The baked feta and tomato pasta that broke the internet.

The baked feta and tomato pasta that broke the internet.

2020 might have had delgona coffee, banana bread and sourdough starters. But in 2021 this baked feta and tomato recipe by food blogger and artist Jenni Häyrine not only broke the internet, but supposedly caused a feta shortage in Finland! So naturally with nothing but socially distanced time on my hands I had to see for myself whether something so simple is really worth all the hoo-ha. And in short yes. Yes it is. It’s easy. It’s cheap. It’s meat free. And like a French toast omelette it is infinitely better than the sum of its parts.

The baked feta and tomato pasta that broke the internet

Just a few notes:

  • The original recipe calls for cocktail tomatoes. I couldn’t find at the only shop I could bother to go to that day, but they had some perfectly ripened, impossibly red beefsteak tomatoes so I just chopped those up.
  • I used traditional Greek style feta. This resulted in a caramelised, crumbly texture that was just gorgeous and still made for a creaminess to every bite. Danish feta would give you a creamier consistency overall.
  • The secret to success here (for my taste at least) is confiting the tomatoes till they’re gorgeously jammy. So don’t be scared to push your scarlet beauties to the edge of their endurance and don’t skimp on the olive oil!
  • The original recipe calls for 500g pasta, which I found a bit much for the tomatoes. I reduced it by 40%. Like with all good pastas, adding some of the cooking liquid to the sauce will bring the whole thing together, so remember that before you strain the lot!
  • You can add grated or chopped garlic to the recipe, but I love the subtle and sweet flavour that roasting whole cloves of garlic imparts.

Baked feta and tomato pasta

Hands-on time

5 mins

Cook time

40 mins

Total time

45 mins


Recipe type: Pasta, meat free

Serves: 3 to 4


  • 200g feta
  • 125ml olive oil
  • ½ red chilli (optional and to taste)
  • 500g tomatoes (cherry or beefsteak, cut into chunks)
  • 4 whole garlic cloves, skin on
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • salt to taste
  • bunch of freshly torn basil leaves
  • 300g pasta (I used cavatappi, but penne or fusili would work just as well)


  1. Preheat your oven to 180˚C.
  2. Place feta, garlic cloves, chopped chilli and tomatoes in an ovenproof dish. Glug over the oil and season with black pepper.
  3. Bake for 30 minutes or until the tomatoes are gorgeously jammy. If your feta does not yet have a caramel hue, blast it under the grill for a couple of minutes.
  4. Get your pasta on the boil in some salted water and cook till al dente. (Reserve 125ml of the cooking liquid when straining.)
  5. Squeeze the garlic out of its skin. and smoosh a bit till it’s a paste. Break the feta up with a fork.
  6. Now combine the pasta, the whole baked tomato lot, the cooking liquid reserved from your pasta and torn fresh basil. Season to taste (wait till the end as the feta is almost salty enough) and enjoy!

Biscoff Rusks

Biscoff Rusks
Biscoff Rusks

A mere moon ago, when the world was an entirely different place, I tasted my first Biscoff biscuit on a long haul flight from the US. A flight which extended our personal lockdown to 7 weeks. Thank God I don’t mind not peopling (to put my social aversion mildly…). Biscoff biscuits are similar to Dutch speculoos biscuits, but not quite as in your face spicy and better in all the ways that Americans make food great again – more sugar and loads of butter. Or maybe that’s just Paula Dean…? Anyway, one of my very favourite small moments is that cup of tea and a biscuit at 4am (biological clock time) when everyone else on the plane is sleeping, and this one was a revelation! Because my very favourite small moment – probably in life – is my first cup of tea and rusk every morning. So I figured, hey! Speculoos style rusks should totally be a thing! The original rusk recipe is one that my Ouma Visser passed on to us and has been a staple in our house for decades. With a few tweaks and additions you are left with a tea time treat with less of the fat and sugar of Biscoff biscuits and all of the spice and warmth you require in these dark days. They are also super easy to make, requiring no rolling into balls, and are also egg free, so perfect for those poor souls with egg allergies! Which I hope all you egg challenge takers now have, cause siff. These rusks will fill your home with the most delicious, comforting aromas of butter, vanilla and spice as you gently let them dry in a low oven. So if your government won’t let you buy slippers and blankets to warm your tootsies, at least these rusks will warm your soul before you’ve even taken the first bite.

Biscoff Rusks

Hands-on time

20 mins

Cook time

300 mins

Total time

5 hours 20 mins


Serves: 100 pieces**


  • 4 cups flour
  • 4 cups Nutty Wheat*
  • 2 cups caramel sugar
  • 8 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 750ml buttermilk
  • 375g butter
  • 8 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


  1. Preheat your oven to 180˚C.
  2. Sift the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  3. In a separate jug or bowl, melt the butter and stir in the buttermilk.
  4. Add your buttermilk mixture to your flour mixture and stir till combined.
  5. Pour the mixture into a large, greased baking tray. There are no hard and fast rules here. The smaller your dish, the taller your rusks will be, which is really no bad thing.
  6. Bake for one hour or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
  7. Allow to cool, turn out on a bread board and slice into your preferred size.
  8. Dry in a 100˚C oven (preferably with a fan) until bone dry. About four hours.


* You can substitute the Nutty Wheat with four parts flour and one part wheat bran, or just use flour.
** Yield depends on the size of your rusks.

Mapshalia: Megrelian cuisine with a smile

Mapshalia: Megrelian cuisine with a smile

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.

Mapshalia: Megrelian cuisine with a smile

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

Guest post: Teacher Rachel’s balsamic glazed chicken livers with cauli-rice and roasted hummus

Guest post: Teacher Rachel’s balsamic glazed chicken livers with cauli-rice and roasted hummus
chicken livers with cauli-rice and roasted hummus

The biggest threat we are facing in 2018 is carbs. The nasty, unrefined kind! The ones that make pizza, curry and rice, the simple toasted sarmie and happiness. They are evil! Worse, way worse than global warming, plastic in the sea or the threat of the Ruskies. Yip, I went there.

Luckily, I have also bought into the #carbcrisis of 2018. Or, have I? I produced a hipster inspired lunch and failed only by my lack of avocado or single source coffee. But, I have created a  worthy, almost vegan (If you ignore the chicken livers and wine, I heard wine isn’t vegan), Paleo friendly, banting worthy (with a small cheat) lunch.

Ladies and gents, who are we kidding, ladies, I give you:

Chicken livers in balsamic glaze on cauliflower rice with roasted hummus.

Cauliflower rice

I don’t live in the land of Woolies food. But I do live in the land of part time cooks, so I have freezer bags of food-processed cauliflower. Freezes like a dream. Having steamed, microwaved and baked my way through cauli-rice, the only method I like is to fry in a non stick pan with a little olive oil. I leave it to start browning on the edges and only then add salt. Salting too early will make your cauli-rice retain water like a matron on a transatlantic flight. Cause I am fancy like that, I add some truffle oil at the end. It turns out nice and nutty this way.

Roasted hummus

This is my current addiction. I roast courgettes with garlic and olive oil and, separately, cauliflower with chili, paprika, cumin and olive oil and blend into hummus with tahini, lime juice and water. Super easy to make and delicious with everything.

La Livers

I love chicken livers. I just never cook them. Or rather never think of them as a meal. This morning having time for a mooch around the supermarket, I saw them, and like that ex that you (I) go back to, I realised I needed the livers. I learned a while ago, that the hardest thing about cooking livers is the prep. They need to be defrosted and then, with a firm yet tender hand, to be prepped (again, like that ex…). They are a little squidgy to touch and it is handy to have a Digger dog ready to eat the discarded bits. But if you actually think of England and choose the choicest bits, and cut them into same sized bits, roughly 2 cm, it will make for perfection later on.

balsamic glazed chicken livers with cauli-rice and roasted hummus

Digger dog (or equivalent) will be delighted with the spoils and you will end up with a perfect dish.

There are so many different ways to prepare the livers. I wanted to try something different. If carbs are your demons, stop reading now. If not:

In a ziplock bag, toss 3 tablespoons of regular flour (sorry Tim) with chilli flakes, chilli powder, cumin and paprika. These play so nicely together, (see roasted cauli hummus above), garlic, salt and some pepper. Shake it about. This is the ziplock’s finest hour, so make that bitch work.

Chop an onion and some garlic and throw into a pan with a little olive oil. Let them do their thing.

Throw a handful of livers in the bag and let them get coated in the delicious carbness.

Remove the onions and garlic and let the livers in. They will need 3 – 4 minutes. A little water will help them on their way and whatever you can lay your hands on. I found Worcester sauce and sweet chilli. After 4 minutes add back the onion and garlic mix around and a splash of balsamic. Start plating and deglaze the pan with balsamic. Let it go gooey. Pour over the livers. Add chopped parsley, pour a glass of rose and bam bitches.

Accidentally the best corn bread recipe

Accidentally the best corn bread recipe

Buy a restaurant, they said. It’ll be fun, they said. Four years down the line and I’ve aged a decade, haven’t had two consecutive nights of good sleep in 1562 days and have been relegated to those tier D friends who only get invited to shindigs when half the town has come down with the flu, but you have to throw that roast you accidentally defrosted one inebriated night while looking for boerie to cure the munchies on the Weber before it goes off. I haven’t written a blog post in more than two years and when I sit very, very still, I can almost hear my brain atrophying. I can’t even tell you who the new president of Zim is.

But writing isn’t the only thing that has taken a back seat along with my personal life and cranial development. Apparently the surest way to guarantee you never really get to cook is to do it for a living. This not unsurprising realisation hit me again last night when I found myself fending off fish moths while trying to find a tablecloth that doesn’t smell like old cupboard in order to deck my table for a Mexican dinner party. It’s been a while since I’ve entertained. Which is why I should be forgiven for forgetting that my all time favourite corn bread recipe calls for a tin of creamed sweetcorn. Up until this point I’d been wildly impressed with how my authentically-prepared-with-masa-harina tacos and made-from-scratch dulce de leche for my churros had turned out, so I should have realised that something was due to go pear shaped. I did, however, have some buttermilk on hand, so out of necessity my new favourite corn bread recipe was born. And while I don’t think this accident will change the world in the way, say, the discovery of penicillin or the origin of the potato chip will, I found it so good that I tossed away my old recipe (meaning I deleted it from Pinterest), which is a big deal in my corner of the universe. My version uses very little butter and sugar compared to the usual corn bread recipes, so you might want to up those quantities if you still own a hand stitched scatter pillow that says “I heart Paula Deen”.

the best corn bread recipe

Accidentally the best corn bread recipe

Hands-on time

5 mins

Cook time

60 mins

Total time

1 hour 5 mins


Recipe type: Breads and bakes

Cuisine: Southern

Serves: 10


  • 500ml buttermilk
  • kernels from two sweetcorn ears, cooked
  • 100ml butter, melted
  • 4 large eggs
  • 50ml white sugar
  • ½ cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup yellow polenta (Saffies, feel free to use mieliemeel, although the texture will be finer)
  • 20ml baking power
  • 3ml salt


  1. Preheat the oven to 150˚C.
  2. Spray a 20cm loaf tin with non stick spray (or use two tins for smaller loaves).
  3. In a mixing bowl, pulse the corn and buttermilk together with a stick blender. You want the corn broken up, but not liquidized, kinda like creamed corn. (See what I did there?)
  4. Whisk in the butter and eggs.
  5. Stir in the sugar and cheese.
  6. Sift the remaining ingredients in and then whisk the whole lot together.
  7. Pour into loaf tins and bake for 45 minutes if doing two flatter loaves, or an hour if doing one loaf.
  8. Serve simply with lashings of butter and some grated cheese. Also really yummy with chilli con carne!

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 (edit – it has now been two years and I have not written a thing, proving that owning a restaurant is not for sissies and we should have an entire section of the motivation poster market set aside just for us), 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 might get round to a walking tour later (edit – no I won’t), 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, then 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.

Tea 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 felt about tea the way my dad feels about regular bowel movements: It fixes just about everything.

The food.

hunkar begendi

Oh my. The food! For less than US$3, you can have a properly good meal on the streets of Istanbul. Obviously any talk of Turkish food would be incomplete without the mention of kebabs. In every shape and form  – from ground to shredded, lamb to chicken, wrapped in flat breads, on half loaves, with rice or just wrapped around a skewer – like sex and pizza, even when it’s bad, kebabs are still pretty good. But my two standout dishes in Istanbul were the kazandibi at Saray Muhallebicisi on İstiklâland the hünkar beğendi at The Old Ottoman Cafe & Restaurant in Cagaloglu Hamam Sokak. When I first read about tavuk göğsü, I knew I had to try it just so I could see how anyone could boil up chicken breast in milk till it disintegrates and then call it pudding. Kazandibi is the browned bit of this ridiculously weird pudding that sticks to the bottom of the pan when it’s all done. Who comes up with this shit? I don’t know. But God bless the person who did! It is unlike anything I have ever eaten. If a South African milktart got together with a buttery English toffee at a pudding conference, then kazandibi would be the intercontinental love child borne from their romp in the janitor’s closet. It is firm, springy, gooey and creamy all at once, with a sort of buttery, caramelly nuttiness from the toasted bits. Just trust me, try it the first chance you get and thank me later. On the savoury side, hünkar beğendi is better known as Sultan’s Delight and might be familiar to you if you’ve ever eaten in a Turkish restaurant. But I’ve never had it like this before! Aubergine (if the version is done in the authentic way) is first roasted over coals or fire and then pureed with kaşar cheese – a mild sheep’s cheese similar to cheddar. This is then topped with cubes of lamb or beef in a delicate tomato based sauce. Now if you’re anything like me you’re thinking, pureed vegetables? Bleh. Stewed meat? Meh. But a good hünkar beğendi is simple food in its most sublime form. The delicate smokiness of the flame scorched aubergine at The Old Ottoman contrasted beautifully with the creaminess of the cheese, and the umaminess (if that’s not a word, then it should be) and substance of the tomato rich meat added just enough texture to stop it from being fancy baby food. It is a hug for your soul right there on a plate.


Cold beers and rooftop bars.

No need for too much elaborating here. Cold beer. A rooftop. Endless views of a beautiful city. Enough said. Two of our favourites were 360 Istanbul and Balkon. At the former, the maître d’ looked down her snooty nose when we walked in and asked to see whether we had closed shoes on when we said we just wanted drinks. I was quite relieved that I don’t generally tour in my strappy Manolo Blahnik sandals as I would obviously have had to leave them at the door along with my little backpack that she clearly thought I was planning on smuggling the salt and pepper shakers out in. But the bar lady was lovely, even pulling up two chairs so we could sit on the Bosphorus side of the patio after the aforementioned stuck up welcoming party had relegated us to the back patio. It’s not cheap. At all. But it will be one of those memories of the city that’s worth every cent. Balkon is considerably cheaper and more laid back, with a slightly less impressive view. But it has an effortlessly cool vibe if you’re under 40 (just made it!) and you get to keep your bag with you and everything! I am actually more of a wine drinker, but I found wine by the glass in most places not only expensive (anything upwards of TL18 for swill) , but often undrinkable.

Istanbul graffiti
Istanbul graffiti

The graffiti.

There will always be that dumbass who feels the need to draw on monuments and store fronts, but generally graffiti is limited to ugly roller doors and derelict alleys where they add a splash of colour and social comment where you’d least expect it. The bright colours and modern themes (think Tupac, Batman and angry baseballs) against the backdrop of the subdued greys of buildings that are hundreds of years old just works in a very pleasing way and is a gentle reminder that people in this city like to express themselves and be heard.


 The architecture on İstiklâl Caddesi.

There’s a lot to see on the streets in and around İstiklâl Avenue, but it’s definitely worth risking a strained neck muscle or two to look up as much as possible. Old and new merge together perfectly in a hodgepodge of  Neo-Classical, Neo-Gothic, Renaissance Revival, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and First Turkish National Architecture style facades above with modern shop fronts below with the odd mosque or church thrown in for good measure. Crumbling plaster sits comfortably alongside brightly painted walls and, like a toddler who has dressed themselves, the whole ensemble just works even though it really shouldn’t. The cafés, boutiques, music stores, art galleries, bookshops, craft stores and pubs in Beyoğlu are some of the most unique I have ever seen, with modern crystal chandeliers fighting worn mosaics for ceiling space, mezzanine floors, exposed brick gouged out of old plaster finished off with modern trimmings and so many interesting touches that we started annoying each other with all the “Check that out!”s. Loved it!

nevizade street
istanbul street cafe

The streets.

sunset over istanbul

Like all cities where restaurant tables and store shelves are given free reign to spill onto pavements, and whole streets are closed off to cars in favour of window shopping pedestrians, Istanbul has a bustling street life. All over the city, merchants sell as much of their wares outside as they do inside, and there are random stools and tables serving patrons everything from deep fried mushrooms to sheep’s head sarmies on the busiest roads and down the tiniest alleys, creating the type of cosmopolitan cacophony that can only work so well in a city as international as this. A bit on the touristy side, the area around the intersection of Nevizade Sokak and the Balık Pazarı in Beyoğlu must be one of the best spots to grab a çay and nargile pipe and watch life spilling into the streets. There are buskers, flower sellers, fish mongers, old men with trays of tea, fresh roasted almond peddlers, Turkish families from all over the country out to see the bright lights of the big city and, of course, foreigners soaking it all in. This area has loads of wine bars and restaurants serving meze (and you know meze means getting stuck for hours) and is where it all happens after dark on this side of the Galata tower. Even at 5:00 in the morning you will find groups of people scattered up İstiklâl, gathered around singing along to a fairly inebriated guitarist or just strolling off last night’s party.

The call to prayer.

I realise I can just stick my head out the door at work six times a day and hear the Muslim call to prayer back home, but there is something special about hearing the calls emanate from the great mosques all over the city, especially the akşam at sunset when the last light has settled over the minarets of the Süleymaniye Mosque. It is too beautiful! But take it from me and ensure you are nowhere near a mosque when the call starts. Hearing one up close instead of as part of a whole is like standing in front of that tone deaf Maria Callas wannabe who used to belt out false hymns at church on Sunday mornings. In chorus though, it can instill in one a sense of calm and rightness with the world which, like the rest of this warm city, gives you hope that in the end we really can all just get along.

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

Smoorsnoek samoosas

Hands-on time

50 mins

Cook time

20 mins

Total time

1 hour 10 mins


Recipe type: Snacks & starters

Cuisine: Cape Malay

Serves: makes about 40


  • 500g smoked snoek, deboned (good luck with that) and flaked
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 200g tinned whole tomatoes (about half a tin with the juice), chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 3ml cumin
  • 3ml coriander
  • 10ml masala
  • 10ml vegetable oil
  • 500g phyllo pastry, each sheet cut into 10cm strips (or to whatever size samoosa you want)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1L cooking oil
  • sweet chilli sauce to serve


  1. In a pan or skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the onions and saute till lightly golden.
  2. Add the garlic and spices and saute for a further 5 minutes.
  3. Add the snoek and tomatoes, turn down the heat and cook for ten minutes or so, stirring occasionally until the liquid from the tomatoes has evaporated. Cool (not cool as in awesome, cool as in let it get colder.)
  4. Brush the edges of a pastry strip with egg wash. Place a tablespoon of snoek mixture on the end and fold the samoosa into a neat little package.
  5. Heat the cooking oil to 200˚C and deep fry the samoosas in batches till golden brown. Serve with sweet chilli sauce.

La Rosa Blu Café

La Rosa Blu Café
La Rosa Blu Cafe

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.

This isn’t ours, but I wish it were!
La Rosa Blu Cafe

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.

La Rosa Blu Cafe

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.

La Rosa Blu Cafe
La Rosa Blu Cafe

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

Open Wednesday to Sunday from 9 to 5


+27 44 886 0042

Cream cheese & herb stuffed chicken with braised leeks & bacon

Cream cheese & herb stuffed chicken with braised leeks & bacon
Cream cheese stuffed chicken with bacon and leeks

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 & herb stuffed chicken with braised leeks & bacon

Hands-on time

20 mins

Cook time

70 mins

Total time

1 hour 30 mins


Recipe type: Main

Serves: 4


  • 8 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in
  • cream cheese, sour cream & full cream Greek yogurt totaling 250ml (you can use only one or all three combined in whatever quantities you like, depending on what you have in the fridge, but I would definitely recommend the cheese & sour cream)
  • hand full of chopped, fresh herbs (thyme and chives work particularly well)
  • 125 grams bacon, diced
  • 300g leeks, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • a squeeze of lemon juice if you don’t use sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Seasoning


  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
  2. Fry the bacon and leeks together over medium heat until softened. This should take about ten minutes. Sprinkle over the flour, stir through, transfer to a baking dish and pour over 250ml chicken stock.
  3. Combine the cheese mixture, herbs and seasoning. Gently ease the skin on the chicken loose with your fingers, keeping the side bits attached to create a pocket. That would be gross if it was Hannibal Lecter creating a skin pocket, but here it’s just clever.
  4. Using a spoon, gently stuff the cheese mixture under the skin, using it all up. It should be well stuffed.
  5. Place the chicken on top of the leeks and bacon, dot with butter and cover in foil. Bake for 40 minutes, remove the foil, and bake for a further 25 minutes or until golden. Serve with mash.


This recipe is lovely made with turkey at Christmas time!

Cream cheese stuffed chicken with leeks and bacon.

