m rather far from home right now, making it impossible to ring up and find out (and thus making this whole review quite pointless really come to think of it) but I do remember that there were some interesting ones! I recall sampling a delicious sauce of mushrooms and possibly rum. Or whisky. Some booze with cream anyway, so good either way! No one had the burgers, but there were a few interesting ones there too. For dessert the chocolate mousse is a winner. Dense and rich the way I like it. The Cuban citrus custard tart could be fantastic, but the pastry let it down. The wine list is extensive and well priced and displays a good understanding of what the locals like, with many of our favourites on offer.
I really think Salinas could be marvelous. It has the enviable views, the cosmopolitan food, the trendy bar with cocktails and sangrias and the voguish decor. But the service is appalling. But they’re new (and we’re starved for somewhere with a view to eat around here!) so we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. It was reassuring that the owner met us at the door as we left and apologised before we had even opened our mouths, so here’s hoping there will be a marathon server training session in the near future.
I’ve never been a huge fan of game reserves that aren’t in the “real” bushveld. They’re like a bad toupee: Everyone knows it’s not genuine and even though it is accepted as an adequate alternative where the real thing no longer exists, it just never quite blends in flawlessly with the surrounds. If I can’t hear a Greenspotted Dove by day or a Scops Owl at night then I’m not buying it. That said, I would be lying if I pretended that sitting on the deck at Botlierskop near Mossel Bay, sipping on a G&T while an elephant browses in the gorge below you and Knysna louries feed in the Cheese Wood 5 feet away isn’t a rather nice way to work up an appetite for dinner.
The restaurant is distinctly African with sumptuous fabrics, thatch, wood and earthy tones of warm oranges and browns. The gorgeous ostrich shell light fittings bear testament to the fact that, in the right hands, even African kitsch can feel stylish. Depending on the number of guests, lunch and dinner is either a la carte or buffet, but always with a modern South African twist. Expect dishes such as biltong and blue cheese soufflé or waterbuck wrapped in pancetta and served with a red wine and berry jus. And if ever chocolate is going to kill you, then there can be no better way to go than their Chocolate Lava Pot. Service is friendly and efficient. Once you’ve worked your way through your meal, you can make your way back to the deck to have coffee around the massive bonfire.
The reserve offers a host of activities for both overnight guests and day visitors. There are game drives, horseback safaris, elephant rides and feeding, helicopter flights, guided walks and more.
La Locanda has long been a favourite amongst our book club members (we read wine labels). George struck it lucky when the Soresi family from Varese, Italy decided to open their restaurant in our little city. As cozy at night indoors as it is inviting under the crab apple outdoors on a summer’s day, it is perfect for Al Fresco dining with a bunch of friends or a romantic evening for two. This is Italian the way someone’s grandmother used to make it. Though probably not yours. Unless your grandmother is Italian.
Dario cures his own authentic Italian style meats and makes handmade mozzarella. The Caprese salad is my favourite dish on the menu – mainly because they are not shy to give the tomatoes a good dose of salt and olive oil. None of this sensible sodium intake rubbish. There is an extensive Chef’s Choice menu that changes all the time to make use of fresh, seasonal ingredients. Expect dishes such as Creamy Papardelle (fresh, of course) with Prawns & Mushrooms, Osso Bucco with Porcini Mushrooms and Beef Fillet on a bed of Asparagus. I very much doubt you’ll get past page 1 before you’ve made your choice, but should you peruse the standard menu there is also a large variety of dishes to choose from. Excellent choices are the Fritto Misto (crumbed and deep fried seafood with homemade aioli), pretty much all the pizzas (the bases are paper thin, slathered with a generous lick of Marinara sauce and topped with all the cured meats and mozzarella that they are famous for), Gamberi vestiti (gorgeous, crispy prawns wrapped in lardo) and the Capocollo di maiale con funghi e panna (pork neck in creamy mushroom sauce).
Service is friendly and you should expect to be called “darling” at least once before the night is out. Most of the waitrons have been with the restaurant for many years, so they really know the ins and outs of the menu. (This also means they know exactly who you are when you walk in there, so best not take your skelmpie.) The wine list isn’t large, but they have a good selection of good South African wines as well as a few special Italian ones.
La Locanda: www.la-locanda.co.za Address: 124A York Street (behind the Tourism building) Phone: 044 874 7803 Hours: 11:00 till late, Monday to Friday 18:00 till late, Saturday Closed Sundays