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

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

Lime 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 spheres

We 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

Liquid nitrogen
Balsamic 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 for the fact that it’s not that simple. I might not want to have children, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want children. I’ve just never stared into a frilly pink pram, or watched a nappy bottomed little boy toddle over to his toys, and felt an overwhelming urge to start procreating as soon as my temperature next spikes. So I was more than a little surprised this morning when I plonked myself down on the kitchen stairs and just wept for the void left by this child that isn’t here. While I have always felt, dreamt at times even, that there is a little girl who is still supposed to be a part of us, she has always been a peripheral thought, pushed down as soon as it starts rising and not allowed to surface. It makes sense I suppose. Bush man is home for a few weeks. We have dinner together. Dinners that don’t involve toast. Or little plates. We make plans with friends, and watch movies with big bowls of popcorn and walk around the house deciding which odd jobs should get done (or at least what should go to the top of the list of jobs that will never get done). I have a plus one at social events. He’s picking up weight again. It’s almost… normal. I’m sure it’s natural to start thinking hey, this family thing is actually kinda cool. We should make it bigger! I suddenly have that “okay, what’s next?” urge I’m always hearing about and I’ve only ever felt that once, when Bush Man had a contract in our hometown for a couple of years and we were Settled for a while. But come October he will be gone again and I will be so grateful that it still hasn’t happened for us. Because I know, I KNOW, that I could not watch him say goodbye to his child every time he had to leave. And we will be without him. And we won’t be a family. Not like we’re supposed to be. You’d think I’d be used to this by now. My own family stopped being a family when I was four years old. At least, not a family in the traditional sense of the word. I haven’t had a Christmas with both my parents in 32 years, and it hasn’t scarred me for life. But I just don’t want to do it. I don’t want to bring a child into a world where her parents don’t know where they’re going to be next month or whether they will be there together. I don’t want to bring a child into a world where she will have to be reintroduced to her dad every few months because she can’t remember who he is. I don’t want to bring a child into a world where I can’t guarantee her that there will be water for everyone to drink or fish for everyone to eat or polar bears in the wild in twenty years time because her parent’s generation stripped the earth of all its natural resources and overburdened it with a population that it could no longer sustain before she even got here. We are already consuming more resources than the earth can sustain. I don’t want to bring a child into a world where I cannot guarantee her safety in a country that I love so much that I would rather die here with a panga splitting my skull open than call anywhere else home. How could I bring her into a world like this when she has no choice in the matter?

You’re probably reading this and thinking, who gives a shit? Well, apparently, a great many people do. It has just astounded me how everyone seems to have an opinion on what I should do with my uterus, and they’re not afraid to voice it. I have been told I am selfish countless times. Often by total strangers or people who don’t even know why there aren’t children yet. They just assume. I have been told that I have gotten so used to being alone that I am too selfish to make space for another person. Yes, I have gotten used to being on my own. But what is the alternative? Cry myself to sleep every night because I’ve gone to bed alone again? I have felt the chasm between my girlfriends and I slowly widen as they become mothers and I don’t. Many of them have nothing much to say to me anymore, unless it’s “Oh come on now! Time for you to have your own!”. I have had to hear from someone that a mutual friend had said I “don’t do kids” when asked whether he’d be bringing his along for a lunch. Well that was like a kick in the face with an ice skate, considering I love all my friend’s kids and have always tried to make them feel welcome at my home. I have read an article about how fit Jennifer Aniston is, and been astonished at the vitriol spewed by other women because she has never had children and therefore was not a real woman. I’m not a real woman because my body hasn’t bourn children? My cellulite riddled ass would beg to differ. I’ve read insults hurled at a Time journalist who had said she had chosen not to have children that were so venomous that I actually had to read the article again to make sure she hadn’t actually said she wanted to EAT all the babies. I’ve had a woman I had known for all of five hours tell me that I would one day regret the life I live now. Yes, a virtual stranger had an opinion on the invalidity of my childless existence, and casually voiced it in front of a table full of people at a baby shower. Up to that point, “You’re in danger of being happy with the way your life is now.” was the most audacious thing anyone had said to me regarding the issue. I have quietly listened to these opinions about myself and others like me based on this one aspect of our lives for years, and I’d seldom say anything or try to defend myself, mostly because the sheer cheek of it has rendered me speechless most of the time. And then a couple of weeks ago, I made the mistake of telling a pregnant woman who had felt it was her duty to advise me on what I need to do to get pregnant that thanks, but we hadn’t really decided whether we would have our own children or adopt. Holy shit. You’d swear I had pulled out a sock and said “You see this sock? I’m going to sew some buttons for eyes onto it and sprout wheat grass on its head for hair and I am going to call him George and George is going to be my child and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him and pat him.” for the incredulity with which my comment was received. “You can’t adopt! You have to feel what it feels like to be pregnant! Don’t you want to be pregnant?? Don’t you want to feel that?? You can’t adopt!”. Um. Yeah. No, that’s not selfish at all. And is it just because I live in a small town that being a heterosexual couple with 2.5 biological children is still considered the only acceptable normal?

I don’t want to have children, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want a child. It doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes wish our lives were different and that your telling me how it should be doesn’t feel like a punch to the gut. It doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t want to see a small part of my husband in a child so much sometimes that my heart physically hurts when I think it might not happen. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t hard for me to sit with a group of women and feel like I don’t belong, because I am the only one who isn’t a mother. And I know there are countless parents out there who have to go it alone, or who have to be the one saying goodbye too often. I know that people who are poorer / less secure / in war torn countries / totally incompetent have made the decision to bring another person into this world. But this is our journey and you don’t know where our roads have led us. So if you’ve been blessed with a child, please stop asking me why I haven’t. Stop assuming. Stop offering unsolicited advice. I mean, I’ll try a restaurant because you’ve told me I would love it and simply must try it, but I’m probably not going to base my decision on whether to be a mother on your recommendation. I have a niece that I knew I would quite literally kill someone with my bare hands for the minute I first saw her, so your telling me how a little being will change my life irrevocably is not news to me. I know. So just support me on my road as much as I have supported you on yours. It’s not always as easy to walk down as you might think.


Elke mens het ’n plig. Party teel, party neem aan en ander kweek awareness– en dis my job.

                                                                                                                                                                        – Nataniël


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

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.

Great Brak River

Website: (I think these guys are too busy making food to worry about an online presence!)

Address: 1 Morrison Road, Great Brak River, South Africa.

Telephone: +27 44 620 4163
Email: transkaroorestaurant(at)

Lunch: 12:00 – 14:30, Tuesday – Sunday
Dinner: 18:00 – 20:30, Monday – Saturday

*If you’re South African, I bet you’re still singing “Laat jou yster wiele rol“, huh? You’re welcome!

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.

Browned butter lemon curd

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

Hands-on time

5 mins

Cook time

10 mins

Total time

15 mins


Recipe type: Condiment

Serves: Makes +/- 350ml


  • 330g sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 110g salted butter
  • Juice of two large lemons (roughly 400g in weight, whole)


  1. In a heavy based pot, melt butter over a medium low heat. It will spatter at first and then start foaming, and not long after will turn brown fairly rapidly. Don’t be scared to get a good amount of colour on it, but stop before the salt and milk solids (which will sink to the bottom) burns. Pour the butter – salt and all – into a bowl and set aside.
  2. Add the sugar and lemon juice to the pot and bring to the boil. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the butter.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs and egg yolk in the bowl that the butter was in. Slowly pour the sugar syrup into the egg mixture, whisking continuously.
  4. Return the mixture to the pot and return to the heat, stirring until the mixture thickens. Do not let it boil or you will land up with sweet, lemony, scrambled eggs.
  5. Serve smeared on warm toast, swirled over ice cream, spooned onto meringue nests or poured into sweet tart cases.

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 market
Qipu 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.

Squid on a stick

Or sweet and fresh bingtanghulu (candied fruits).

Alas, I know I will never get round to them. So I’m letting go, moving on, out with the old etc., all in an attempt to feel less bogged down by what I have not accomplished, in the hopes that I can expend more energy on what I still hope to achieve. I’m hoping for catharsis, although the reality will probably only be a bit more free space on my server, and a once again full draft folder a few months from now, because some things never change.

But before I hit the delete button, I have one unwritten post that I felt have to share with you!

Beef fillet with tarragon sauce

There are few things in life that give me as much pleasure as enjoying food with like-minded friends. Happily, I have been blessed with some very special foodies in my life! We don’t have it easy though. Living in a town where Wimpy is considered haute cuisine by many can be quite frustrating for fine dining lovers. I have raged about this before, and nothing much has changed since then. And so, my foodie friends and I decided to start our own Come Dine With Me competition. Four couples, four months, four extraordinary nights. A staggering amount of work went into preparing for each night, and afforded us all the opportunity of trying dishes that we would ordinarily consider too fancy for week night fare, or even your average dinner party. This beef fillet went a long way towards clinching the title for the winning couple, Niel and Pippa, who graciously shared the recipe with me. The recipe is from The Cliff, Barbados: Recipes by Paul Owens, a restaurant that was in the top 50 restaurants in the world when they visited there. I have paged through the book and can highly recommend it to anyone who would like to take their cooking up a notch! It has been a long time since I had this dish, but I can still remember the flavours as if they were melting in my mouth yesterday. Definitely one to add to your repertoire for when you’re having people around that you’d like to impress!

Fillet of beef on a potato rösti with Dijon mustard tarragon sauce & crispy leeks

Author: Paul Owens

Recipe type: Main

Serves: 4


  • 4 x 80z tenderloins
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups dry sherry
  • 1 ½ cups thick cream
  • ⅓ cup Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp fresh tarragon
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 leeks
  • 4 potatoes (peeled)
  • 4 tbsp of mixed chopped herbs i.e. marjoram, parsley thyme
  • butter
  • seasoning


  1. Season the tenderloins and sauté in a hot pan with a little clarified butter until medium rare (about 3 minutes per side). Divide the meat between four plates and allow to rest for 10 – 15 minutes.
  2. For the sauce, bring the sherry to a boil and add the chicken stock. Reduce the liquid for about 10 minutes, then add the cream, Dijon mustard, tarragon and salt and pepper to taste. (Although the original recipe says to season here, I would leave that till the very end. You’re still going to reduce the sauce later, so it might become over salty.)
  3. Cut the leeks into fine strips and deep fry in hot oil until golden. Place on a paper towel and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Grate the potatoes and add the herbs and a little salt and pepper. Using your hands, squeeze out the moisture and form thin potato cakes. Sauté in hot butter until golden brown, drain on a paper towel. They can be made in advance and reheated.
  5. To assemble the dish, place the steaks in a warm oven. Meanwhile reduce the sauce in a pan over a high heat until a syrupy consistency. Place steak on warm potato rosti and cover with the sauce. Top with crispy leeks.

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 2

Start 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 (Chinese Dough Shop) 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 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 Park
Karaoke 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.

Sun Yat-Sen's former residence

Turn right into Taikang Road. The area to your right is (H) Tianzifang, a maze of tiny alleys crammed full of more than 200 crafts shops, art and photographic studios, boutiques, bars, coffee shops and restaurants where some older residents still live. It is part of Shanghai’s urban renewal project. It is well worth a visit, even if you’re not big on shopping, if only to check out the Propaganda Art shop to pick up a money bag with the words “If man have money have romantic life everywhere” emblazoned upon it.

Tianzifang puzzle shop
Tianzifang is a really cool little area. A warren of pubs, resta
Tibetan shop
Ever since Gordon Ramsey had that pulled noodle contest, I've wa
Shanghai Culture Square

While there are many restaurants in Tianzifang, I highly recommend heading to the corner of Jianguo West and Shaanxi South Road for (I) a steaming bowl of Langzhou lamian noodles. For half the price of a Big Mac, you get dinner and a show as the noodle maker stretches, kneads, pulls and twists a ball of dough into perfectly pulled noodles (I giggle every time I say that), before chucking the whole lot out the window where his helper boils them in a broth of beef, herbs and spring onions. The dish is reminiscent of Vietnamese pho and has to be tasted before one can understand how something so simple can be so perfect. If, like me, you’ve forgotten what to ask for by the time you get there and simply point at the nearest bowl of warm looking soup, you might land up getting hand cut noodles – made by peeling strips of noodles from the same dough using a peeler. Either way, you can’t go wrong! Just take your plastic seat amongst the locals and slurp up. Walk off the carbs by heading north on Shaanxi South Road and then taking a right at Shaoxing Road. Along this road you will find Dean’s Bottle Shop for cider if you don’t mind  the hefty price tag (and if you want cider in Shanghai, you better not mind the price tag), and the Manne et Sante bakery as well as the Cafe Vienna where you can get German meals and cakes. The Old China Hand Reading Room at no. 27 is a book store and coffee house with antique wooden tables where you can sit and peruse one of the hundreds of old and new books on sale. Half way down this road is the tiny Shaoxing park. No more than a few hundred square meters, it is a quiet spot to relax under the shade of a tree while watching the locals play mahjong, before you carry on on your merry way. Walk back down Shaoxing Road and then continue north on Shaanxi South. Turn right on Yongjia Road. On the corner at no 47 you will find the Double Rainbow Massage House, where blind massage therapists will give you an authentic Chinese foot massage. The Shanghai Culture Square on your left shows foreign and local musicals, bringing Broadway shows like Shrek and Phantom of the Opera to Shanghai. It is worth going inside just to see the intricate glass art wall and water feature in the foyer. Further down the road on the right, Mi Tierra Mexican restaurant offers modern Mexican cuisine and hosts salsa evenings on occasion.

Turn left on Rujin 2d Road and then left on Fuxing Middle Road (there’s another Starbucks here, should nature be calling). Turn right on Maoming South Road and head north. On this road you will find tailors and high end cheongsam boutiques. The cheongsam are material works of art, with exquisite bead work and embroidery and you really could spend a good few hours here drooling over these dresses if that’s your type of thing. The tailors will stitch up just about anything you want in 24 hours, and for considerably lower prices than you would find in retail stores.

Cheongsam shops (2)
Cheongsam shops

At the intersection of Huaihai Road and Maoming South you will find the (M) Cathay Theatre, an art deco movie house designed by Hungarian architect C.H. Gonda that was completed in 1930 and that features both English and Chinese films. Further north on Maoming South Road, at the intersection with Changle Road, lies the Lyceum Theatre. Also built in the 1930’s, this theatre features dramas and small scale musical and symphony concerts.

Cathay Theatre
Lyceum Theatre

Turn left on Jinxian Road. There’s nothing special on this street, but it’s just one of those typical French Concession alleys that I love, with boutiques, scrap shops and hanging laundry all over all the place. You will also find the (O) Tokyo Fashion Hair Accessories shop here, where young girls spend the day trying on wigs and doing each other’s hair. Sounds like some people’s worst nightmare, but it’s actually vastly entertaining!

French Concession side alley

Turn left on Shaanxi South Road. At the South Shaanxi Road and Huaihai Road intersection you will find the Parkinson department store,  home to fashion boutiques, homeware, gadgets and restaurants. You can stock up on your MAC and Chanel here if you need to. Turn right on Fuxing Middle Road. A little way down you will find a Rolise store. Here you can pretty much stock up on underwear for life. Gorgeous bras for a fraction of the price you would pay anywhere else in every conceivable style and colour you can think of. Made for the Chinese market, this is one place where you’ll be glad if you’re on the smaller cup end of the spectrum! Turn left on Jiashan Road. There is a little mom and pop shop here that sells cong you bing, freshly rolled and fried while you wait. Or depending on where in the world you hail from, you might be just about ready for a plate of fish and chips round about now. The Sailor’s fish & chips shop on Yongkang Road is worth a pop in, but the whole road is packed with European style eateries and sidewalk vendors selling a multitude of dishes  to choose from if you’re in the mood for something else. It’s a vibey little neighbourhood and a great place to sit on the sidewalk with a pint and a camera. Turn right on Taiyuan Road and then right on FenYang Road. The Shanghai Arts & Crafts Museum  is on the right at number 79. You can watch live craft demonstrations, such as traditional jade carving, lantern making, paper cutting and embroidery and see exhibits of the history of these and other crafts. The museum is open from 9 to 5 and entrance is 8RMB.

To get to the (S) South Shaanxi Road metro, turn right on Fuxing Middle Road, left on Xiangyang Road and right on Nanchang Road.

Click here for the Google map.

Got another day to kill in Shanghai? Check out my self guided walking tour of the Bund and Old Shanghai, covering the area between Nanjing Road East and Fang Bang Road.

French Concession Walking Tour Map

Crispy chicken and chickpea couscous with feta & lemon zest

Crispy chicken and chickpea couscous with feta & lemon zest
Crispy chicken and chickpea couscous

Families are funny things, aren’t they? While scratch-your-eyes-out loyal if anyone dares speak an ill word about one of our own, we are the first to voice an opinion about cousin Betty’s latest binge drinking session as soon as we can grab a second alone with a familial accomplice. My family is no different. So it was that I discovered what my family had been whispering amongst themselves over wine glasses in kitchens and murmuring to one another on tee boxes while taking practice swings: I had somehow achieved the dubious honour of being branded the couscous pusher in our family. There I was, happily dishing up fall-off-the-bone lamb shanks over steaming piles of fluffy couscous, when I noticed a distinctly uncomfortable silence fall over the table. The same sort of silence you feel in that moment just after the drug addict has made himself comfortable in the cushy armchair, but before someone clears their throat to tell him that the tea party he’s been invited to is actually an intervention. Uncle T steepled his fingers together (as he always does when he has something uncomfortable to say) and with a sideways glance at my equally unimpressed looking brother said, “What is this shit now again?”. Around the table there was a lot of looking in laps, and readjusting of wine glasses, but when no one backed him up he continued: “Uncle G says you’re always trying to get us to eat couscous”. Now, please note that – whilst true – the last time I had attempted this feat was Christmas 2007, when I had tried to slip some of the little granules past everyone by disguising them amongst cubes of roasted butternut and crumbly feta while they read out loud to each other those terribly lame jokes that come in the crackers. But it mattered not. I had become the couscous pusher. And with good reason I suppose. See, I believe the much maligned couscous has had a bad rap. When it was first introduced to our shores, it was inevitably prepared by uninformed housewives who dumped too much cube derived chicken stock over it in sufficient quantities to turn it into a crumbly heap of mushy sludge more closely resembling wallpaper glue than a fluffy accompaniment to a lamb tagine. This really is a grossly unfair representation of what couscous could be. Really, if you think about it, when it is prepared correctly, what’s not to love? Tiny granules of al dente semolina that slurp up all the flavours you throw at them, couscous is the caviar of pasta. Add to that, it requires no more than a spoon to eat, so it is perfect comfort food. I have therefore made a mini mission out of turning couscous into a dish everyone could love, instead of just an ineffectual projectile weapon in a B-grade movie. This dish might not complete my life’s work, but it is one of my favourites.

Crispy chicken and chickpea couscous with feta & lemon zest

Comfort in a bowl.



  • 4 chicken thighs, skin on
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup raw couscous
  • good quality chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tin chickpeas, drained
  • 2 heaped tablespoons of basil pesto
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1 or 2 rounds of plain Greek feta
  • seasoning


  1. Season the chicken on both sides. Cook in a dry pan over medium heat, turning occasionally, until cooked through.
  2. Remove the chicken from the pan and shred into bite sized pieces, discarding the bones.
  3. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat in the pan and return the chicken to the pan. Sprinkle over one tablespoon of seasoned flour and stir through to incorporate all the fat and juices and yummy caramelised bits on the bottom. Fry until crisp.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine 1 cup of raw couscous with chicken stock and prepare as per the instructions on the packet (different brands require different cooking methods and times.) Do not add more stock than the instructions say, or you’ll land up with the aforementioned wall paper paste.
  5. Add the chicken to the couscous and stir through.
  6. Heat the oil in the pan over medium heat and add the garlic, frying for a minute.
  7. Add the chickpeas to the garlic and fry for two minutes. Turn the heat down to low.
  8. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice and basil pesto to the chickpeas and warm through. Add to the couscous mixture and stir through.
  9. Crumble the feta into the couscous and stir through. Adjust seasoning and serve.

Nutrition Information

Serving size: 2

Peanut butter and white chocolate mousse

Peanut butter and white chocolate mousse

Pierneef à la Motte in Franschhoek is one of my favourite restaurants. The menu is constantly changing to reflect the seasons, so you always get the freshest, seasonal ingredients packaged in beautifully plated, explosive flavour combinations. Unfortunately this also means that you best not get your heart set on any one dish, as it may not be there the next time you visit. There is an important life lesson in this. Never put off till tomorrow what you can eat today! The bittersweet Valrhona chocolate tart with peanut butter mousse that I wrote about when I reviewed them in September was one such dish. While the rich chocolate tart itself was obviously delicious, the highlight of the entire meal (okay, a joint tie with the quail and orecchiette pasta salad with smoked pork lardo and almond ginger sauce), was the peanut butter mousse that accompanied the tart. Piped onto the plate into little mounds of salty moreishness, they were the unintentional star of the dish. So I was very disappointed when, on a visit there last week, the chocolate tart was no longer on the menu. After a week of hoping for a miserable rainy day, so that I could stare sadly out the window while I longed for that mousse, I realised I was unsuccessfully dealing with this blow, and decided to try recreating the mousse myself. I added white chocolate, so it is not quite the same, but it makes a similarly rich, lovely, dense mousse. Serve in little shot glasses, as an accompaniment to a tart (I served mine with a salted caramel cheesecake, but chocolate and peanut butter are made for each other when the bread and jam aren’t looking) or as a filling between layers of biscuits.

Peanut butter and white chocolate mousse

Peanut butter and white chocolate mousse

Hands-on time

10 mins

Total time

10 mins


Recipe type: Dessert

Serves: 4 – 8


  • 50g butter
  • 150g white chocolate
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 70g castor sugar
  • 125ml cream
  • 175g smooth peanut butter


  1. Melt the butter and chocolate together. Warm the peanut butter till it becomes a little more runny, and stir into the chocolate.
  2. Add two egg yolks to the warm chocolate mixture and stir through.
  3. Beat the egg whites till stiff peaks form. Slowly add the castor sugar to the egg whites while you continue whisking. Fold the mixture into the peanut butter mixture.
  4. Beat the cream till stiff. Fold the cream into the peanut butter mixture and serve.

Chinese snacking: A hazardous exercise.

Chinese snacking: A hazardous exercise.

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).

dried fish snack
Avoid these as a pre-dinner snack on a first date.

Or you might innocently peruse the shelves for a dried fruit snack, and come across spicy duck tongues.

Spicy duck tongues. Spotted mere inches from a few plain dates.
Spicy duck tongues. Spotted mere inches from a few plain dates.

Or fancy tucking into some sweet, corn flavoured bologny? No refrigeration required – these babies will last on the shelf forever.

Just want you want in a meat snack. The ability to last, unrefrigerated for ages. Oh, and sugar and corn bits.
The only thing in this picture that makes sense is the suggestion to run.

 Or maybe some nice spicy bean curd string.

tofu snack
Don’t believe that lip licking liar!

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).

Chicken feet and corn bologny. Everything you need for a balanced meal.
Chicken feet and corn bologny. No wonder they’d rather eat dog.

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.

Broad bean snck
See what I have to endure to find the best product for you? A small sampling of deep fried broad bean snacks. The friendly packet on the left is the best choice if you ask me.

But don’t try these. Floury and flavourless. Unless cardboard is a flavour.

Taste just like you would think horse beans would taste like.
Taste just like you would think horse beans would taste like.

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!

On torture (or: What to expect from your bed in China.)

On torture (or: What to expect from your bed in China.)

I don’t think people quite comprehend what I mean when I say that beds in China (or at least all the beds I’ve had the misfortune of sleeping in) are hard. We’ll be making small talk, somehow the conversation will come round to beds (as it does) and I’d casually mention that beds in China are really, really hard. They’ll give me that raised eyebrow, skeptical, “uh huh” look and I can actually see them thinking “Bitch, please. I had to carry my 10mm thick mattress 10km every day when I was in the army and there was nothing but it between me and the ground at night. The ground!”. Okay, yes, but on the ground you probably had a thin layer of scuffed up dust to provide a bit of cushioning. If you haven’t slept on a Chinese bed then you do not know what a hard bed is. I’m not being a princess here people. A pea under a hundred mattresses would not bruise my well padded exterior. I am not a softy. But I’m talking about beds that are essentially a bit of soft filling, sandwiched between two wooden planks and held together with a thin layer of fabric. I don’t even really know what the padding is supposed to achieve, other than to sag a bit when you sit on the edge of the bed to tie your shoelaces. Jade pillows might have been lucky and a sign of wealth in days gone by, and hard beds touted as being good for your spine, but this is the 21st century and we have sports cars and chiropractors here for that.

So what can you do about this dilemma if you’re planning a long term trip to China? Here are a few things you can try:

1) Sleep on the floor for a few weeks before your arrival to prepare yourself for the onslaught on your body. Not a carpeted floor. Not a wood laminated floor with that spongy bit underneath that gives it a bit of spring. Those are too soft. Do you want to be a wussy or do you want to get your spine used to a Chinese bed?! Find a bit of concrete or some nice terracotta tiles and toughen the hell up.

2) Get a large person or a St. Bernhard to sit on your left arm and left leg until they go numb (your arm and leg, not the person or dog). Now remove them and then try to fall asleep with the resulting burning sensation as your blood flow returns to your extremities. The St. Bernhard in particular is a good choice if you can get a nice smelly one, because then you can start preparing your olfactory senses for the special onslaught they’ll be enduring on the city streets.

3) Get out a Twister board and put your right hand on green and your left foot on red. Now twist your spine around 180 degrees and put your left hand on blue and your right foot on yellow. Now hold this position for two hours. Attempt to unfurl yourself, and note how your body feels. Can you handle that? If yes, then welcome to China. If not, read on.

Memory foam mattress toppers are a worthwhile investment if you’re going to be in the country for an extended period. But starting at upwards of US$350 a piece (and too heavy to take back home with you), this is not really an option for medium term stays for those of us on a budget. Your best bet then is to do a bit of online shopping on sites such as or Visit the sites using Chrome with translation enabled, and you will be able to navigate your way around easily. The great thing about these sites is that you can pay COD (using either cash or a credit card), so there is no risk, even if you get it totally wrong and order a tea tray for delivery to a temple in Tibet. (There would be a risk to the store though, and probably a few confused monks, so try and get it right.) Items are delivered free of charge, to your door, within 24 hours. We found this padded mattress cover on for only US$25. Combined with an extra duvet or two under us (and a few sniggers and oi-those-crazy-white-people head shakes from housekeeping), our bed went from a torture device to downright almost comfortable with just a few clicks. Stick blender aside, it’s the best money we have spent in China!

Jew’s ear soup (hold the Jew’s ear)

Jew’s ear soup (hold the Jew’s ear)
Jew's ear fungus
Jew's ear fungus

Jew’s ear is a species of Auriculariales fungus found growing mainly on dead wood worldwide. And really, on a dead stump, far from the dinner table, is where it should’ve been left. It is a popular ingredient in many Chinese dishes and can readily be found on most restaurant menus – usually in the form of a cold salad, dressed with soy and vinegar, or in chunky pieces in soups. The mushroom itself is quite astonishing. The size of a hand and beautifully aubergine hued, they really do resemble ears in an almost disturbing way. But that is where the astonishment ends. To describe this mushroom as gelatinous with a mild flavour is to be unjustifiably kind. You know that little piece of cartilage you find along the breast bone of a chicken? The one that is so soft and thin, you don’t even realise you’ve cut through it until you unpleasantly bite down on a mouthful? Jew’s ears taste like that. Squeaky, softly rubbery, and with no discernible flavour at all. I am yet to try a dish I like them in. But I am nothing if not an adventurous eater, so I tried to incorporate them into a creamy mushroom soup.

 To make the mushroom soup:

1) Prepare your favourite mushroom soup recipe.

2) DO NOT use any Jew’s ear mushrooms in your soup WHATSOEVER. They are vile. They will bring nothing to the table in terms of flavour and will merrily add a yucky, rubbery texture that will not zip up with a blender. Attempting to use them in a creamy soup will have disastrous consequences. If you absolutely have to try them, here is a recipe for soup that uses them whole.

Cheesy pork chops au gratin with creamy asparagus

Cheesy pork chops au gratin with creamy asparagus

And now, regular broadcasting will continue. And just to prove that I am not completely blinded by my animal love, and that I do understand the need for a balanced, humane and sustainable way of feeding this planet’s exploding population: A post on pork chops.

The adage that you should not judge a book by its cover is, in my humble opinion, completely inapplicable when it comes to food. Yes, I might quietly deduct a point from a restaurant’s score when they feel the need to advertise their food by using photos on their menu (thanks for ruining picture menu’s for me Gordon Ramsay – they’re the only way I know what I’m eating in China and now your Kitchen Nightmares rants have left me reeling as I wrestle with the restaurant photo-menu paradox: I should not be eating in a restaurant that puts photos of their food on their menu, but the only restaurant I can eat in without inadvertently ordering turtle soup with a soupçon of sea slug is a restaurant that puts photos of their food on their menu), but I will also seldom be persuaded to cook something unless it is accompanied by a photo to sell it to me. But I am going to ask you not to judge this dish by its cover. While it might look ugly to the point of being off putting, it is really, really good. In fact, Bush Man declared it the best thing he’s eaten in China – and we’ve been to Mr.& Mrs. Bund. And while it’s not exactly fine dining, and I suspect he was just trying to get into my pants, it does make for an exceptionally good and laughably easy family dinner.

If you found this post searching for “cooking with Chinese vegetables” then you probably think that asparagus is a shameful cop out. But I have included this recipe under that section, because not only is asparagus cheap and plentiful here, but they are really delicious. Tender and sweet with loads of asparagus flavour (as opposed to, you know, leek flavour, or Fresca maybe.) And in the supermarket they are as eye catching as hair vegetable or balsam pear, because they are freakishly long here, so you don’t feel like snapping off the tough end and tossing it away is such a waste. The secret to this dish is to use the best quality pork and asparagus you can find, because the flavour comes solely from these two ingredients.

Cheesy pork chops au gratin with creamy asparagus

Cheesy pork chops au gratin with creamy asparagus

Serves 4


Recipe type: Main


  • 4 large pork chops – rinds removed and reserved
  • a bunch of fresh, green asparagus, cleaned, chopped into 1 inch pieces and tough bits discarded
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 10ml flour
  • 125ml cream
  • 200ml grated white cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese (optional)
  • seasoning


  1. Season the chops and grill in the oven till just done. Use the smallest dish you can that will hold the chops and the asparagus sauce.
  2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan and saute the asparagus for two or three minutes until tender.
  3. Add the flour to the asparagus and stir to combine with butter. Cook for a further minute.
  4. Add the cream to the asparagus and stir until you have a smooth sauce.
  5. Pour any pan juices that might have collected from the chops into the sauce and stir.
  6. Pour the sauce over the chops, top with the cheese and grill until golden and bubbly.
  7. Season the pork rind and place under a hot grill till it goes crackly. Serve with the chops. Good with mash or hot chips!

On Shanghai’s bird & insect market & the plight of China’s animals

On Shanghai’s bird & insect market & the plight of China’s animals

Please note: This post is not at all in keeping with the usual tone of this blog. It contains upsetting images and information which, although not new to anyone, is a blow to the gut every time you hear it again. Click on the “more” button at your own discretion and please note that some of the links provided contain disturbing graphics.

Caged kitten

I mentioned a few days ago that we went to the bird and insect market in Shanghai last weekend, but only caught the end of it. Yesterday, after a lovely morning strolling through the Former French Concession area I took a deep breath and went back, hoping we had somehow caught it on a bad day. We hadn’t. I am shocked that so many travellers have described the market as “an interesting place to take photos” on the net. It is not interesting. It is horrifying and a heartbreaking confirmation of humanity’s misguided and self imposed superiority over those creatures we believe are there purely to serve us.

Crickets in jars at the bird and instect market in Shanghai

It is probably an indication of how acceptable the vendors think it is to keep animals in these conditions that they all smiled when I took photos (all but one guy who had what I’m sure were probably threatened – if not endangered – turtles, endlessly swimming to nowhere in little tubs behind a glass door, and with whom I then had a heated monologue about what he was trying to hide, to which he just nodded his head and smiled).

While there is the odd stall holder that provides large cages and adequate food and water, most of the birds and animals are kept in tiny, overcrowded cages. More than half of the kittens had rheumy and infected eyes and there are sometimes so many shoved into a cage that they have to lie on top of each other. There was a cage with rabbits in that was crammed so full that I cannot believe the ones at the bottom could survive the day in there.

Rabbits stuffed into cages
Many of the animals at the bird and insect market in Shanghai showed signs of illness.
Many of the animals at the bird and insect market in Shanghai showed signs of illness.

Birds are kept in tiny, filthy cages and many of them are missing tail feathers. Almost all the birds I saw – hundreds of them – were hyperventilating due to stress. One parrot was so stressed that he had plucked out virtually every feather on his body. Another sparrow was not caged, but was tied to a perch from which he frantically kept trying to fly away as the passersby frightened him. There were hundreds of larks, thrushes, mynahs and other wild birds. It is worth noting that it is estimated that one of these tamed birds is equivalent to ten deaths among wild birds.

Song birds in small and filthy cages. Can you say bird flu?
Song birds in small and filthy cages. Can you say bird flu?

Grasshoppers and crickets are kept in tiny jars, often without food and water and many were dead. The crickets are kept both for their stridulation and for cricket fights, and while owners expend huge amounts of time and money on getting the best singers and fighters, vendors are less concerned about the condition these insects are kept in. 

Crickets, bunnies, chicks, squirrels and budgies for sale on a sidewalk in Shanghai.

Like everywhere on the street, turtles are kept in small bowls of water, and in my travels I have found more than a few that have flipped upside down, and then drowned because they couldn’t get back up.

Between the bars
A bird tied to a perch at the bird and insect market in Shanghai

Live crickets and grasshoppers in boxes.
Live crickets and grasshoppers in boxes.

I know that there are worse cruelties being inflicted on animals not only in China, but in the rest of the world too, but what disturbed me the most is that this was not a dog and cat meat market where the slaughtering practices are hidden from the general public or a bear bile farm in the middle of nowhere. This is a pet market on a busy street in the biggest city in China. A cosmopolis where China’s increasingly affluent, growing, pet-loving middle class can purchase dog food and aquarium plants and cat baskets and generally SEE what is going on there. And yet, despite the growing number of pet owners in China who clearly love animals and who one would think must be outraged at what is happening in these pet markets, the animals are still kept in appalling conditions. And it’s not just here. It is in your face on the sidewalks of Shanghai every day. Turtles, bullfrogs, ducks, quails, pigeons and chickens are shoved into nylon bags and left on the sidewalks in the sun without food or water all day. The lucky ones are sold and hopefully killed quickly, but more often than not they lie like that for hours before being shoved into a plastic bag (some, after having a leg cleaved off so they’ll sit still while being weighed) to be taken home. Now I love my pork chop as much as the next guy, but there is a way of treating animals – whether they have been bred as companions or for human consumption – in a way that does not only take cognisance of our impact on the environment, but that is humane and ensures that these animals are taken care of responsibly.

A woman sells turtles out of nylon mesh bags on Xizang Lu, Shanghai.
A woman sells turtles out of nylon mesh bags on Xizang Lu, Shanghai.

Dog eating festivals have caused worldwide outrage in recent years, highlighting the plight of these animals and leading to the cancellation (but not ban) of some festivals. But many Asians have claimed that we should not enforce our Western ideas of what is acceptable to eat on them and I cannot disagree. If intelligence was a factor in determining what we are prepared to eat, we would no longer touch bacon. I am not saying that the Chinese or Koreans or Vietnamese or whoever else chooses to do so should not be allowed to eat dog meat. Just because a cow has never wagged its tail when I walked by or looked for affection from me doesn’t mean I can condone the eating of one, but not the other. But companion animals are bred to depend on human care and form bonds with their human owners, and the dogs at these festivals are reportedly often stolen and arrive in the trucks with their collars still on. We have bred these animals to be our companions, to protect our homes, to play with our children, so to then turn around and eat the very animals we have demanded (and received) undeserved loyalty from for twenty thousand years seems like the worst betrayal. And even where they have been bred purely for meat, as they reportedly do (although some claim stray dogs of all breeds are mostly eaten) with the Nureongi in Korea, the consumption of dog meat should be done in a humane way both in the treatment of the animals while they are being raised and the manner in which they are slaughtered. The dogs arriving to be eaten at these festivals are crammed into tiny cages without food and water, and sometimes travel in these conditions for days. It is reported that dogs are purposely slaughtered in front of other dogs to increase their fear and stress level, as this is supposed to enhance the flavour and increase the adrenaline in their meat, which according to Chinese folklore, boosts virility. Dogs are also hung upside down, beaten and then left to hang and bleed out slowly or cooked alive for the same purpose.

Caged puppy

The Chinese government has the monumental task of ensuring economic growth and the supply of food to its over 1.3 billion inhabitants, so ethics, morality, social responsibility, environmental impact, labour rights and animal welfare are often ignored. Chinese authorities are understandably not motivated to tackle the problem of animal cruelty as this could lead to a downturn in economic growth and threaten the livelihood of a large portion of the population.

Caged birds

China is the world’s biggest animal farming nation and farmers are adopting Western farming practices such as gestation crates, battery cages, ear-clipping, beak-trimming, early weaning for calves, castration, tail-docking for pigs, and the force feeding of ducks and geese for weight gains and foie-gras production faster than European Union and other Western nations are phasing out such practices. Humane slaughter is still a largely new concept and is yet to become a requirement of slaughterhouses in the country. Production intensification and the sheer number of animals needed to feed a country that is considering phasing out their one-child policy means that the world’s greatest number of farm animals are raised in welfare compromised conditions. Even 10 000 of China’s state-protected species (yes, you read that right) –  the Asiatic Black Bear – are still kept for life in cages too small for the bears to even turn around in, in order to extract bile from their gallbladders through an open wound cut in their stomachs.

Quails, chickens, ducks and pigeons are often squashed into nylon mesh bags and left in the sun without food and water.
Quails, chickens, ducks and pigeons are often squashed into nylon mesh bags and left in the sun without food and water.

It is said that more than three quarters of the Chinese population have indicated a desire for improved animal welfare protection and an end to the dog meat industry. So why are animals still being treated like this? Because Mainland China’s animal welfare laws are virtually non-existent. Animal abuse is not a punishable offense. Authorities prefer to create a production environment that is obstacle free – read, free of all those pesky animal rights requirements that could slow down the process. Therefore neither authorities or the average animal lover on the street has any way of taking appropriate legal action or making a stink about the inhumane practices they see around them. According to Peter Li, Associate Professor of East Asian Politics at the University of Houston-Downtown and China Policy Specialist of Humane Society International, China is at the bottom, if not the very bottom of the global report card in terms of its animal welfare track record. And while many Chinese, especially the older generation who grew up under Mao (it is estimated that up to 60 million people starved during the Great Famine, when I’m sure you didn’t care how what you’re eating lived or died as long as you survived) are indifferent and insensitive to animal suffering, there are many young Chinese people today who are active in the fight against animal cruelty and have stopped seal product imports from Canada, rodeo shows and dog slaughters and protested against the live boiling of cats , not without opposition from less progressive locals. While the overall political environment is against activism for animal protection, there is a perceptible shift among those that did not grow up under Mao Zhedong – driven by rising incomes, urbanization and increased pet ownership – to regard and respect animals as feeling, sentient beings.

And while I realise that this little pet market is a drop in the ocean, we cannot just throw our hands in the air and shout “But what about force fed ducks? Or the gorillas?? Or starving kids in Ethiopia???” and then go and sulk in a corner while we fail to do anything at all. In 2011, a 600 year old dog eating festival in Qianxi, China, which commemorates a battle fought in the town after an invading army killed all the dogs to prevent being exposed by barking (like then eating 15 000 of them every year makes sense!) was stopped by the Chinese government for the first time in its history because of pressure from netizens after information about the festival went viral. Sadly, the Yulin dog eating festival in the Guanxi province is gearing up again for this year’s festival, where dogs are often skinned and cooked alive, and at the time of this post, the Chinese government was not interested in stopping it. 

Just so much garbage.
Just so much garbage.

So if the Chinese government won’t listen to their own people, maybe the rest of the world should start making their voices heard. Before the Beijing Olympics, the government made restaurants in the city remove dog meat from their menus so as not to offend Western sensibilities. The Chinese government wants to present themselves as a progressive society. It matters to their economic growth. It’s not true that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Bad publicity is bad publicity.

So what can you do to help?

1). Sign online petitions. Add your voice by virtually only lifting a few fingers. These are just a few current petitions (not all China related). If they have expired, simply search for the latest ones. NB!! The Yulin festival in Guangxi province is set for mid June! Please act now!

Stop the Guangxi province dog eating festival

Stop animal abuse in China

Stop animal abuse at Wenling Zoo

Stop shark finning

Stop puppy mills

Boycott China  

 2) Support organizations, such as One Voice, Animals Asia, Chinese Animal Protection Network, and the Humane Society International, which all work to end the animal cruelty and abuse in China and around the world.

3). Support local animal shelters and local animal welfare laws and initiatives.

4). Become an informed individual and stand-up for animal welfare and for your beliefs.

5) Put pressure on your own government to pressure the Chinese government to introduce animal welfare laws. In 2012, the USA alone imported $425,643,000,000.00 in goods from China according to the United States Census Bureau

6) Put pressure on local companies to pressure the Chinese government to introduce animal welfare laws. Walmart alone is responsible for 15% of the total amount of goods imported to the USA from China.

7) Spread the word. Share the information you have read here today so that others can take action. Get your community involved not only in animal welfare in China, but in your own community. The East is (sadly) constantly looking at emulating the West. What will they see when they look at us? Collective outrage can help bring change.

8) Boycott China and those companies that sell their goods. This one will be tricky. Have you ever considered how many Chinese products you use on a daily basis and what your life would be like without them? This one would require extreme dedication and a thorough knowledge of the origins of your consumables.

9) A great little tip from The Petition Site:Compile receipts from Non-Chinese items purchased instead and send them to your country’s Chinese Ambassador with a “Revenue Lost” boycott letter.

10) Don’t buy faux fur items unless you are completely sure that the product really is fake.

And most importantly, be kind. “For there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.” – Milan Kundera

 *If you want to go over to the Bird & Insect Market in Shanghai and make a massive fuss, without actually being understood or just to give a bit of love to the animals there (it will break your heart, because despite their condition, a few of them still respond to human affection), take Line 10 to Laoximen station and exit through exit 1. The market is a 5 minute walk to the north.

Potato Caesar Coleslaw Salad

Potato Caesar Coleslaw Salad

It’s not easy trying to cook like home in China. Things we take for granted every day can suddenly only be sourced through an internet search and a three hour long quest into the city. Lettuce is no exception. Don’t get me wrong, we can get lettuce in Qinpu. The varieties available are: Lettuce. That’s it. Chinese lettuce (yes, that’s really a thing). Salads get boring. They all look the same. They all taste the same. But what we can get is a wide variety of other leafy Chinese vegetables which we have started using raw as a lettuce substitute to curb the boredom. Hangzhou bok choi is one such vegetable. It is similar in texture and flavour to a Savoy cabbage, but has the added bonus of providing a fresh crunch to salads, thanks to its large midrib. So what do you make when you essentially have a cabbage, a few potatoes and a teeny tiny fridge (really, you should see it, shove a 5L water bottle in there and you’re pretty much at capacity) that needs a small half jar of mayo cleared out on a first in first out basis? Well, naturally, you make a Potato Caesar Coleslaw salad, of course.

This is a salad with an identity crisis. Like that country gal who runs away from home and moves to the big city to become an actress, only to pack it all in and go back to harvest the apple trees with pappa, it wants to be a fancy Caesar salad, but knows it is ultimately a good ‘ol potato salad at heart. You can substitute the bok choi for white cabbage, or pretty much any raw, leafy veg.

Hangzhou bok choi caesar potato salad

Serves: 4


1 head of Hangzhou bok choi, finely sliced (equivalent to a 300g pillow pack of lettuce)

4 large potatoes, boiled, peeled and cubed

250g bacon, cooked and chopped

4 to 6 eggs, hard boiled, peeled and sliced in half

3 spring onions, finely sliced

Caesar dressing to taste

Mayo to taste


1) Combine equal quantities of dressing and mayo (as much as you prefer on a salad), season and set aside.

2) Toss the potatoes and bok choi together, pour over the dressing and give a light stir.

3) Pile the potatoes on a plate and top with the eggs, bacon & spring onions.

Following the madding crowd

Following the madding crowd

Bush Man and I spent the weekend in Shanghai. (Yes, we’re technically in Shanghai, but it’s so far from the center that we can actually say we’re going to the city. The way farm folk do.). It was taxing to say the least. But it was my own fault.

I somehow got the insane idea that a trip to the bird and insect market would be a great idea. It wasn’t. There weren’t just birds and insects. There were kittens sleeping in their dirty litter trays and puppies that looked like they have never known happiness. Do you know how sad you have to be to be a PUPPY and look like you’ve never known happiness? Truth be told, even the grasshoppers managed to look sad in their little woven baskets. It was heartbreaking.

We got there when most people had already packed up, so I should probably go back and get the story out, but I’m not sure I have the constitution or the emotional stability to handle that. Added to that was the usual dodging of feces and globs of spit. Don’t ever, under any circumstances, wear a dress to the city that touches the ground. That hem has seen things. Horrible, horrible things. Things that cannot be unseen.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot that I love about this city. The sights, most of the smells, some of the people. But every now and then I need to just lock myself in my hotel room for a day or two and pretend like I’m not here. And then I get bored. Today was one of those days. So in an attempt to amuse myself, I created a Facebook page for this blog. Just like everyone else. You can follow it here.

Now here’s photo of a sad kitten on a rubbish heap. When I do Monday blue I do it right!

Maybe he’s one of the lucky ones?

Spicy prawn & coconut cream soup

Spicy prawn & coconut cream soup

There has been no time for cooking these last two months. Dinner has consisted mostly of Grand Chicken Ranch burgers from McDonald’s (the three lettuce leaves, slice of tomato and single onion ring constituting my 5-a-day as far as I am concerned) or toast. So it’s been rather nice to have someone to cook for and have a bit of time to get into the kitchen again. Even if that kitchen is a desk and toaster oven in a tiny Chinese hotel room, and finding ingredients for a specific recipe could mean a three hour round trip to the Avo Lady. If you’re in Shanghai, you can find lemon grass here (and only here, as far as I have been able to tell).

This is one of my all-time favourite recipes. The extremely obliging people at  Woodall Country House & Spa in the Sundays River Valley were kind enough to pass the recipe along after my book club spent a pampered weekend there a few years ago, reading nothing but wine labels and enjoying their exceptional cuisine and warm hospitality. It is dead easy and very, very good. The butternut blends to a velvety, smooth soup without the need for straining and the Thai flavours turn what would ordinarily be standard weekday fare into something a little special.

Thai butternut soup

Serves 4


15ml oil

1 onion

2 cloves garlic

3 small chillies (or to taste), chopped

20ml lemon grass, minced

2 chicken stock cubes (or tubs, or sachets, depending on your budget) dissolved in 750ml water

500g butternut (or pumpkin), diced

400ml coconut cream

250g cooked prawns (I like to grill whole prawns and then deglaze the oven dish with the water I need to use for the stock. I also prefer whole prawns in the soup, even if it’s a bit messy.)

1) Heat oil in a pan. Add the garlic, onions, chillies & lemon grass. Cook until the onions are soft.

2) Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add the butternut and simmer for ten minutes until soft.

3) Blend. (With a blender, if “blend” isn’t clear enough.)

4) Stir in the coconut cream and heat through.

5) Add the prawns and serve. Alternatively pour the soup into bowls and top with the prawns.

On Mandarin.

On Mandarin.

Duōshǎo qián?” I say with a raised voice, stabbing a finger at my open purse, not quite believing that this is actually happening again. I am back in Shanghai and totally incapable of being understood when I try even the most simple of phrases in Mandarin. How am I failing so dismally at this? Ten years after living there I can still order 500 grams of pork sausage or two first class train tickets to Warsaw in Polish, but I cannot remember how to ask for something in Mandarin for longer than it takes me to switch off the AC and find my room key on my way out to test the new phrase.

Mandarin is notoriously tricky to learn. Besides the obvious difficulty of having to deal with hanzi characters instead of the Latin alphabet – rendering the use of a well thumbed dictionary effectively useless – Mandarin has four tones, creating a mine field of possible mispronunciations and embarrassing situations. It also has a large number of homophones. The sound “shì”, for example, is associated with over thirty distinct morphemes. I have also discovered that learning a language completely on your own, without a bilingual person to help you out, makes things considerably harder. No matter how wrong you’re getting it, the electronic voice on your learning program of choice will assure you that you’re doing a stellar job even if you’re mangling the language. But even so. You’d think I could get the basics right, right? At least to enable me to do some simple shopping, right? Wrong.

But it makes a handy coaster.

Once I realised that I would not be fluent in Mandarin in the three months I’d set as my goal, I decided to focus on a phrase a day. Bite sized chunks that I could perfect before moving on to the next thing. Today’s phrase was to be “How much is it?”. A second attempt at a simple sentence which – in a country where just about every price is open to negotiation – I would be sure to need at some point during the day, and therefore a good choice if I wanted to practice it a bit in a real life situation. I listen to the phrase on Jibbigo, try to visualise the pinyin characters and repeat it over and over again like a slow Chinese Rain Man with a speech impediment. I check myself by testing it on my translator and it ensures me that I am, indeed, saying “How much is it?” in Mandarin that is at least passable enough for my iPhone to understand. I leave the room, walk to the elevator, stop and turn back. I let myself back into the room, check the phrase book again just to be sure and repeat it three more times. Having satisfied the linguistic obsessive compulsive in me, I make my way down to the establishment on the corner. One of those Chinese shops (although here it’s just a shop) where you can buy everything from a packet of crayons to a yellow g-string with a chicken beak attached to the front where your willy goes, should you be that way inclined. I grab a set of earphones (the packaging ensures me they’ll “make exquisite sound for excellent life”) and head for the counter. Now at this point, as the shopkeeper rings up my purchase and everyone knows what is expected of them, I should just look at the amount indicated on the till, pay and leave. But no. I open my purse, tilt my head to indicate I am in questioning mode while holding it open, and say  “Duōshǎo qián?”. He freezes, looking at me like I’m speaking Greek. I’m not, am I? I’m pretty sure this is Mandarin. My phone told me so. I can’t have gotten it that wrong surely? And to help him put my question into some context and better understand what I’m trying to ask, there are visual clues. I’m in a shop. I have handed over an item I wish to purchase. I am holding open my purse, nodding to the yuan lying in there and deploying the international hand signal for money by rubbing my thumb and fingers together. If I were playing a game of charades, even a dim witted Labrador with bad vision would get “Lady asking for price” by now. He has not. He shouts for his mom in the back and she joins him. A short conversation and some nervous glances between them follows and they turn back to me, staring at my purse like a paper snake will pop out of it at any second. Determined not to give up until I either get it right, or someone puts two and two together and helps me with the correct pronunciation, I repeat “Duōshǎo qián?”. The mother throws her hands up and walks to the back of the shop shouting “Ting bu dong” as she goes. I have lost count of the amount of shopkeepers who have just shouted “I don’t understand!” at me and walked away, leaving me alone with their tills and wares, presumably so I can help myself to some sort of Laowain protection money, with the promise of not coming back till next month. They don’t try to help, they don’t try to understand and they are not interested in my amateur mime attempts. They just forgo the sale and leave. “Duōshǎo qiánDuōshǎo qián?” I try one last time, aware now that if I was drawn as an anime character, I’d be the chick with the crazy eyes and frothy mouth who sprays spittle everywhere when she talks. As a last, desperate attempt to get the mad lady out of his shop, the man slowly picks up a beaded Hello Kitty purse from the shelf behind him and drops it in front of me, snatching his hand away quickly. Apparently what he has gleaned from my communication efforts is that my red leather Busby purse isn’t blingy enough around these parts and could he possibly be so kind as to suggest an upgrade? I stare at the shopkeeper for a few more seconds, slump my shoulders, hand over what I assume is a sufficient amount, wait for my change and walk out of the shop feeling defeated.

And that is why I am giving up on Mandarin. No man is an island until he tries to learn Chinese in China.

Anna’s Kitchen

Anna’s Kitchen
Anna's Kitchen

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.

Anna pasta

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.

Anna's bread plate

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.

Phone: +27 16 423 5831


Address: 52 Golf Road, Three Rivers, Vereeniging

Cuisine: Contemporary with a South African twist and Italian touches.

Breakfast: 6.30am-11am, Monday to Sunday
Lunch: 11am-4pm, Monday to Sunday
Dinner: 6.30pm-close, Wednesday and Saturday

Cooking with kids: Ye ol’ standby muffins

Cooking with kids: Ye ol’ standby muffins

A guest post by Miss Rachel Carlin

Kiddie muffins

My mom always told me that there are two things every girl should have: a qualification and a driver’s license. I have increased the list to include a dress that makes you feel like a diva, a string of pearls and a flattering bathing suit. I would like to add a sub clause to this. Anybody who spends a significant time with children, be it as babysitter, parent, grandparent or teacher should have at least one book they know off by heart that they can “read” to the child whilst fantasising about an ice cold glass of bubbly to be had once the child is in bed; a simple craft activity using an old loo roll; and a basic muffin recipe.

As that great purple dinosaur keeps telling us, sharing is caring, so here is my basic muffin recipe. Think of it as the maxi dress of baked goods: pretty good for most occasions and one size fits all. I halve the amounts (well, not the egg) and make mini muffins. I add sprinkles to the batter and make rainbow muffins.  I mash up bananas and add cinnamon for – and here is the kicker – banana and cinnamon muffins. I have even added grated apple, blue cheese and walnuts and served them to adults. If I add anything obviously savoury, I omit the sugar and vanilla essence.


  • 1 cup regular flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/8 C butter, softened
  • ½ C sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 t Vanilla essence
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C
  2. Line a 12 muffin pan with muffin casings.
  3. Sift the flour with the baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt.
  4. Cream butter with the sugar until light and fluffy in a large mixing bowl. Obviously the softer the butter, the easier this is.
  5. Add egg to sugar and butter mixture and beat well.
  6. Add flour mixture to wet mixture and mix until smooth.
  7. Pour into the muffin casings and bake for approximately 20 minutes.
  8. Turn out and cool.

If you are that way inclined, you could ice the little darlings. And also the muffins.

Banger & bacon breakfast scones

Banger & bacon breakfast scones

How do I love thee bacon? Let me count the ways. Last weekend I loved it chopped up and turned into breakfast burgers. A great TV meal for when no one can tear themselves away from the Super Rugby for long enough to locate the knife and fork lying in front of them. I wanted to serve these banger and bacon patties on scones so as to be more breakfast-like, until I remembered I can’t actually make scones. While they taste good, they look a little like doughy, cellulite prone pucks, and could probably be used successfully in a short ice hockey warm up match. The problem, I suspect, is that the scone dough should be just, just mixed and then left alone, whereas I like to prod and knead and poke and generally overwork the whole thing when I should actually just have walked away. Just ask any ex-boyfriend of mine. Then I remembered how Americans serve their scones (or biscuits) drenched in gravy, and my problem was solved! I made scones using a recipe from that old standby of South African housewives everywhere – Kook en Geniet – adding a packet of brown onion soup powder to the dry ingredients to get the onion flavour I was looking for without having to do any actual work. I then drenched the whole lot in mushroom sauce to hide how ugly my baking had turned out. Hollandaise would work well too. Top with a poached or fried egg and breakfast is sorted!

Banger and bacon burger

Serves 6:


12 pork banger sausages, filling removed from the casings

250g streaky bacon, finely chopped. (Place the bacon in the freezer for half an hour before cutting to make it easier to slice.)

1) In a mixing bowl, add the bacon to the sausage filling and combine well. Shape into burger patties, about 10mm thick. If you want a thicker patty, fry the bacon, allow to cool and then add it to the sausage filling. If the mixture is too sticky to work with, lightly flour your hands and the working surface to make it easier.

2) Heat a very small amount of oil in a pan and fry the patties, turning once, until brown on both sides.

Ndumo – A small reserve with a big heart

Ndumo – A small reserve with a big heart
Ndumo from the lookout tower.

In the far north of Natal, right on the Mozambican border and miles away from, well, anything really, lies one of Africa’s oldest parks. Spanning just a little over 10 000ha, this tiny reserve boasts the highest number of bird species in all of South Africa – a staggering 430+ species and counting. Not only does Ndumo encompass the confluence of the Usutu and Pongola rivers with it’s floodplains and reed beds, but broadleaved and acacia woodland, swamp forest, fig forest, grasslands, riverines, pans and sand forest and thickets all contribute to a highly diverse range of habitats, most of which are accessible to visitors in some form or another.

The walk to the second bird hide at Nyamithi pan.
The walk to the second bird hide at Nyamithi pan.

Both black- and white rhino, buffalo, giraffe, crocodile, hippo, nyala, zebra, wildebeest, leopard, hyena (only realised this when we came across their spoor on the last day, thank goodness, or I would’ve been lying in my tent holding in a pee every night) and other antelope species including red duiker and suni occur in the reserve. But the reason people flock (ho ho ho!) to Ndumo is for the avifauna. Many tropical East African bird species are found here at the Southern limit of their range. There are few places where you can chalk up Pink-throated Twinspot and Palmnut Vultures within half an hour of arriving and without even leaving the comfort of your car. Specials abound. African  Broadbill, Pel’s FIshing Owl, Neergaard’s Sunbird, African Pygmy Goose, Southern Banded Snake Eagle and Rudd’s Apalis can all be found if you time your visit right.

Sunset at Ndumo.
Sunset over Nyamithi.
The Pongola flood plain walk.


Guests can go on guided walks with extraordinarily knowledgeable rangers who will identify the plainest LBJ at a glance or mimic the call of just about any bird. Of the four full time rangers at Ndumo, two have been there for over twenty years and the third for over thirty! Gold watches all around I say! Morning and evening game drives are also available and are highly recommended. The sunset over Nyamithi pan with the Fever Trees bathed in rosy fire and the Fish Eagles calling was one of the most magical experiences of my life. Two bird hides situated on opposite sides of the Nyamithi pan provide a bird’s eye view (I’m just churning them out here!) of the cornucopia of waterfowl to be found in and around the water. Storks, pelicans, herons, duck, geese, warblers, swallows, jacana and more can be seen whilst you sip a cuppa, finish off last night’s cold braai broodtjies and just sit, look and listen. The first hide is a 450m walk through the bush and leads to a breathtaking view of the pan, the stork and pelican colony on the opposite side and the towering yellow Fever Trees lining the water. The second is an easy, but hair raising (if you’re a wuss) 650m walk through the reed beds to the other side of the pan. (You will cross hippo spoor here, but don’t panic. Unless you are the slowest person in the group. But seriously, be aware of what’s going on around you and never, ever, ever get between a hippo and its water). This hide is situated above a reed bed with water lilies floating about, so it’s a good spot for crakes and the smaller, reed dwelling herons. The lookout tower near the main gate affords a 180 degree panoramic view of the entire reserve, all the way to Moz. Guests may drive through large parts of the reserve on their own. Roads are all gravel, but passable by normal car.

Ezulweni hide on Nyamithi pan.

Ndumo is not fancy. There are no restaurants with buffet breakfasts, flood-lit lookouts or cocktail bars with blue drinks. It is a place for old school nature lovers that don’t mind sharing the bathroom with a moth the size of their hand. The camp is small, with only 7 chalets. Each chalet has a kitchenette, aircon and a lovely, big wooden deck for sipping G&T’s on. Ablutions are communal and, although old, are very clean. There is a sparkling pool with loungers to while away the hot afternoons. The camp sites are shaded by large trees. A communal kitchen with everything you need is available for campers. Each camp site is equipped with a power point and a braai with a grid.

The camp site.
The chalets.

What To Bring

Guests need to supply their own food and beverages. There is a small shop selling drinks and snacks, but no other food. NB! The tap water at Ndumo is not suitable for drinking. Ensure you take your own supply of drinking water and ice trays to make your own ice, because it’s a bit of a hit and a miss whether the reserve has in stock. There is a Spar located 2km from the reserve in the town where you can get petrol, cash and groceries. Stock up on wood while you’re at it, as the only wood available is at the gate and in short supply. Ndumo is in a malaria area, so take precautions.

Shokwe pan walk under the sycamore figs. Broadbills be here.
Golden orb web spider

Ndumo Game Reserve

[email protected] / +27 33 845 1000

Open Summer (October to March) from 05:00 – 19:00 and Winter (April to September) from 06:00 – 18:00.

Getting there: From the north or south, follow the N2 and turn off at Jozini. Go through the town, across the dam wall and follow the road until you see the Ndumo sign posts. The last 12 or so kilometers is dirt road. It’s a little like cars on ice after rain, but otherwise passable with a normal vehicle. When we were there it looked like they were in the process of tarring the road, but it’s anyone’s guess when this will be completed.

GPS co-ordinates: 32d18’48.85″E 26d54’32.48″S

* Apologies for the poor quality photos. Suggestions on improving my landscaping shots are welcomed!*

Cong you bing revisited

Cong you bing revisited

I have not been sleeping well at all. My bed has once again become that magical place where I suddenly remember everything I was supposed to do that day, but didn’t. And I know that once I crawl out from beneath that white duvet I will once again, in a foggy haze of procrastination, forget everything that I vowed to do in the wee hours of the morning. So I have taken to sleeping with a pen and notepad next to my bed so that I can jot down things in the dark as I remember them and clear them from my mind. This hasn’t worked as well as you would think. Upon waking this morning I found a message to myself reminding me to “Char doc squikle skorf”. While I don’t think this was intended to be an inspired grill idea, it did remind me that I still need to post my cong you bing recipe. I have adapted the recipe from one found at Traditional Chinese Recipes to more closely resemble the thin and crispy pancakes that our local vendor made. It is essential that you make the dough two days before you intend to use it to allow the gluten to bind. This is a great recipe to use when doing a Mongolian grill and everyone can get their hands dirty cooking their own (in which case most of the pancakes will, in all likelihood,  be wonky, a little burnt and the object of much ridicule).

Cong you bing


300g all purpose flour

6 spring onions, leafy green parts finely chopped (you can reserve the chopped whites and use in the paste)

1/2 tsp salt

1 tb vegetable oil

115g of boiling water (yes, grams Heston)

70g of cold water

spicy basting paste

Add the boiling water to the flour and stir. When it is well incorporated, add the cold water and continue mixing until it is smooth. You will have a very wet dough. Oil your hands and collect the dough into a ball. Place in a plastic bag in the refrigerator and allow to stand for two days or so.

With oiled hands, turn the dough out on to a smooth, oiled surface and flatten into a rectangle approximately 1cm thick. Sprinkle with the salt and spring onions and press them into the dough. Fold the dough in half and press down to 1 cm thick again. Rub the surface of the dough with your oiled hands, fold and press down again. Do this four or five times so that you layer the dough with oil and spring onions, similar to what you would do with puff pastry. Now grab a hand full of dough (a little bigger than the size of a golf ball) and roll it out with an oiled roller till you have a disk about 2mm thick. It’s a little slippery and tricky, but you’ll get the hang of it eventually. If a hole appears, don’t worry about it.

In a heavy bottomed pan, heat a few tablespoons of oil. (If you haven’t noticed by now, this is not Weigh Less and enough oil in the pan is essential or it’ll taste yuck.) Lay the pancake in the oil, away from you. Cook until lightly browned and then flip it over. Brush with the paste, cook the other side until browned and then flip back for 5 more seconds, just to heat the paste through. The sugar in the paste will burn if you leave it too long. Serve cut into rectangular slices.

For the spicy basting paste:

2 onions, very finely chopped

chopped fresh red chillies to taste

80ml oil

15ml paprika

10ml cumin

20ml coriander

4T sweet chilli sauce (pretty sure the Chinese don’t use this, but it works!)

Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan and add the onions. Cook slowly until they begin to caramelise. Add the chillies and spices and continue cooking until the whole mixture turns into a gloriously, jammy, paprika hued concoction. Add the sweet chilli sauce and cook for a few more minutes. You’ll be left with a jammy oil that is perfect for basting your cong you bing.

Cooking with kids: Simple soufflés

Cooking with kids: Simple soufflés

By Rachel Carlin

When I am not mentally menu planning for the fantasy Bistro that I wish I owned with my favourite girl cousin by marriage, I am taming ankle biters. I am very lucky that this is a job I love and that it brings me a lot of joy. It also allows me on a Tuesday to bring my other love, cooking, into the classroom.

Simple souffles

Cooking with children doesn’t need to be dull. It doesn’t need to involve chocolates, sprinkles and E numbers. It can be fun, yummy for both big and small and strangely rewarding when no child is hurt in the making of the dish!

This is one of my favourites. I cannot seem to name it, so the working title is:

Simple Soufflés

Makes 6 little soufflés


  • 3 slices of white bread
  • 2 eggs
  • 200ml milk
  • 100g cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • Dried mixed herbs
  • Some oil for brushing

 Preheat the oven to 200 C

  1. Grate the cheese and place in a bowl. – Teacher’s tip – allow your young child to grate the cheese, but place your hand and fingers over theirs so they get the feeling and the motion of grating without the danger of shredding fingers.
  2. Using a regular size circle cookie cutter, cut out two circles from each slice of bread.
  3. Brush a muffin pan with some oil and then place the bread circle inside. This will form the base of your soufflé.
  4. In separate mixing bowls, break the eggs and separate.
  5.  Whisk the egg yolks together very quickly until they turn creamy.
  6. In another bowl stiffen the whites, not to the peaks needed for meringues but allow them to hold shape.
  7. Add the milk, herbs, salt and pepper to the yolks and mix thoroughly.
  8. Add half the cheese and give a good mix.
  9. Gently fold in the whites.
  10. Carefully pour over the 6 muffin pans ensuring even distribution of the mixture.
  11. Top each mini soufflé with the remaining cheese.
  12. Bake in the oven for 12 – 15 minutes until golden.

 And that’s it. A dollop of Mrs. Balls on the side is rather good.

Peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake

Peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake

When Nigella first described this recipe as a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup in cheesecake form, she had me at Reese. It’s a baked peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake. I don’t need to say any more.

Peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake

The ingredients should be at room temperature before you start.


For the base

  • 200 grams tennis biscuits (Nigella uses digestives, but I have a debilitating weakness for tennis biscuit bases)
  • 50 grams salted peanuts
  • 100 grams dark chocolate chips or a slab broken into pieces
  • 50 grams butter

For the filling

  • 500 grams cream cheese
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 3 medium egg yolks
  • 200 grams castor sugar
  • 125 ml sour cream
  • 250 grams smooth peanut butter

For the topping

  • 250 ml sour cream
  • 100 grams milk chocolate
  • 30 grams soft light brown sugar


  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C.
  2. Process the biscuits, peanuts, dark chocolate and butter for the base in a food processor. (I only have that little food processor that you bung onto the end of a stickblender, but it worked just as well when you do it in batches this way and then mix it all together after. Great arm workout too.)
  3. Once it comes together in a clump, turn it out into a 23cm springform tin and press into the bottom. Reserve a good tablespoon full to consume right now. You know you have anyway!
  4. Put in the fridge while you make the filling.
  5. Process all the filling ingredients together till you have a smooth mixture. You can just whisk the whole lot if you don’t have a processor, but then be sure to bang out the air bubbles or there will be cracks in your cheesecake. Not the end of the world, but avoidable.
  6. Pour and scrape the filling onto the base in the tin and bake for 50 minutes. Check the cake and if necessary, bake for a further ten minutes. The cake should be like your thighs after Christmas when you’ve ruined a year’s workouts in two weeks – just, just firm to the touch but with a bit of a wobble perceptible underneath.
  7. Take the cheesecake out of the oven while you make the topping.
  8. Warm the sour cream and chocolate with the brown sugar gently in a small saucepan over a low heat, whisking to blend in the chocolate as it melts, and then take off the heat.
  9. Spread the topping very gently over the top of the cheesecake.
  10. Put it back in the oven for a final 10 minutes.
  11. Once out of the oven, let the cheesecake cool in its tin and then cover and put into the fridge overnight. It gets better the longer it stands.
  12. When you are ready to eat the cheesecake, take it out of the fridge, just to take the chill off, but note that it will get even more gloriously claggy the longer it stands.

Bernice’s lamb chops

Bernice’s lamb chops

This is one of those recipes that you’ll probably either love or hate. Personally, I love it! It is the meal I would choose when I finally snap in Telkom one day, wipe out the lot of them, and have to pick something to eat before they eventually flip the switch and fry me. It is a quintessential part of some of my earliest food memories. Monday night was not only Knight Rider night (back before he became The Hoff and crushing on him was no longer cool), but it was also the night my brother and I stayed with my dad and Bernice, our nanny, made her famous chops and chips. Bernice might not have been the creator of the dish, but it is a testament to how important she was in our lives that we chose to name this dish after her, despite her tendency to chase us around the house with a wet rag when she was displeased about something. And now, more than twenty years later, my dad still makes it for us whenever we go and visit there. So I’m quite aware that the love I feel for this particular dish is heavily influenced by the memories it evokes and is not based solely on its gastronomic merit. I do, however, still believe it is simply delicious in the truest sense of the word. All the flavour comes from just two ingredients – lamb and onions. But don’t let the simplicity of the components fool you – preparing this dish requires patience and a good, uninterrupted, 2 hour chunk out of your day. It is best served with the type of shoestring fries that are so crispy that trying to impale them on a fork results in little bits of golden potato flying across the room and hitting the wall with a satisfyingly crunchy thunk. This necessitates really getting your hands in there to pull the chops apart bite by bite, scoop up a few chips and shove the whole lot in your mouth with your fingers, which is just messily wonderful! I would also strongly recommend having it with a good tomato sauce. I don’t believe in dousing meals in condiments that could potentially detract from the flavour, but in this instance the tangy sweetness of the tomatoes contrasts beautifully with the salty sweetness of the caramelised onions.

Bernice's chops & chips

Serves 4


5 large onions, sliced

1 kg lamb chops – loin is best, but any cut will do

salt and ground white pepper

3T canola or sunflower oil

2T butter

1) Place a heavy based pan (big enough to fit all the chops in a single layer) on medium heat and add the oil and butter.

2) Add the onions and a bit of salt and pepper and fry slowly. Slowly now. Don’t let it brown too quickly. Once the onions are translucent, push them aside in the pan and add the chops. Season and brown the chops on both sides and stir the whole lot around the pan every few minutes.

3) That’s pretty much it. But pour yourself a glass of wine, because you’re going to be here for a while. Now you just continue doing this for the next ninety minutes or so. As the onions and meat catch on the bottom of the pan, scrape those lovely caramelised bits off with a wooden spoon and keep incorporating them back into the onions. If you need to, add a tablespoon or two of water to deglaze the pan as you go, but keep it fairly dry. The closer to the end you get, the more it will catch and the more you’ll need to stir it. Season and don’t be shy with the salt.

What you’ll eventually be left with is a gorgeously glossy caramelised compote to go with the tender lamb chops that will taste even better if you leave the whole lot in the fridge for a day so that the flavours can develop. If it’s a little too fatty for your taste, just tilt the pan to the side and scoop off any excess fat. (Sorry Dad, I didn’t really mean that!)

St. Blaize hiking trail

St. Blaize hiking trail
Saint Blaize hiking trail

South Africa is blessed with a spectacular coastline. From mangrove lined estuaries in the north east to the stark beauty of the west coast and endless stretches of white sandy beaches or striking rock formations in between, it is a favourite playground for outdoor enthusiasts and sun-worshippers from around the world. But, like a mousy English lit student working her way through college by donning a dominatrix outfit at night and beating Japanese business men into submission, it also has a darker side. The seas off the South African coast are littered with the carcasses of ships that have met a wet and salty end here and too many families have an empty seat at Christmas because someone turned their back to the ocean at the wrong time. Strong currents, rolling waves and dramatic, jagged rocks make this a coastline you should take seriously. It also means that it is spectacularly beautiful. And, fortunately for us, vast stretches of it have been protected and made accessible to those nature lovers who prefer donning boots and a backpack and exploring our natural heritage on foot.

Saint Blaize
St. Blaize Pinnacle Point

One such route is the Saint Blaize hiking trail in the Southern Cape. Starting at The Point in Mossel Bay in the east, this 13.5km hiking trail winds its way west along the cliffs, through the Pinnacle Point golf estate to Danabaai in the west and can also be hiked in the opposite direction. Parking is available on both ends. You should either leave a car at the end or arrange for a shuttle service to return you to the starting point (check the web for details). On The Point side, the hike starts in the parking area below the Cape St. Blaize lighthouse and Khoi San cave – if you’re tripping over begging rock dassies you’re probably in the right place. Please do them a favour, respect that wild animals should remain wild animals and don’t feed them. A fed dassie is a flattened by a Fortuner dassie. On the Danabaai side there is a small parking area on the shoulder of the road next to a St. Blaize trail information board. Don’t blink, or you’ll miss it. To get there, just keep left on Malva road after entering the town until you find the spot. White oystercatchers (painted on the rocks, not standing there with bibs and pointers) mark the route along the way.

St. Blaize

Dramatic cliffs, seas in shades from turquoise to indigo, a wealth of flora and rock formations in every autumnal shade imaginable make this an extremely worthwhile way of spending the 6 hours required by the average person to complete the hike. The route can be mildly challenging in places and therefore a moderate level of fitness is required. What is moderate? Well, I am currently at an all time fitness low. After three minutes (I am not kidding) on a stepper I need copious amounts of water, a few pulls on my inhaler and a little lie down on the couch. I could finish the trail without actually throwing a complete frothy by the twentieth uphill, but it would’ve been considerably easier if I’d spent more time exercising and less time eating this past December.

St. Blaize dassie
Saint Blaize snake

There is a lot to see on the way. The waters off the Southern Cape are one of the best places in the world to whale watch and pods of dolphins often make a splashy appearance. Also keep a look out for seals and, if you’re lucky, the menacing dark outline of a great white shark – there are plenty here. On land, look out for dassies, bushbuck, steenbuck, geckos and lizards, mongoose, porcupines, tortoises, snakes and a wealth of different bird species – many endemic. The flora here is predominantly fynbos. What makes this particular floral kingdom such a joy is that it is not just pretty to look at, but gives you a full sensory experience, even when it isn’t high flower season. Brush the leaves of plants as you go and let the scents of wild rosemary, buchu and other medicinal plants envelope you as you walk.

St. Blaize to Danabaai
St. Blaize hiking trail

Although the route is very well maintained and feels akin to strolling down a lovely, level, sandy garden path at times, it isn’t all smooth going. There are areas where the trail is nothing but loose rock and you will need to clamber a bit in the odd section. Unless you have reinforced kankles, it is advisable to wear sturdy hiking boots with soles that can handle the jagged rocks. As with all sensible hikes, takes lots of water, sunblock and a hat – there is virtually no shade. A hiking stick will also come in handy to handle the steeper climbs, especially if you have gammy knees. You can stop off at the Pinnacle Point club house and refill your water bottle or have a bite to eat – they are very accommodating to hikers. (There is a boardwalk at Pinnacle Point that leads down to cave PP13B – one of the most significant archaeological sites in the world because of its importance in helping us understand the origins of humanity. The site documents the earliest evidence we have of people exploiting the sea and using pigments – 164 000 years ago.)


Watch where you’re walking and be aware that it is completely possible to trip and fall down a cliff – sadly, it has happened. Look out for snakes – especially puff adders that like to bask in the sun and are unlikely to get out of your way before you step on them, ruining their day and therefore yours. Cell phone reception is available along the entire route, but if you’re going alone let someone know where you are, just in case. Every episode of “I Shouldn’t be Alive” ever started with “I was just going for a little stroll…”. Despite its close proximity to developed areas, you are out of site of civilization for long stretches. When you get to Pinnacle, look out for flying golf balls and putting golfers – you really do get very close to the action at times and you don’t want to be blamed for a three putt. And lastly, if you decide to take a dip in one of the inviting rock pools along the way, be aware of the tides and currents and err on the side of caution.

Saint Blaize bay

Although the trail doesn’t end at the beach, the white sands of Danabaai are only a few hundred meters further on. Parking down here instead of the road means you’ll finish the walk with your feet in the sea and your bum on soft sand while you cool down.

Blue bottles

The Common Room

The Common Room
The Common Room tapas

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.

Common Room Camembert

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.

Peanut parfait

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.

Le Quartier Francais

The Common Room is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon or evening sharing food with friends. Bookings are strongly recommended.

The Common Room

Corner Berg & Wilhelmina Streets, Franschhoek

Open 7 days a week from 07h30 till late.

Phone: +27 21 876 8442

email: [email protected]

Lemon meringue ice cream

Lemon meringue ice cream

Let me preface this post by saying that I really suck at making meringues. This is mildly embarrassing as I have an aunt whose meringues would put Nigella to shame. So if you’ve landed here in the hopes of finding a fool proof way of making light and airy meringues, then you better move along. These meringues are strictly for fools and were sort of stumbled upon when the very first thing I baked in my new and unknown little toaster oven was a dish that required precision temperatures. Clever. So I was toggling between bake and grill and 210º and 100º to try and reach the magic 120º for the sustained period required when making meringues the way they should be when I thought buggr’it, they’re going in at 150 for half an hour. This is higher than you’d normally bake meringues. The result of a lower temperature is an airier but drier meringue because the whole thing is baked through slowly and the air bubbles are trapped in a permanent state of sugary suspension. Fortunately, I like my meringues a bit on the gooey side when I bite into them. (Which also explains why mine are rather ugly… But as I’ve gotten older I’ve realised that looks are less important than personality anyway.) So the higher, shorter temperature worked a treat to get them golden on the outside but still uncooked enough on the inside that when I opened the door and they cooled down too quickly, the entire lot collapsed into a cracked heap of toasty, marshmallowy goodness.

If I lost you at “toggling”, then I suggest you completely ignore the entire section on meringues below and try Nigella’s cappucino pavlova instead. Needless to say, omit the espresso. The ice cream recipe is a fantastic vanilla standby as, unlike most homemade ice creams, it doesn’t require you to break up ice crystals every now and then like some sort of demented, commando going character from Basic Instinct. Make a batch and then add whatever flavours you want to zhush it up a bit. Here lemon did the trick.

Lemon meringue ice cream

Use 8 individual tart tins or one large one.

Serves 8


For the ice cream

300ml milk 

4 large egg yolks (reserve egg whites)

75g Castor sugar

250ml cream

5ml vanilla extract 

The juice of three lemons (Before juicing, zest with a fine blade zester and reserve zest. Zest. Zest. Zest. It sounds funnier the more you say it.)

Heat the milk to just before simmering and remove from the heat. In a bowl, whisk the yolks and sugar together until light and fluffy. Slowly (slowly now, or you’ll be sorted for tomorrow’s scrambled eggs*) pour the milk into the egg mix and whisk quickly as you go. This next part is a bit annoying. Grab a book and take a few deep breaths because yes, it does take a while (fifteen to twenty minutes, but it feels like an hour) but no, you can’t walk away, even for a minute. Return the pot to a low heat and stir constantly until the mixture thickens to the consistency of thin custard. Do not boil*! Stir in the vanilla essence and lemon juice and set aside to cool. In another bowl, whisk the cream till soff peaks form. Slowly fold the custard into the cream, combine well and place in the freezer overnight. As I said, the nice thing about this recipe is that it does not usually require you to break up any ice crystals like you normally have to do if you don’t have an ice cream maker. But just to be sure, check the ice cream in a few hours time and if there are any ice crystals, either whisk before it is fully set or blitz up with a stick blender.

For the candied lemon rind

Lemon zest from three lemons

Half a cup of sugar 

Castor sugar for sprinkling

Place the zest and sugar in a pot and add a cup of water. Simmer for 45 minutes until the zest is translucent and the mixture is the consistency of thin syrup. Remove the strands of zest and place on a silicone mat to dry, separating them as much as possible. Once cooled and firm, toss in a little castor sugar, cover in cling wrap and set aside.

For the biscuit base

1 packet tennis biscuits, finely crushed

200ml melted butter

Combine the biscuit crumbs and butter and mix well. Press the mixture into the base of your tart tin(s) – the base should be 3 to 4mm thick. Cool in the fridge.

For the meringues

4 egg whites

Pinch of salt 

Castor sugar

Cream of tartar

Vanilla essence

Preheat oven to 150˚C. Beat egg whites with salt and cream of tartar until stiff. Add castor sugar by the spoonful, beating well between additions and adding the essence just before the last two spoonfuls. Line a baking sheet with a silicon mat and spray with Spray & Cook. Shape the meringues on the baking sheet so they’re slightly smaller than your tarts – they’ll swell a bit. Alternatively (and the easier option) pipe small meringues. Bake for 30 minutes or so until lightly golden. The meringues will be chewy on the inside. Allow to cool and then lift with a spatula.

To assemble

Remove the ice cream from the fridge and soften slightly. Spoon ice cream into the tart moulds, pressing down onto the biscuit base and ensuring there are no air bubbles. Smooth the top with the back of a knife and return to the freezer for at least a couple more hours or until you’re ready to serve. To serve, unmould the ice cream and top with the meringues in whichever way you fancy. Serve with the candied lemon zest.

Make like a tourist in your own town.

Make like a tourist in your own town.

If you’re from a small town, or have lived in the same city for a good number of years, then you’ve probably dealt with that claustrophobia that sets in on occasion. You know the one where you wake every morning feeling like the walls have moved slowly, but perceptibly and inexorably closer during the night? It normally occurs after spending weekend after weekend doing nothing but watching Top Gear reruns and eating Friday night’s leftover pizza so that, by Sunday night, you’re lying awake, staring at the ceiling and wondering “Is this really it?”. The solution? Make a new year’s resolution to get excited, wide-eyed and curious about your own town and surrounds again.

A new look at old treasures.

A new look at old treasures.

1. Do what you love to do: Seems a bit obvious doesn’t it? It would be a terrible bit of advice if I said “Now, go out there and do what you hate! And have fun, dammit!”. But it’s not really such a silly thing to suggest, because how many of us actually do what we love most of the time? Why wait for those two precious weeks you have off at Christmas when it can feel a little like a holiday all year round? Do those things you love doing on holiday even when you’re not on holiday.

2. Plan, plan, plan: If, like me, you can’t really see why drooling the weekend away in front of the TV as mentioned under point 1 is a problem, then you’ll probably need a bit of encouragement to get out there and explore. Vow to never spend two weekends in a row at home. Gather a group of reluctantly adventurous friends and take turns planning your next outing. Choose somewhere in or near your hometown to explore and get cracking. There’s a wealth of information out there:

a.       Surf the web: Tripadvisor is always useful and will give you a new perspective on your town when viewed through the eyes of a fresh-off-the-plane tourist.

b.      Pick up some brochures, road maps or a local guide book: You could probably get all the info you need online, but just imagine how happy you’ll make the ladies at your local tourist information centre if you grab a few of their dusty (and mostly free) paraphernalia. Every town has one –  just look for the “i”.

c.       Phone a friend: Or a family member, or a stranger or anyone else who has visited your area. They’ve often done their homework and will, embarrassingly, know more about what’s happening around your area than you do. You know it’s true. We’ve all had someone ask what we suggest they do in our town only to have “The mall! The mall!” flash through our heads in neon colours to the exclusion of all other ideas.

d.      Read a travel magazine: Nothing will get you as excited about the same old sites as seeing them draped in beautiful people on the pages of a glossy magazine.

3. Check out an organised tour: Bus tours, bicycle tours, boat tours, foefie slide tours, walking tours, history-, gastronomic-, architecture-, or wild flower tours – there is sure to be something in your area that interests you and where all the work has been done by a red faced tour operator slowly developing carpal tunnel syndrome from flicking around a logo’d flag to keep his flock in check. You’d be surprised how much fun these touristy things can be. Check out City Sightseeing for a schedule of Cape Town’s Hop On / Hop Off bus tours – a great way to see the city and responsible to boot if you’re planning on sampling the myriad exceptional wines the region has to offer. Most big cities around the world have their own version.

4. Snap away: Happy snapping is not just for holidays. Take photos of your outing so that you’ll have memories to look back on. Look at the old and familiar through a camera lens and try and imagine seeing it for the first time. Snap the same old water tower you drive past every day from a fresh new angle.

5. Try a new restaurant: For the love of God, just forget about McDonalds or the Spur for one damn day and try something new! They’ll still be there next week, I swear. Support those people who are really passionate about food and fresh, seasonal ingredients. At The Old Townhouse in George on the Garden Route for example, you not only get fantastic, seasonal, ever changing fare, but you get to eat it in the tiny, quaint, original Town Hall built in 1848 – two touristy birds with one stone. Or try a new ethnic cuisine that you’ve never had before.

6. Pretend you’re from Lonely Planet: The next time you’re walking the beaten-into-submission track, ignoring the same old shops you pass every day of your life without going in, pretend you’re writing an article for a travel company. What is there to see? What makes each shop special? Is the best milktart you’ve eaten since sitting under a quilted blanket on Grandma’s lap when you were eight served from a hole-in-the-wall establishment behind the Caltex garage? There’s only one way to find out. Alternatively, create a walking or driving tour of the area based on a theme. If you like shopping for example, find all the best markets in your area, plot them on a map and work your way through them, stopping off at any interesting places in between.

7. Don’t ignore the historical sites: Even the tiniest town normally has a heritage council. Sure, they may just be two retirees who meet for tea and cucumber sandwiches every second Thursday and decry the state of the nation, our youth and how the teenagers keep making out behind the old library, but besides the griping they’ve probably stuck up a few bronze plaques on noteworthy historical sites. Besides the usual museums, churches and battle grounds, you’ll often find some beautiful old buildings masquerading as restaurants, cafés, bike shops or something in vile pink. Look past the peeling paint and you could find some beautiful original architecture.

8. People watch: It’s so many of us’ favourite pastime, but how many of us do this in our own home towns? You’d be surprised what you can learn about yourself, your community and your country by grabbing a grande tall and watching the world go by. I remember sitting in a Mugg & Bean at OR Thambo last year after returning from an overseas visit and thinking there is more vibrant energy in that one airport coffee shop than in the entire city we had just returned from. Sit, watch, learn, absorb and be grateful for every quirky personality that walks by and enriches your world a little one crazy eye-twitch at a time.

9. Take the scenic route: If you’ve chosen to visit a nearby town, take different routes there and back and smell the roses (or boutique vineyard, or yak butter or mohair blankets) on the way.

Go, eat, play, explore.

Biltong & Blue Cheese Dip

Biltong & Blue Cheese Dip

The silly season is in full swing. Time to overeat, fight the masses to get your last minute shopping done and exercise your rage control as drivers everywhere forget the basic rules of the road. I say rather stock up your freezer and spend your precious time catching up with friends and family over glasses of chilled wine (or mulled, should it be winter where you find yourself) and tables full of good things to eat. If you need something quick and easy to serve as a snack when people are getting peckish, try this spread-slash-dip to serve with crackers or melba toast. I got the idea after trying a so-so-ish biltong spread bought at the shops. Upon inspecting the label I realised that there was, in fact, absolutely no biltong in it whatsoever. I was sure that adding biltong to a biltong dip would be the natural first step to improving it. Genius right? But please don’t entertain the idea of using that horrible powdered biltong instead of the good stuff. That’s only good when it’s dusted by a little grey-haired lady on to marmite slathered bread cubes and served on a paper doily with a nice cup of tea at the NG church’s bazaar where, let’s be honest, it is damn awesome. Adding blue cheese to anything, of course, makes it better. It also means that this dip packs a serious flavour punch. If Ye Old Ranch is the party dip equivalent of the mousy girl who sits timidly in the corner, looking a little lost and only spoken to when asked where the toilet is, then this dip is the loud guy adjusting his crotch, hocking one back and drawling “Are you talking to ME?”.

Biltong and blue cheese spread


60g sliced biltong (Place the biltong in the fridge overnight, uncovered, to make it easier to process.)

125ml cream cheese or creamed cottage cheese 

3ml coriander

2T chutney

100g blue cheese, grated (If you prefer cheese withouth the ability to put hair on your chest, use something creamy and  not too strong. A cremezola is perfect.)

Milk (optional)

1) In a food processor, chop the biltong into bits. It shouldn’t be too fine – around 3mm pieces.

2) Combine the biltong with the remaining ingredients, adding a little milk to get it to the consistency you prefer, and serve.

Medley of Seafood

Medley of Seafood

I had one of THOSE days again. I pretty much went into panic mode about my occupational / living / geographical status.

Don’t get me wrong, being a lady of leisure and traveling all over the place is bloody, damn awesome. Particularly as I somehow managed to find a husband who will virtually beg me to spend a bit of money on myself and never makes me feel guilty that his was the career we chose to nurture while I get to sleep in late when I want to. But every now and then – between the lunches, and copious amount of reading and experimental cooking time – I suddenly realise “Holy crap, I don’t have a job. My husband is a contract worker. We don’t know where the next job will be. When don’t know WHEN the next job will be! We don’t know where we’ll be next week, let alone next month!! I don’t even know what to fill in when asked for my residential address!!! I don’t know what to fill in where Facebook asks what city I live in!!!! I can’t breathe!!!!!”.

But on days like this, there is one thing I can count on to quiet the voices, ease the pressure, still the storm and envelope me in a warm, cuddly haze of happiness: Food. Those dishes that evoke a happy childhood memory, or remind you of a special time and place with special people or, simply, remind you that no matter how crazy and unpredictable and scary your life might seem right now, you can always count on a few things to stay the same. The right meal can achieve all that. Your favourite spaghetti bolognaise recipe will taste today like it did last week or last year or the first time you closed your eyes and savoured that second mouthful (the first mouthful you just shoveled down of course, because it was just spaghetti right, how good could it be?). This is one of those dishes. A very special take on something resembling a bouillabaisse that reminds me of home and my mom. It is also one of the first things I remember making after I discovered that I rather loved cooking, so adding a bit of orange zest to some fish was very shoo-wow! Some people would get comfort from aunty’s cottage pie or granny’s chocolate cake or matron’s mash. I found it in a bowl of my mom’s seafood broth.

What dish do you choose when you’re in the mood for a bit of nostalgic psychotherapy? Google Analytics tells me there are loads of you out there reading my blog, but you’re all rather quiet. I’d love to hear from you! What passes for mash in Jakarta, Nottingham, Madrid, Glenorchy or Roodepoort?

From Elsa van der Nest’s fabulous book, Simply Entertaining.

Serves 6


olive oil for frying

2 medium onions, finely chopped

15ml garlic, finely chopped

45ml mixed fresh herbs

45ml fresh basil

2 bay leaves


2 x 400g cans whole, peeled tomatoes

30ml tomato paste

200ml dry white wine

500ml fish stock (Ina Paarman’s liquid concentrates are worth a try)

500ml mussel stock (use reserved cooking liquid when preparing mussels)

25ml triple sec liqueur

25ml brandy

finely grated zest of half a lemon

finely grated zest of 1 orange

600g line fish, cut into 4cm squares

300g calamari rings

36 prawns

24 mussels, cooked, on the half shell

basil leaves for garnishing


1) Heat oil in a large pot. Add onions, garlic, herbs, basil, bay leaves and seasoning and sauté until tender.

2) Add tomatoes, tomato paste, wine and stocks. Simmer gently for 40 minutes.

3) Add liqueur, brandy and zest and simmer gently for a further ten minutes.

4) Liquidize the mixture until smooth then pass through a fine sieve. At this point you could refrigerate for a few days and just continue when you’re ready to serve.

5) Gently reheat the sauce. Add the line fish and cook for 3 minutes. Add the calamari, prawns and mussels and simmer for 2 minutes more.

6) Garnish with basil and serve with squid ink pasta.

Shanghai’s Friday Muslim Market

Shanghai’s Friday Muslim Market

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!

Getting there:

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.

Wuyuan Bakery, 255 Yanping Lu, +86 21 6256 5556, 6 a.m.-11 p.m.

Friday Shanghai Muslim Market, Changde Lu between Aomen Lu and Yichang Lu, every Friday from 11am onwards.

Exceptionally Lazy Rainy Day Prawn Pasta

Exceptionally Lazy Rainy Day Prawn Pasta

If you’re a three-hours-or-longer-Friday-lunch kinda person, the Chinese work ethic can take a bit of getting used to. It’s no wonder they’re taking over the world one “Made in China” label at a time – they work like machines. So my husband works really long hours. We hardly see each other on a work day and then he only has one in every twelve days off. Needless to say, rain days have become very precious to us, because he gets to stay home. We get so ridiculously lazy on these days. We COULD use them as a precious opportunity to spend some time together exploring all the fascinating new places around us. But when that call finally comes, confirming there will be no pick up that day, we inevitably turn to each other and, slightly embarrassed at our anti-wanderlust tendencies, timidly suggest simultaneously, “Movies?”. We will then proceed to spend the entire day in bed watching movies, only emerging to make tea or something to eat. On one such day, while one of the many typhoons that battered China’s eastern coast this summer was raging outside, I hit a personal low on the uselessness scale. I got up around four in the afternoon, still in my nightie, and looked in the mirror (probably to check for bedsores). The mirror is behind the bedside lamp and the globe is naked because the hotel uses these ridiculously ostentatious lamp shades that are all shade without the lamp bit. They are so covered in gold they don’t let any actual light through so I’d removed it. Anyway, I leaned into the mirror and accidentally burnt my boob on the globe! I pulled my nightie away and was horrified to discover I had burnt a blister right through the fabric! I was also a little confused as, while it had smarted a bit, it didn’t seen to be as sore as a big, brown blister warranted. Nonetheless, it was not lost on me that I could use my injury as a means of getting out of tea making duty for the rest of the day. So I put on my best quivering-lip face and, nursing my injured appendage, made my way to my husband to garner some sympathy. I was just rounding the corner of the bed, wondering whether limping a little would be overkill, when my blister fell off. We stood there staring at it for a few seconds until realization dawned: The blister was nothing more than an errant popcorn kernel, stuck there from wolfing down a bowl from a prone position hours earlier. So it was on this day – trying to make up for being caught at such an obvious deception just to get out of tea making duty – that this dish was conceived. Adam declared it to be one of his favorites. The inspiration came from my mom’s preferred way of doing prawns. The original recipe (from a Vroue Federasie cook book from yore) used lemon juice (and had a few different tweaks I don’t recall) which is an ideal substitute for when you’d rather drink your wine than cook with it. This pasta dish is perfect for days when you are so lazy, that anything you eat needs to take ten minutes or less to cook from start to finish. Maximum impact with ridiculously little effort.

Serves 2


2 tablespoons butter

2 cloves garlic, crushed

3ml dried thyme

200g prawns, raw and shelled

about half a cup of dry white wine

half a cup of cream

a pinch or two of paprika

a few drops of Tabasco sauce (If you’re in SA, use a teaspoon of peri-peri Aromat. That’s right, I just said that. Use more if you like things hot. )

salt and pepper to taste

as much or as little pasta as you like


1) Put the pasta on to cook according to the instructions.

2) Over medium heat, melt the butter in a pan. Add the garlic and fry for a minute. Add the thyme and prawns and fry till the prawns are pink and almost cooked.

3) Add the wine and boil for a minute or two till reduced by half, then add the cream, paprika, tabasco and season to taste. Drain the pasta, toss with the prawns and cream and serve.

Self-guided walking tour: Nanjing Road to Old Shanghai

Self-guided walking tour: Nanjing Road to Old Shanghai

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

So you have 24 hours in China’s biggest city. You’re a world-wise traveler. You have more stamps in your passport than David Attenborough’s cameraman. You prefer to do those things that are off the beaten track, far from the madding crowd, living like the natives do and all that. Hole-in-the-wall eateries, remote temples, out of the way ramshackle buildings with loads of history, original fittings and a little old man out front who will single-handedly change the way you view the world with a story about how he ones saved a shepherd and his goats. You know – all those tips that well-thumbed guidebook has told you and a million other readers to do. I get it. But if you’re only going to have one day in Shanghai, you’re probably going to want to see the Bund and Old Shanghai – probably the two most touristy spots this side of Mongolia (the pavements of Nanjing Road alone are trampled by over a million visitors a day). Nothing wrong with that. Hit the area between Nanjing Road pedestrian street in the north and Fang Bang Road in the south and you’ll see the best of all that is East and West, modern and traditional that Shanghai has to offer. Or that’s what I think.

Pudong skyline
Pudong skyline. Clearly not reliant on Eskom.

Time: Full day

Distance: 3 miles / 4.8 kilometers plus exploring

START: East Nanjing Road MTR Station (1) END: Yuyuan Garden MTR Station (20)

Exit the station on to Nanjing Road and head west. The pedestrian portion starts a little way up the road. Just because you’ve almost been knocked down four times by speeding, obnoxious scooter drivers and at least one brown car does not mean you’re not in the right place. Sidewalks are where the Chinese like to drive. Nanjing Road is Shanghai’s main shopping street and one of the world’s busiest. It is divided into Nanjing Road East (from the Bund to People’s Square) and Nanjing Road West (from People’s Square towards Jing’an District). Both Nanjing East and Nanjing West boast large department stores as well as a variety of retail outlets and restaurants. For the purpose of this tour we’re only going to head a little way up Nanjing East, mainly to get to the (2) San Yang Food Shop located at no. 630. It is not signposted in English, but you should find it easily from the gallery pic. I suppose one would describe this place as a dried grocery store. If you can dry it and eat it, it is here. And as you know, the Chinese will eat just about anything, so expect to find sea cucumbers, starfish, every possible edible mushroom and bracket fungus, a selection of shellfish that will make your eyes water, fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, meats (the appeal of sweet pork floss remains a mystery to me) and mind bogglingly expensive cordyceps fungi with their caterpillar hosts. There is also a massive selection of traditional Shanghainese sweets and snacks as well as cured meats and fowl. It is a fascinating place, especially if it is your first introduction to the oftentimes weird and wonderful world of Chinese cuisine. Find the ladies selling the cookies and palmiers and try a few of their pineapple crisps. Delicious! If time permits you can continue heading west towards People’s Square and Nanjing West with all its luxurious boutiques where all the larny people shop, but we’re going east.

 Just outside San Yang is (3) Chez l’Ami. This is a good place to quench your thirst (you have been walking for all of twenty minutes after all) and do a bit of people watching. Yes, it is very, very French and as such is a bit of a shameful cop-out on day one of your big Chinese adventure, but it is one of the few places with seating right on the street.

Nanjing pedestrian road, oui?

Cai Tong De traditional medicines

Continue heading east towards the Bund. (6) South Beauty is a chain restaurant located in the Henderson Metropolitan and is a good bet if you’re looking for traditional Shanghainese and Szechuan food but are too scared to try street food. My suggestion though is to keep walking. Shanghainese street food is safe, delicious and cheap and available everywhere. Get your first taste right here at the little cafe on the street corner (opposite Lao Feng Xiang Jewellers Store with its floral wreaths). It’s easy to spot – there is probably a queue thirty people deep standing in line for (4) pork moonpies sold from a little window on the side. These savoury pastries are absolutely stuffed with pork mince filling and encased in a crispy, flaky shell. And at around US$0.50 a piece, it’s a deliciously cheap way to fill your tank. There’s a veggie version too. Look out for the red lanterns of (5) Cai Tong De pharmacy a little further along. Opened in 1882,  this pharmacy is famous for its traditional Chinese medicine. The four-story building sells medicinal herbs, herbal pieces, medicinal liquor, beauty treatments, health care products and some expensive tonics such as ginseng and pilose antler. If you’re running low on sheep placenta, donkey hide gelatin or deer penis, this is the place to stock up. I always wonder who the first person was to think, hmmm, let’s rub a bit of this on and see what it does? The rest of the road down to the Bund is chock full of boutiques and stores including an Apple store and the massive, newly opened Forever 21 if you’d like to kid yourself.

(7) The Swatch Art Peace Hotel is named after the Swatch watch shop on the first floor. The Renaissance style building was constructed as the Palace Hotel in 1908. It has a brick veneer structure with six stories reaching 30 meters in height. The rooftop terrace has spectacular views of the city skyline and is a fantastic place to try a few cocktails (many with champagne if you’re feeling particularly celebratory) as the sun goes down. It also has a lovely view of my favourite art deco building in Shanghai – the Imperial Crown of the Westin Bund Centre.

The rooftop bar at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel. Looks posh, but anything goes.

Right next door is (8) The Bund 18 – a high end commercial bar and restaurant complex in a neoclassical style building that received the UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Award in 2006 after two years of careful restoration. The building houses the well known French eatery, Mr. & Mrs. Bund. Stop here for dessert. No, it doesn’t matter if it’s only eleven in the morning and you haven’t even eaten lunch. Just stop here for dessert anyway! With his Lemon & Lemon Tart, chef Paul Pairet does things to this little yellow citrus fruit over a period of 72 hours that will have you jumping up and down in your seat and clapping hands like a giddy little girl. At least, that’s what it did to me. A paper thin, whole candied lemon rind is filled with lemon sorbet, lemon curd and vanilla chantilly and served with sablé (shortbread biscuit to you and me). At 100RMB (US$16) a portion this is a dessert you savour mouthful by creamy, tangy, citrussy mouthful. But you can tuck in to a complimentary amuse-bouche before you start – impossibly light and airy but beautifully flavoured tuna mousse served in a re-purposed tuna can with crispy melba toast and other breads, so you’re getting your money’s worth. If that doesn’t convince you, they have teeny, tiny chairs specially for your bags! Now how cute is that?

Keep heading south along the Bund. Named after the Persian word for embankment, this one mile stretch along the Huangpu River is lined with dozens of historical buildings. There are benches all along the promenade where you can relax and look over the river at the view of the Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai World Financial Centre and the Jin Mao Tower that dominates the Pudong skyline. The Shanghai Tower – currently under construction to the right of the Jin Mao Tower – will be the tallest building in China when completed in 2014. The living walls lining the river side are a spectacular site and change with the seasons. (9) The Shanghai Customs House houses a massive clock tower known as Big Ching. At 90 meters tall it is the largest clock tower in Asia, with each of the four clock faces measuring over 5 meters in diameter. The bell was modeled on London’s Big Ben and when it chimes it feels a little like you could run into the Queen at any moment (like you do on an average day in London.)

HSBC Bank & Shanghai Customs House – don’t worry, you’re still in China.

(10) The HSBC Bank (now the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank) is a six storey neoclassical building with 4 storey high columns, archways and a dome, the base of which is decorated with a triangular structure in imitation of Greek temples. Opposite the bank is a bronze sculpture – The Charging Bull Statue. It was designed by Arturo Di Modica – the same artist who created the Wall Street version. It is the same size as the one in NYC however, as requested, the bull is redder, younger and stronger than the Wall Street version, looks up instead of down and is twice as heavy to symbolise the energy of the local economy. Mine is bigger than yours. Due to its anatomical correctness, it’s best to view it from the river side.

El Willy on the Bund
Even though the tuna and gazpacho didn’t make me cry, it was still movingly good.

El Willy is a Spanish tapas restaurant located in the (11) South Bund 22 complex. The restaurant is filled with warm, raw wood and glass panels decorated in hand painted, rainbow hued fish and other sea creatures. It boasts spectacular views over the Huangpu river from every table. It was here that I got a little teary eyed over a plate of food for the first time ever. The dish was the Explosive Balik Salmon with Truffled Honey and Sour Cream. I sat there slowly savouring each earthy, sensory caressing bite and cried a little out of gratitude that I could’ve experienced that. The food, the drink, my Bush Man, our surroundings – all of it was rendered more special by every blessed mouthful. Now I don’t want to be like one of those people who say “OMG! You have GOT to see the new James Bond movie! Best. Bond. Ever. EVER!”. Because you just know it’s going to be disappointing then right? It’s completely possible that that second cocktail had gone to my head and the day leading up to that moment had just been spectacular. But I do want to make sure you don’t miss out on this place. Order a Caipirinha and a few tapas and enjoy the lights, the view, the colours and the miracle that is our sense of taste. Life would be so much bleaker without it.

Continue heading South(ish) until you hit Xinkaihe Road. You will see (12) Gucheng Park across the street. This is the north eastern corner of the Old City. Renmin Road in the North and Zhonghua Road to the South West now run where the city walls used to be. Cross diagonally through the park until you reach Fuyou Road. Turning left will lead you down a narrow little road brimming with mom & pop shops, eateries and vibrant local street life where you can find all sorts of bric & brac, including lovely Chinese calendars. Or turn right and head west. Here you will find the (13) Small Commodities Market. It’s worth going inside to see the conditions some people happily work under,  just so that you will never moan about your crappy job again. The market is packed with hundreds of little shops (some only a few feet wide) selling everything from cello-tape to kitchen gadgets, musical instruments to spark plugs, gift boxes to rainbow coloured slinkies. If you need it, it’s here. Haggle hard.

Gucheng Park

If you want to do a bit of cheap and cheerful jewelry and scarf shopping (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?), walk to Jiuxiaochang Road and turn right. Here you will find a strip of (14) 10RMB shops and, as the name suggests, everything here is 10RMB a piece. There are gorgeous silk (or a close approximation) scarves and fabulous costume jewelry pieces, souvenirs, silk purses, figurines, decorative chopsticks and other gift items for sale. I really don’t know how they can make things for these prices, let alone make a profit. You WILL find yourself saying “And this? Is this only 10RMB??” quite a few times. The answer is yes. Yes it is. Try not to think about what that means. There’snosuchthingasasweatshop. There’snosuchthingasasweatshop.

Yuyuan Gardens Bazaar. Watch your pockets.

Now turn back and head South towards Yuyuan Gardens. The buildings surrounding the gardens make up a pedestrian area known as (15) Yuyuan Bazaar (or Yuyuan Tourist Mart or, confusingly, City God Temple), its streets lined with beautiful old buildings (well, ancient but renovated ) and loads of shops and restaurants. It can be a bit kitschy at times, but there’s lots to see and it’s beautiful at night when it is all lit up. There are various entrances to the bazaar, so just get inside and start exploring – there are English signposts on every corner. Entry to the market is free of charge and opening hours are 8:30 – 21:00. Although the area can get incredibly busy, it really is worth spending a few hours here for a quick rundown on Chinese history, culture, religion, architecture and art. Artisans making everything from engraved jade and handmade kites to painted scrolls and intricately woven bamboo leaf figurines eagerly share their knowledge of their wares with you. Goods are priced slightly higher than in the surrounding streets, but not exorbitantly so and you can always haggle. Hefeng Mansion Old Town Snack Palace is a colossal buffet style restaurant serving every conceivable dish and snack from 16 Chinese sub-cuisines. If you need a quick overview of all that this city has to offer in terms of traditional cuisine, this is the place to come. It’s loud, gaudy, commercial and cheap, but you’ll get the idea. Nan Xiang Steamed Bun restaurant is another popular eatery and a good place to try these quintessential Shanghainese snacks. Just head towards the lake in the middle and stand in the queue you see there. In the alley just next to Nan Xiang, there are vendors selling jelly juices (weird, but oddly addictive!), little deep fried birds on a stick and all manner of other snacks. Be warned though that despite this being a tourist hotspot, English is a little thin on the ground (and on the menus) here. Deep fried soft shell crabs are a must try. The market has a variety of kid friendly activities like a puppet show and a photo studio where you can dress up in traditional outfits.

In the center of the market, in the middle of the lake is (16) Huxingting Teahouse. This pagoda style teahouse (the oldest in Shanghai, built in 1784) is built on stilts and is accessible via the zigzagging Nine-Turnings-Bridge, so designed to keep bad spirits away. (Really, if a spirit is so stupid that he can’t figure out how to go forward if he can’t go in a straight line, then he can’t be all that scary now, can he? Just walk around the corner and that’s him, thwarted.). Prices are a tad inflated here, but the tea comes with assorted snacks – soy braised quail eggs, tofu, olives and sticky tea cakes (that’s probably not selling it though…). The teahouse was used as a base of operations by the British army for several days in 1842 and Queen Elizabeth II once stopped here for a cuppa. Find a seat at a window, order one of the beautiful opening flower teas (check the prices first!) and watch the world go by below you. It seems most of it is here anyway. And while we’re on the subject, if it is your first time in China – especially if you’re a gullible, trusting, single guy – familiarise yourself with the teahouse scam. Don’t get caught out just cause she’s pretty!

Yuyuan Gardens.

(17) Yuyan Gardens (“Garden was built to please ones parents” – shees oke, what happened to gift vouchers at the CNA?) was built in 1577. Think about that! Jan van Riebeek wasn’t even an itch in his father’s crotch and these people were gardening! This Ming style garden stretches across 2 hectares and features various bridges, pavilions, towers, ponds, paths, walls and halls.There is also the odd plant. There are many cultural relics to be seen. The Exquisite Jade Rock is one of the centerpieces of the garden. A porous 3.3-meter, 5-ton boulder rumoured to have been salvaged after the boat transporting it to the Imperial Palace in Beijing sank off Shanghai. Entrance is RMB30 per person.

(18) The City God Temple  (or Chenghuang Miao) is a Taoist temple established in the 15th century. After undergoing many changes and handovers, it was restored to its former use as a temple in 1994, with resident Taoist priests. The temple is dedicated to three city gods and consists of six halls spread over a thousand square meters. Entrance is RMB10 per person.

Fang Bang Road

 (19) Fang Bang Middle Road has absolutely nothing to do with liking vampires a lot. This 825 meter long street (also known as Shanghai Old Street) runs from South Henan Road in the west to Renmin Road in the East. It has miraculously survived the bulldozers that have flattened many other old buildings in the name of progress in this rapidly modernising city. The ancient buildings reflect the architectural style of the Ming & Qing dynasties with black tiles, white washed walls, upturned eaves, smoke spewing dragons and red pillars. Little alleyways branch off from the main road in a maze of shops, homes, eateries, workshops and markets. This is the perfect place to explore and get a sense of the chaos, customs, history, smells and picturesque squalor in which some of the locals still live. All manner of street food is sold here, including stinky tofu (do it! I dare you!). Fang Bang is a typical, Shanghainese, anything goes mishmash of food stalls, clothes shops, art galleries, antique dealers, tea houses and Tibetan crafts and jewelery with everything in between.

Once you are outshopped, outeaten and outcultured, you can head to (20) Yuyan Gardens Station and find your way home or stroll back along the Bund to see the city at night. The metro starts closing at around 22:30, depending on the station.

Got another day to kill in Shanghai? Check out my self guided walking tour of the Former French Concession Area.

Click to enlarge map



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.

Mezepoli Meze and Wine Bar

Address: Shop SL26 The Piazza, Melrose Arch, Whiteley Road, Melrose, Johannesburg.

Phone: +27 11 684 1162


The Promenade, Victoria Road, Camps Bay, Cape Town.

Phone: +27 21 438 1915

Price: R24.00 to R55.00 per meze plate.

Guest Post: Swiss Miss

Guest Post: Swiss Miss

Guest post by Rachel Carlin

The magical number 7:  a movie with Brad Pitt; a trying time for relationships, and of course the time frame Jesuit priests need to make the boy a man.  This is also the length of time I had not returned to Geneva: place where I found my passion (early childhood intervention), was very happy (Flanagan’s Pub and Shaker’s Nightclub) and learnt to cook (Faith O’Neill).

Faith not only taught me to cook, she taught me to love food. She taught me that a recipe book is often better reading than the latest bestseller. She taught me to look at a recipe and adapt it to the many needs and dietary requirements of a growing family. But, the most important thing she taught me was the best way to say “I love you” is in a dish. The dish has to be like the emotion itself: consistent, easily recognisable as such, and the culinary cuddle you need on a bad day. Faith and Paul (Mr. Faith) showed the ultimate love when they allowed me, not only to join in what was essentially theirs, but let it morph and grow to fit one more (as love should) and so shit pie became ours. Shit pie was served on bad days, sad days and glad days. Faith dished up shit pie to my backpacking baby brother and reduced him to tears. I will admit to trying to make it once, but failed dismally as it just wasn’t the same without the lashings of red (cue in Paul).

Some misconceptions about shit pie:

  1. It isn’t a pie
  2. And in the same line it contains no shit
  3. It is not the colour of shit

Rather, it was devised by the fantastic Faith (lawyer, mother, culinary expert and awesome lady) pre-kid days in London. Legend has it, Faith opened the kitchen cupboards and announced :”There is just shit here” and proceeded to create one of my favourite dishes ever. She made it TWICE for me in a 9 day visit (four of those nights she was State side), that is how awesome she is. So, without further ado, I give you Shit Pie for 4 (uncle Sticky joined us the last night)


1 tin anchovies

Healthy shake of mixed herbs

2 onions thinly sliced

1 garlic clove minced

2 tins tomatoes (ideally peeled and cubed)

2 tins tuna in brine

1 small tin black olives (not Greek) pitted and sliced

A handful of capers

A squirt of Tabasco

Basmati Rice to serve

Lashings of red wine (for 4 at least 6 to 8 bottles)


In a frying pan, add the anchovies, with the oil and soften and then add the onions and garlic.

Next add the tomatoes and herbs.

Reduce. ( 5 to 7 minutes)

Shake on some Tabasco to taste and add tuna, olives and caper.

And yip you are done.

Serve with rice and lashings of red.


Turkish (or possibly Moroccan) chicken with saffron and almond couscous

Turkish (or possibly Moroccan) chicken with saffron and almond couscous

I have been back in beautiful, sunny SA for a few weeks now.  It is insanely lovely right now. Really. Like living in an HDR photo. Or maybe it’s just my new polarised sunglasses? Either way it’s crazy green and ridiculously blue and just gorgeous! I’m not sure whether to say I’m visiting, touring or home, because I’m not completely sure where we go next really. No wonder the gypsies were always a little miffed at the world. But I am loving it! My life feels a bit like an episode of the Amazing Race (a show I now realise I could never partake in as I would most certainly go postal when dealing with the airlines, will in all likelihood brain someone with one of those little posts used to contain the queues at an airport and then spend the rest of my life in jail. Also, at 35 years old I have been informed by my father that with my back I may not horse ride or go-cart, so there goes half the challenges too.). We spent a few days in the Kruger Park (more on that later) and are now lazing next to the banks of the the Vaal with G&T’s whilst feeding the fish using rods. There has been little time for blogging. And when there has been, I have preferred to use it to read – Kaalkop by Nataniël to be precise so at least I am getting my foodie fix in. Do yourself the favour. Anyhoo, to make up for the lack of posts, herewith a recipe for chicken that my mom made on my last visit home. The original recipe is from the Lifestyle magazine in the Sunday Times but as I was so busy nattering and gulping down ice cold bubbly, I took no notice of what she did really. So I had to sort of chuck in the flavours I remember. The recipe called for a whole chicken stuffed with couscous and took hours to make. This one is done in a jiffy and with drumsticks. It is therefore probably not remotely the same thing, but is a close enough approximation none the less!

Serves 4


2 medium onions, chopped

3 tablespoons oil

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

1/2 cup of raisins or sultanas

1kg chicken pieces

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

125ml chicken broth

2 or 3 tablespoons honey, depending on how sweet you like it

a few saffron threads, steeped in 2 tablespoons of hot water (essential! treat yourself!)

couscous for 4

half a cup of whole almonds, halved

1) Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a pan. Season the onions with salt and pepper and slowly saute until translucent and just, just heading towards a pale golden colour. Add the garlic and cook for another two or three minutes.

2)Transfer to an ovenproof dish big enough to hold the onions and all your chicken. Scatter the raisins over the onions.

3) In the same pan, brown the chicken pieces and place on top of the onions and raisins. Deglaze the pan with a little water and add the juices to the dish.

4) Add the remaining oil to the pan and turn the heat down a little. Add the spices and fry until they start releasing their fragrance. Hum a Bollywood tune. Add the broth, honey and saffron, heat for a minute or two more and pour over the chicken. Bake at 180ºC for 1 hour.

5) Prepare the couscous as per the packet instructions (use a bit of chicken broth instead of just water), stir in the almonds and serve with the chicken. The almonds add a beautiful texture to the dish that I have become totally addicted to!

“Pap & Wors”

“Pap & Wors”

What is it about boerewors that makes it one of the first things South Africans abroad would list when asked what they miss most about home? Like maple syrup, mushy peas and rice noodles, this coriander spiced sausage is one of those dishes that evokes instant images of a nation while simultaneously getting a “meh” from the rest of the world. But for us, boerewors is short winters and long summers, relaxed braais in the sunshine, friends around a fire, cheering for the Boks (or lately, crying together about them) and tapping our feet to “Spirit of the great heart” playing on a loop in our heads. It’s on our whittled down list of 100 reasons why we stay despite the crooks, crime and corruption. Like Africa, it’s in my blood and impossible to forget when I leave it behind. And weirdly, when I am away from home I even start missing things I never even liked at home! Like pap tert. I can’t stand pap tert. But suddenly I really, really wanted pap tert & wors. In China. Needless to say, it’s not big there. But I could easily get everything I needed to create a close approximation without having to try and explain  pig intestines to the butcher. That would’ve been fun. This was the result: A kind of posher version of pap en wors (or at least as posh as meatballs can be). Our Tanzanian correspondent believes that this dish is an abomination. Pap should always be pap and should not be poshed up. I can only think of two reasons why she feels this way: a) she hasn’t tried it and b) her mother’s pap lasagne has ruined fusion South African cuisine for her forever. If it helps, then think of it as meatballs and cornbread. Better now, isn’t it? When done this way, the cornbread is very light and crumbly and the bottom bit soaks up the tomato and onion sauce. It’s like krummel pap en sous and that lovely little crunchy bit you get at the bottom of a pot of mieliepap that everyone fights over at the end of a meal! Personally, I thought it was genius.

Serves 4 with ease


For the Ishibo (tomato and onion sauce)

If you can get your hands on a tin of Ishibo then, well, then you’re probably in SA and your car is being stolen from the supermarket parking lot. But chin up because at least you don’t have to chop up onions! If you don’t have Ishibo, fry a chopped onion until translucent, add a tin of chopped tomatoes, salt and pepper and simmer for thirty minutes. If the mixture become too dry, just add a little water. Set aside.

For the sausage mixture:

If you have boerewors, just remove the meat from the sausage casings and shape into meatballs. Otherwise, read on.

750g beef (“beef” is pretty much what we can get in Qingpu, but a well matured chunk would be better)
350g fatty pork
20ml ground coriander, or more to taste – this is what puts the boer in boerewors
10ml salt
a bit of black pepper
5ml brown sugar
45ml dark vinegar (I used Zhenjian aromatic vinegar, but brown spirit vinegar would be perfect)

2 tablespoons oil


1) In a food processor, mince the beef and pork. Don’t make it too fine – a bit of texture is good.

2) Combine the meat and the rest of the sausage ingredients well and shape into meatballs slightly bigger than golf balls.

3) Brown the meatballs in the oil and place in a single layer in a baking dish. Squish if necessary. Pour over the tomato sauce. This can be done ahead of time and the whole lot stuck in the fridge till you’re ready to bake the bread.

For the corn bread:

(This recipe doesn’t make the type of cornbread needed to satisfy the average Paula Deen fan. It’s more like a crumbly, extremely generously proportioned crust.)

80 ml butter, melted

2 tablespoons sugar

2 eggs

3/4 cup (190ml) flour

3/4 cup (190ml) yellow cornmeal (In China, find it in the aisle with the dried vegetables and legumes. It’s grittier than regular cornmeal, but in my opinion that improves the texture of this dish. Don’t get something too fine, as your bread will be too dense.)

2 heaped teaspoons baking powder

2ml salt

100 milk


1) Preheat oven to 180ºC.

2) Beat together the butter and sugar and add the eggs one at a time. Sift together the flour and baking powder and add the cornmeal and salt.

3) Combine the egg mixture, flour mixture and milk and stir to create a thick, but pourable batter.

4) Pour the batter over the meatballs and bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. 35 minutes or so.

Pour yourself a glass of wine, eat up and think of home! Meanwhile, that’s exactly where I am, so I’ll be having a bit of the real thing for lunch!

Guest Post: The good girl’s guide to chicken livers.

Guest Post: The good girl’s guide to chicken livers.

By Rachel Carlin

It turns out Pringles are not the only thing that once you pop you can’t stop. Since popping my cherry, every time I so much as make a slice of toast, I am talking myself through it and seeing the process in print. As I firmly believe life is too short to ever eat bad food, or drink instant coffee for that matter, this “what will I blog next” question has taken over my life.

Living in the tropics, with manly man frequently off assembling big manly equipment, I am usually in the position to have chick food. This is not the corn and grain variety, or questionable substances if the sources of anti-battery farming are to be believed, but rather girly food, essentially salad. I am not one of these girls who has bought into the no carb after stupid o’clock diet. I have also never bought into one lettuce leaf and a murmur of carrot salad. So, I created THE SALAD OF CHAMPIONS.

A quick side note. My mobile phone provider gives 200, yes two hundred, free local texts a day. Texting is my communication mode. I seldom require a reply and have been known to reach close to 200 LOCAL texts in a day (this excludes bbm’s, whatsapp messages and international texts). Did I mention I run my own business?

So, due to this texting habit, I know what all my friends are having for dinner every night. And I am a bit competitive so I like to believe, even if it’s just in my head, that I am winning. It is sometimes challenging to remain loyal to TSOC, but I do. My dearest friend and next door neighbour was having chicken livers for dinner and coincidentally so was I. Sadly I knew hers would be the yummy restaurant variety with the cream and rich sauce lovingly mopped up with chapattis. Mine unfortunately would be the healthy variety, ten days until my trip to Switzerland and trying to store up negative calories to use on cheese fondue and hot chocolate being the driving force.

So here goes:

Chicken livers for good girls

2 garlic cloves minced.

1 onion thinly sliced

1 250g punnet of chicken livers washed, cut into the same size pieces (so they all cook at the same rate) and any bits that don’t look like liver removed. This is particularly icky, I find playing cheesy 80’s rock at full volume and singing along makes this a lot more tolerable.

½ cup of white wine – I have finally become an adult and will not drink bad wine. I froze, yes froze, not inhaled, wine I wouldn’t drink brought to a party and used that. I am still not convinced of the whole “do not cook with wine you wouldn’t drink” movement. Basically when you cook with wine, the alcohol burns off and yes, you are left with some toxins, but surely you eat some E numbers now and again. The beauty of cooking with wine is it is fat free, no need for butter or oil, and even olive oil, is still oil and using up the not good stuff means there is more of the good stuff left to enjoy the way it was intended. Cheers!

1 tablespoon of red chilli paste or if you are a martyr, finally slice a red chilli and remember not to touch your face.

A nice handful of parsley finely sliced

Salt and pepper to taste.


Pour the wine into the pan and bring to a gentle boil.

Add the garlic and onions: sadly these won’t caramelise due to lack of fat, but pour another glass of wine and enjoy calories spent elsewhere.

Once softened (roughly 3 minutes) add the livers and let them do their thing.

Add the chilli and a good grind of salt and pepper.

Let this simmer along nicely and assemble the salad.

I go for red pepper, yellow pepper, cucumber, cherry tomatoes and a mixed lettuce bag. Toss them all up, dress if you must and add a carb. Couscous is a great one, as is just cooked baby potatoes which was tonight’s carb of choice.

Add the parsley to the livers. Pour yourself another glass of wine and toast the magnificence that is you cooking with fresh herbs! I firmly believe in celebrating all of life’s small victories.Pour over the livers, for one you only need 1/3 and the rest is freezer friendly for a Sunday breakfast when manly man is back. Served on toast with poached eggs and large Bloody Mary’s, but more on that next time.


Mooncakes with multiple layers
Thousand layer mooncakes.

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.)

Bread mooncake

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.

Image courtesy The Shanghaiist.

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.

Homemade granola

Homemade granola

Breakfast is a bit of a challenge in China if you’re not near a shop that sells expat goods. You can get the odd cereal, but they’re more into congee and noodles with their morning cuppa. Lucky for you, you’re a thrifty little homemaker, and all the ingredients to make your own granola are readily available. And you don’t need to be Martha Stewart to make this either. It takes all of 5 minutes to prepare, and then just let the oven do the rest!

Homemade granola

Makes 3 cups


2 1/2 cups raw oats

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon (or to taste)

1/2 cup of nuts (I used almonds)

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

5 tablespoons honey


1) Preheat the oven to 100ºC. (If you’re using a little toaster oven, which if you’re a temporary citizen you probably are, make it 120. Don’t be impatient and set it too high or you’ll burn the nuts. You don’t want burnt nuts). Scatter the oats in a baking tray. Sprinkle with the salt, cinnamon and nuts and stir through.

2) In a little bowl, melt the butter and add the oil and honey. Pour over the oats.

3) Stir the honey mixture into the oats. This is about the minimum amount of mixture you would need to get good coverage without it getting to fatty or sweet. Yes, I realise there is no such thing as “TOO fatty or sweet”, but it’s breakfast, so let’s try to start the day right, okay?  It won’t look like enough in the beginning, but just keep stirring till it’s all coated and trust that it is enough. If you want more butter and honey, add as much as you like.

4) Place in the oven and toast until golden brown and crunchy, about 90 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Of jellyfish, old eggs and other things to eat.

Of jellyfish, old eggs and other things to eat.
Century eggs with soy sauce

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!

I think these might be off, but how would you even know??

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.

Preserved quail eggs at a market.

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.

Looks good right? I’d klap that with a 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!

Chinese dinner table etiquette: A novel in one part.

Chinese dinner table etiquette: A novel in one part.

The seat of honour.

It has been a weekend of firsts for me. My first taste of century egg, first chicken foot, first frog, first panda pig (although I didn’t realise it at the time, despite the meat being so tender it virtually dissolved in my mouth), first jellyfish and first hairy crab (which I didn’t have to kill myself!). More importantly, I got to experience three distinctly different dinners with the generous people of this country. As the current project nears its end in Shanghai, we had the obligatory celebration parties. Friday with the client and top management (it’s a great industry to be in when the client pays for dinner!), Saturday  with the rest of the staff – everyone from the laundry lady to the mechanic and finally, last night, with the client, his family and friends. What a fantastic experience! Even though this was not my first night out with the locals, it was the first time I made a point of observing the similarities and differences in traditions, manners and customs between these three very different groups of people. Dinner in China can be a bit daunting. It is often held in a private dining room in a restaurant, which really puts you in the spotlight a bit. There are no crying babies or waitresses dropping things to distract other people when the pork you just tried to pick up goes skidding across the table like a little soy sauce covered bobsledder. And when you are there with the “important” people, it gets even more nerve wracking. Where do you sit? Where will the boss sit? What rituals should you follow? Will you be expected to bow without falling over or catch a fly with your chopsticks to prove your worth or spit on the floor to fit in? What if you comment that you’re a fan of Toyota and single-handedly bring an end to all future business dealings? But I realised very quickly that none of this is important. Food is a great equiliser and our hosts (and by hosts I mean of the country and not necessarily of the meal) were more concerned that we were having a good time and enjoying what they had ordered for us than whether we could handle our chopsticks like a boss. That said, learning a little bit about what to expect and what is expected of you when attending a dinner is just good manners. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery after all.

For the most part all the general rules of polite behaviour apply and where you are and who you are eating with will determine to a great extend which customs you should honour. The more formal the occasion, the stricter the protocol. On Friday night when the client was entertaining business associates, most of the procedures below were followed. On Saturday night… well… if people are falling off their chairs drunk then you can be sure no one gives a crap whether you took the last crab for yourself and on Sunday with the family and friends, it really was just like your average family dinner at home. You’d have Aunt Marge who would glare down her nose at you if you put your elbows on the table, but you’d also have loud Uncle Al who spits his bones out straight into his plate and chews with his mouth open. When in doubt, take your cue from the people around you and err on the side of propriety. Here are (quite) a few things to remember:

Meeting and greeting:

– As with any dinner, show up on time and dress well. You will feel more comfortable delicately spitting out that piece of pickled jellyfish into your napkin when no one is watching if you’re wearing heels and something pretty when everyone else is in jeans than if you’ve got your favourite T-shirt on and everyone else is in cuffs and collars. (Obviously if you’re a guy then don’t do the heels and something pretty, unless your host is a lady boy.) As a rule of thumb, if you’ll feel comfortable wearing it to the NG church, you’re probably okay.

– When you enter a room, greet the oldest person first. Remain standing when you are being introduced to someone and don’t take it personally if they don’t look particularly impressed with you as many Chinese are taught not to show too much emotion. Conversely, if you are greeted with applause, don’t assume it’s cause you’re awesome. Just applaud back.

– A good old fashioned handshake is completely okay – no bowing needed. Despite having zero personal space the Chinese are not physical people. Do not hug them or pat them on the back. But as with all good parties, this becomes a moot point when the baijiu starts flowing and the “I love you man” hugs are initiated by your Chinese friends.

– Use the person’s title before their name when addressing them, unless specifically told not to. Even if they’re just introduced as John, you call them Mr. John. Keep in mind that when being introduced to someone, the family name will be mentioned first. So Cheng Gordon becomes Mr. Cheng unless he tells you to call him Gordon. This applies everywhere, no matter how informal the event or what rank the person occupies in the company.

The seating arrangements:

– Wait to be told where to sit by the host and wait for the guest of honour to either sit down first, or to be told by the host to sit down.

– The guest of honour will be given the seat facing the door. This is known as the seat of honour. At more formal occasions that seat’s napkin might also be folded differently to the rest. At a round table the seats on the left hand side of the seat of honour are second, fourth, sixth, etc in importance, while those on the right are third, fifth, seventh and so on in importance, until they join together. At a square table, the right seat facing the door (or East if there is no clear main entrance) is considered the seat of honour.

Utensils and crockery

– Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you can probably use chopsticks to some extent. (They’d also make useful utensils for digging yourself out from under a rock, come to think of it). Even though your host will probably organise knives and forks to make Westerners feel more comfortable, it will be appreciated if you make an effort to fit in with the Chinese way of doing things.

– Never use your chopsticks to pierce food as you would with a fork, but you can use them to break up bigger pieces of food as you would with the side of a spoon. When you aren’t using them, place them on the rests provided  (if none are provided, you are probably in a place that supplies disposable chopsticks so you can use the wrapper they came in to make a makeshift rest). Never stick them standing up in a dish (it is a harbinger of death) and never lick them (unless you are trying on purpose to be suggestive, in which case you better know your audience). Don’t pretend you’re Travis Barker and use them as drumsticks. Don’t use them to make walrus teeth. Don’t use them as sharp poking devices. Just eat with them. Of course, if you’re at the type of party where someone is already dancing on the table, then feel free to play a tune on the table top to provide the beat.

– When you have finished eating, place the chopsticks across the lowest part of your plate, facing left. I found that, as with Westerners who seem to have forgotten how to use their knives and forks to indicate that their meal is done, this doesn’t really happen here either. But it’s the polite thing to do and it makes the server’s job easier, so listen to your mother.

– It is completely acceptable to lift bowls to your mouth when eating rice, noodles, soup or anything else that is messy and can be slurped or shovelled into your mouth. You should hold your bowl with your thumb on the mouth of the bowl with the first finger, middle finger and third finger supporting the bottom of the bowl. Don’t slurp from plates.


– When food is placed in the centre of the table (usually on a revolving tray), it is intended to be shared by everyone at the table. Do not start dishing up until the host or guest of honour has started, or until you have been told to do so by one of them. It is an honour to have someone dish up food for you (especially if it is the host), so be sure to thank them with the necessary respect when they do (also, be sure to come hungry because this tends to happen a lot!). If you are full, leave a little food in your plate otherwise more will be served to you. It is considered an honour to the host to declare that you are full as it indicates that you have been fed well. It is good manners to serve food and tea to those around you before serving yourself. An extra set of chopsticks will usually be placed with the dish to be used for dishing up. Never use your own chopsticks to dish up from a communal dish unless a spare set has not been provided. If you are serving for someone else, use their chopsticks to do so.

– More expensive dishes such as veal, abalone, and rare fish (please forgive me creatures of the Earth!) will be portioned by the servers and served individually to ensure that every person gets a piece. And while on this subject, be prepared for topics of conversation that are generally considered off limits in polite Western circles, such as the cost of the meal. Guests as well as the host will go on about how expensive some of the dishes are. I suppose this could aid in helping you understand how much you are being honoured and appreciate what you’re eating more, but hearing that the 500ml bottle of rice wine opened especially for us cost in excess of RMB5000 (US$800) made it taste no less like rocket fuel. (I don’t actually know what rocket fuel tastes like, but this stuff would power one.)

– You should try everything that is offered to you and you should do it without pulling a face. This is easier said than done. YOU try not pulling a face the first time you have to put century egg in your mouth! Fortunately the guests also tend to get more of a kick out of watching you trying what they know will be weird to you at the less formal dinners and will probably take photos when they think you’re not looking. At a posh dinner, if you really can’t stomach that fish eye, accept it graciously, try and cover it with a bit of bok choy or something and just leave it on your plate. I firmly believe in trying everything at least twice, but even then the left side of my plate is eventually a graveyard of uneaten weirdness. Fortunately, in a good restaurant your plate will be changed for a clean one fairly often.

– Rice or a large pot of noodles is normally served at the end of the meal only, the idea being that you fill up on that should you still be a bit peckish. If you are I suggest a deworming tablet because you are certainly not eating for one then! At most dinners they will order at least the same amount of dishes as the number of guests, plus one. Unless the plus one will result in an uneven number of dishes as that is considered bad luck. Serve the rice or noodles into the little bowl provided, so that it’s easier to eat.

– Do not put bones in your bowl or plate. Place them on the table or in a special bowl for that purpose. Ditto with shells. A typical Chinese table looks like a tiny pet cemetery after a meal with bones and shells everywhere. Last night, bones were being spat straight into plates, so take your cue from fellow diners on this one or just avoid anything with bones (which is virtually impossible).

– You will never find salt and pepper on the table and asking for it is considered rude. Small bowls of soy sauce will most likely be provided and is either used as a sauce dribbled over your food or as a dipping sauce.

– Don’t take the last piece of food from a communal platter. Even though Emsie Schoeman would tell you to leave it as a sign that there was enough food, when in China serve it to someone else. If someone is attempting to give you the last of something, they are trying to honour you.

– Dessert is not really eaten, but you may be served mooncakes or fresh fruit at the end of the meal. Sweet dishes such as lotus root with glutinous rice are served with the rest of the dishes.


– The host begins eating and drinking first, but tea will be served to you the moment you sit down and you can quench your thirst on that so long, so step away from the wine until the boss has his first sip. The host will also be the first to make a toast. Chinese women are not expected to consume alcoholic beverages, but the times they are a’ changing. And even if they haven’t, I tried the damn century egg, so I’m having my wine. Tea cups will never be allowed to run dry so if you don’t want yours refilled leave a little in the bottom. Tapping your teacup is a way of saying thanks.

An evening of toasting.

– Drinking is an important part of Chinese entertaining and is a universal ice breaker. The drinking officially begins after the host offers a short toast to the group. Thereafter, the rest of the evening is spent “honouring” each guest by toasting them. Individuals, couples or groups will spend the entire evening moving around the table to drink with everyone else at the table and you are expected to return the favour. So do the math. You will drink at least twice with each person. In fact, you should honour the same person twice in one evening as it is considered good luck for that person. So that’s four times per person. When you are toasting with 56%vol baijiu this is bad, bad news indeed. If you can’t move around the table, simply making eye contact and raising your glass is sufficient. When toasting with the whole table, glasses are tapped on the table top before drinking as a substitute for clinking glasses. When toasting with an individual, touching glasses with your rim lower than theirs is a sign of respect.

– If the toaster says “gan bei” then it’s bottoms up, so try and keep your glass on the empty side. Yeah right. Good luck with that.

– Do not pour your own drink and feel free to tell the host when you feel you have had enough. Expect such pleas to fall on deaf ears at the more informal parties (it’s sort of like a Friday night braai back home really). If you are not a drinker, claim that it is so for health reasons rather than moral ones. While it is not advisable to get drunk at a posh party, inebriation is encouraged at the informal ones and the booze will typically not stop flowing until at least one important guest has fallen over (I have not been able to verify the veracity of this statement, but after witnessing this for three years running, my husband guarantees me it is so. And as we had to carry one of our party up to his room on Friday night, I have to believe it is true).


– Respect rank and seniority. Serve food to the more important guests first. Again, this falls apart at an informal dinner. There, just about the only rule is to not be stingy when filling the guy you’re clinking with’s glass.

– If you are going to smoke, offer a cigarette to others. It is not customary in China for smokers to first ask whether smoking is okay before lighting up. Just smile and hope your asthma inhaler still has a few pumps in it for when you get home.

– Use an open hand instead of a finger to point and gesture.

– Burping, spitting and other yucky bodily functions: This is one thing that I will never get used to here. Dainty little ladies burp like troopers and just about everyone spits wherever they please. You are not likely to encounter spitting at a posh dinner, but don’t be surprised if someone hucks one back and spits right there on the dining room floor at a more informal evening. Burping and slurping are not considered rude and will even be used as an indication that someone is enjoying their food with gusto. I’m not sure what our char’s excuse is for letting them off every two minutes while she’s cleaning.

As for the rest, eat with your mouth closed, don’t stuff your mouth too full and generally follow the usual etiquette for polite eating. Remember that your hosts are also quite aware that you have different customs, so they’re probably far less concerned about your getting it right than you are. What matters to them most is that you enjoy the evening, show your appreciation and honour your fellow guests.

Flick through the gallery for images of some of the stranger dishes you might encounter at a Chinese dinner party. Rest assured that the good old standby’s such as prawns, ribs, stir fries and recognisable vegetables will also be in plentiful supply. I have not necessarily used the names off menus (you probably won’t even get to see one anyway, as the host will order), but with names like “Impregnable chicken wings”, “The wild germ hates soup with crisp skin” and “The chicken has no sexual experience” (petit poussin to you), the menu won’t help you much anyway. Hosts are sensitive to our different eating habits, but you should still expect to encounter a few doozies, especially when eating with the average guy on the street.

Homemade hamburger buns

Homemade hamburger buns

You know how sometimes you need a hug from that one person? Not just any person. A specific person. It seems in that moment like it’s the only thing that will make you feel better. You might get a hundred hugs from other people, but it just isn’t the comfort and snugglyness you are looking for and it just feels a bit, well, flat really. Well I feel the same way about hamburger buns. I’m very particular, and when I’m craving a soft, squishy, yeasty bun nothing else will do. Now as any red-blooded bread-o-phile will know, indulging our particular passion in China is easier said than done. The Chinese like their bread on the sweet and cakey side and even though a growing number of patisseries are now starting to cater for those who like a more chewy, yeasty bread, they normally take the form of baguettes or ciabattas. Hamburger and hot dog buns are still a rarity. Fortunately, you can find everything you need for baking your own rolls at most supermarkets. If, like me, you have given up on finding yeast, fear not! I found it in the aisle next to the peanut butter and mayo. Go figure.

This recipe makes the perfect hamburger bun. To my taste anyway. Like that essential hug they are firm with just the right amount of give to make them squishy, they smell wonderful and they aren’t crusty. Erm. Okay, the similarity probably ended with smelling lovely. This recipe was shamelessly copied from Serious Eats, without changing a thing (other than replacing the dry milk with 4 heaped tablespoons of Cremora as I did not have milk powder on hand). For these burgers I made a few pure beef patties, a creamy basil pesto sauce and some mixed root vegetable fries. Who says money can’t buy happiness?

Makes 12


  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (37°C)
  • 2/3 cup instant nonfat dry milk
  • 1/3 cup melted butter, cooled
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • one package of active dry yeast
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • oil, for bowl
  • 2 tablespoons milk


1)      Place the warm water, dry milk, butter, and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and stir to combine. Sprinkle the yeast over the mixture, whisk, and let stand until yeast is foamy, about 10 minutes.

2)      Add egg, 1 egg yolk, 2 cups flour and salt. Whisk until smooth. Add 2 1/2 cups flour and stir with a wooden spoon. When mixture becomes too thick to stir, use your hands. Add up to another 1/2 cup flour until dough is tacky when pinched but not sticky. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for a few minutes. Let stand 10 minutes.

3)      Knead dough again until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Punch down dough and divide in half. Cut each half into sixths and form flattened balls. Arrange buns 3 inches apart on oiled baking sheets. Cover and let stand until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

4)      Preheat the oven to 200°C. Whisk remaining egg yolk and milk and brush egg wash lightly over buns. Bake until golden and hollow sounding when tapped, 13 to 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

On hairy crabs: My dismal failure

On hairy crabs: My dismal failure

I was going to do it. I really, really was. Last night was the night I was going to buy, render unconscious and cook the flavour of the month: shanghai hairy crabs. These burrowing crabs, also known as mitten crabs, are so named for their furry claws that look like mittens. Come Autumn, these crabs hit the streets. Not in their finest gear, ready to party the night away, but fighting for space in green nylon bags in every smelly wet market and on various street corners throughout the city. People get totally crab bedonderd round about now. And naturally, I had to partake in the festivities! Live like the natives and all. So yesterday, full of bravado, I headed for the wet market ready to hunt down and bring home all the makings of a fine Shanghai meal. Well. If the first thing out of your mouth when you see your dinner is “Awwwwwww”, you know it’s probably going to be McDonald’s for you. I mean, they’re just so cute! They really look like little green alien babies, trying to keep their claws warm in little furry mittens. Once a crab has the dubious honour of being selected as chow, the stall (2 polystyrene coolers and maybe a scale) holder deftly grabs it out of the bag, folds in the legs and binds the whole thing with twine so that it can’t make a quick getaway. The entire process takes all of 5 seconds. I asked the friendly, elegantly dressed customer next to me how much they cost and she said RMB6 for one. (At least, I think that’s what she said? It was either that or “Sharp, my bru”, the hand signal for which is the same as 6 in China). That’s less than a dollar a crab. Damn, that’s cheap! They’re looking tastier already. And a local had told me the price, so there would be no laowai tax imposed. Being ripped off was another concern. (I am the world’s worst haggler. Once, in a market in Bangkok, I had already “negotiated” the price for a dress and upon handing the money over, the guy actually gave me a few baht back with a pitying look on his face!). But that was now taken care of. There really were no more excuses left, so it was time to choose which crabs I wanted. Now, here stories will differ depending on who you ask. The other customer would say it is all my imagination and she didn’t see a thing, but I swear, the first crab I picked up looked up at me with dark, sad eyes (just like Puss-in-Boots if his eyes had been on stalks), and it’s lower lip started quivering, tiny bubbles frothing out of it’s mouth like a death rattle. A tiny, furry claw reached out to me as if to gently touch my cheek, and I swear I could hear a little chorus of voices pleading “You are our only hope.” I gently placed the crab back where I found it, muttered something about it still being a long way to Qingpu, and shuffled off with my tail between my legs.

Fortunately, there’s a McDonald’s right at the bus stop on my way home.

But no worries! I awoke with new gusto this morning. A steadfast determination to make these crabs my bitch. The way I figured it was thus: The sooner I ensure the untimely demise of 6 of these crustaceans, the sooner I will be relieving them of their misery. Right? I mean, at least they won’t land up in a live hairy crab vending machine, destined to wait it out in a 5 degree fridge till someone with a few yuan comes along and pulls the lever, right? Right. This would be a good thing. I would be doing my share to make the world a better place. I decided that instead of braving the sad faces in the wet market, I would head to my nearest supermarket. Here the crab is kept cold, so they’re already in a state of semi-hibernation, and so would be less likely to make a last stand. Sure enough, hairy crab was the first thing I saw as I got to the fish counter. (It was also almost four times the price for the same size as the previous day’s leading me to wonder whether the helpful shopper really was just saying “Sharp my bru.”). Already trussed up and nestled in still rows on a bed of ice, it was easy to tell myself they were already dead. All I had to do was see who the little boys are and who the little girls are to ensure I get three of each. You see, the battle of the crab sexes is a hotly debated topic in Shanghai, with long arguments over decimated piles of crab over which sex has the sweetest meat and richest roe. The females usually win out, but I had to try for myself. So, all self congratulatory because I know to look for these differences before making my purchase, I picked up a crab and flipped it over… The crab was not dead. It was not even sleeping. Two little black eyes stared up at me as a wayward leg came loose from the twine. Flailing it’s furry mitten around wildly the little chap (or chick, I didn’t even get a chance to look) shouted “She’s saved me! I’m free!” before it tried to air swim away. Okay, not really. But it might as well have for how it made me feel like I’m the world’s worst human being, single-handedly responsible for the sad depletion of our oceans. I tucked the little leg back in the twine, put him back on his ice bed while muttering an apology to him, his brethren and their lady friends, and slunk off to the butchery.

So I am left shamefacedly writing this post, drowning my sorrows in a glass of whiskey while my husband cooks the neatly packaged pork rashers I bought as a substitute. I guess drunken shrimp is off the menu then.

Guest Post: A Trifling Matter in Tanzania

Guest Post: A Trifling Matter in Tanzania

When my favourite married-on girl cousin in all the world told me she was making a trifle with what she considered to be a jelly flop (a recipe gone wrong, not a chubby person diving), I said she should write down the process and guest blog for me. She is, after all, everything I am failing miserably to be: A strong, independent woman who packed it all up, headed north into Africa and started her own school in Dar es Salaam (to date, I have only ticked off the “packed it all up” bit). And she’s a fabulous cook. If that is not an expat surviving in a foreign country (and doing it well) then I don’t know what is! For that braveness alone, she is my hero. What a joy to wake this morning and find this in my inbox!

By Rachel Carlin

It started when I started my own business. It all became too much. I needed something to take my mind off the gazillion things I had not completed in the 24 short hours in a day. Everyone needs a release, a vice, something that takes the edge off. I turned to baking. Living and loving it in Dar es Salaam, baking was not the obvious choice of emotional release as most ingredients needed are imported and so are 3 times the cost of what they are back home and there is not a constant supply of ingredients. Still, I figured this was a cheaper option than developing a crack habit.

The other problem is I live alone and like any mid thirty year old woman, I watch what I eat and I also do not have a wild love for confectionery so not only do I bake but then I hand out the baked good. I like to think of myself as Robin Hood meets Delia Smith. The only problem is everyone knows my baking is associated with some emotional melt down and the more elaborate the dish, the bigger the melt down. My neighbour now greets my arrival with baked goods with an “Oh no, what now?”.

This week’s culinary adventure was not brought on by an emotional breakdown. It was inspired by two simple facts: a bottle of pink JC le Roux I was unsure what to do with as cannot drink it, and a man returning from a trip of doing manly things and needing some bed bait.

The obvious choice for the pink bubbly was champagne jelly. I have never tasted this and could not understand how it works. For a smart, post graduate educated woman, I can be surprisingly dumb. I somehow thought the jelly would contain the bubbles. How or why I thought this, I do not know, but in case there are others like me, let me just clear it up, it doesn’t. I also referred to Anthony Worral Thompson’s recipe on the BBC food website. Silly for two reasons: Reason 1:  Wozza has been caught shop lifting due to the recession and is clearly not the way forward and reason 2: as my favourite food critic told me it was a rookie mistake to make a dessert listed as “low fat”. But I did and I made it and was disappointed. Instead of the melt in the mouth bubbly light (and low fat) dessert I had hoped for,  I ended up with ming. The taste resembled a stew that had the red wine added too late, so an overpowering taste of raw alcohol and nothing else. But there was no meat taste, thank heavens.

I unfortunately believe in throwing good money after bad and as I did not know what to do with this quivering thigh resembling thing in my fridge I thought, hmmm, why not make a trifle. Disguise it as something else and others would be tricked. Only problem, I hate trifle. The components are from the nursery, and assembling baby food and calling it a dessert is a shameful cop out. Also, I was unsure what to do with the finished product. Manly man missed various planes, trains and automobiles, so was not going to be here for this delight. Trifle is not fence sitting material. You either love it (I ended a relationship due to his love of this gloop, and my mother’s version at that) or hate it due to a refined palate. But making it is fun, especially if you are an over-achieving, middle child, attention seeker. And being me, I decided the challenge would be (ming) trifle from scratch.

I am also a shameless culinary name dropper and will always say it is Jamie’s soup or Delia’s pâté or Nigella’s butter laden, cardiac arrest causing risotto. In my head we are all on first name terms. So, I obviously use AWT’s champage jelly, Jamie’s Victoria sponge (only made half the recipe) and the River Cafe crème anglaise and then assembled. Whipped cream on the top was all my own.

I have dispatched this piece de resistance to the Little Theatre where (other) manly men are building the set of We Will Rock  You, the musical. They might not be the connoisseurs I was hoping for, or the thank you from my manly man I was hoping for, but they appreciate anything, being manly men, and my concoction has found a happy home.

To make the pink champagne jelly trifle

Where it began: Pink champagne jelly

1) Soak 6 leaves of gelatine in cold water for 5 minutes.

2) Open the bottle of pink bubbles and pour into a large freezer proof bowl. If you are so inclined, by all means have a glass and toast your own fabulousness.

3) Add 100g of caster sugar, again not an exact science, more if you like it sweeter, ummm less if you don’t.

4) After 5 minutes, squeeze the gelatine leaves, place in a small pan and heat gently with a bit of the bubbly until completely melted.

5) Add some more of the bubbly to the pan, a fair amount to get all the gelatine absorbed and back to room temperature. This step is important because if you pour the melted gelatine straight into the cold or even room temperature liquid it will become a small horrid mass that you can’t do anything with. This learning curve happened about a year ago.

6) Place in the fridge and allow to set. Depending on your fridge and the quality of gelatine, I would safely say overnight, but perhaps you could have it set in 4 – 6 hours.

7) Once you are ready for the trifle, prepare half a batch of Jamie’s Classic Victorian Sponge. Bake and allow to cool.

8) Next make River Café’s crème anglaise:

400ml Double cream
125ml Milk
1 Vanilla pod
4 Eggs, organic
90g Caster sugar

– Separate the eggs.

– Cut the vanilla pod in half lengthways and scrape out the seeds.

– In a thick-bottomed pan, combine the milk, vanilla seeds and cream. Cook until just boiling.

– Beat the egg yolks and sugar until pale and thick.

– Pour the warm cream/milk slowly into the egg yolks and stir.

– Return to the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly.

– When it is almost at boiling point, remove from heat. If it boils, the sauce will curdle. Set aside to cool

In a serving bowl, layer the cake, jelly, some fresh raspberries and creme anglaise and top with fresh whipped cream.
*And interesting side line. I have never made creme anglaise custard before. I am also in the middle of my Jodi Picoult fest and the book I am currently reading is Handle with Care. The mother (because there is always a mother in these books) used to be a pastry chef. Each chapter starts with a baking technique explained. How fortuitous that the first technique was tempering which means to heat slowly and gradually. You temper eggs by adding hot liquids, a little at a time. This was a very important tip for me, as I would have tried to add the eggs to the milk, despite being told not to, just out of laziness. Also, I would not have done it slowly as I am impatient. Who would have thought, Jodi Picoult teaching more than moral dilemmas about children?

Creamy chicken pasta with basil pesto and (homemade) sundried tomatoes

Creamy chicken pasta with basil pesto and (homemade) sundried tomatoes

Necessity is most definitely the mother of invention. And when you live in China, but steadfastly insist on eating like you’re still back home, you have to get inventive pretty damn quick. Shanghai is an amazing city to live in. You can immerse yourself in Chinese culture, customs, life and food or you can go for days here without living in China. If you know where to look, you can get your hands on pretty much every comfort from home. But as Qingpu is the Western most district in Shanghai, getting a sudden craving for one of my favourite Verdicchio’s pastas could easily result in a three hour round trip to track down the ingredients. Take sun-dried tomatoes. They may be soooo 1990, but when no one is watching, we all still love them. But when I wanted to whip up this sun-dried tomato containing pasta a little while ago, I quickly realised that the Chinese are very à la mode, because I couldn’t find them anywhere. What to do? Even if I had a lovely, sunny patio, the searing temperatures and high humidity meant I’d be left with a scene more resembling a week old DB on CSI than anything you’d want to chop up with some chicken. So I settled for the next best thing – tomatoes completely untouched by the sun, but still oh so good. Possibly better, actually.

To make the oven dried tomatoes I halved about 750g of fairly large (for a cocktail) cocktail tomatoes, sprinkled them liberally with salt – about 1 tablespoon full – and placed them in a strainer for an hour so that any excess juices could be extracted. Then I arranged the tomatoes cut side up on an oven tray and left them in the fridge for a few hours to dry out further. (Overnight would be even better.) I then baked them in a 100ºC oven for three to four hours, until they had more than halved in size. I didn’t dry them till they were completely devoid of any moisture. Instead, I stopped when they were still slightly plump. More like a sun-blushed tomato (and therefor once again fashionable). And oh, my, word. They were fabulous! So much flavour and none of those icky chewy bits you get in bags of sun-dried tomatoes. Keep in mind that because these tomatoes aren’t completely dried out, they need to be refrigerated and will last for up to a week. But they freeze like a dream too.

Once I had my tomatoes sorted I could make my chicken pasta with sundried tomatoes and basil pesto.

1) Slice two chicken breasts into strips, dust with seasoned flour and brown in a bit of oil till almost done, but still slightly pink.

2) Add two cloves of crushed garlic and stir through for a minute. Glug in a bit of white wine if you have on hand, but don’t worry if you don’t.

3) Pour in 200ml cream.

3) Add about three quarters of a cup of sundried tomatoes (less if you’re using very dehydrated ones), roughly chopped, and 3 heaped tablespoons of basil pesto. Allow to simmer till slightly thickened, adjust seasoning and serve tossed with penne or your favourite pasta. Loads of flavour with minimum effort. This sauce goes particularly well with gnocchi.

Oven dried tomatoes: Before and after.

My food photography has been really shite of late. Fluorescent hotel lighting, tiny Chinese plates bought from an alley shop and laminated table tops sans props do not make for good food styling opportunities. My husband has suggested trying something completely different. Like balancing a plate of food on a Pilates ball (or my head) for interest. While I don’t want to knock down any of his ideas, I think I’ll just stick to crappy shots of badly lit food. At least you get the idea, right?

Tucking into Shanghai Street Food

Tucking into Shanghai Street Food

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.

Sichuan Style Braised Eggplant

Sichuan Style Braised Eggplant

I have been trying to diet. Really I have. But after one week, the only thing I have managed to lose is my sense of humour. It might be so that 25 is the new 35,  but my face didn’t get the memo and neither did my body.  To be fair, I was warned about this by those older and wiser than me: When you hit 35, things will go a bit pear shaped. Or, more accurately, apple shaped. The answer to “Where did my twenties go?” is indeed “Straight to your muffin top, dearie”. But I didn’t really believe them. How do you go from one shape to the next overnight? And yet it seems like that is exactly what happened. One minute I was worrying about how best to hide my saddle bags and the next thing I knew I had a fanny pack I had to camouflage. Of course it doesn’t help that I have a few things conspiring against me: Firstly, there is limited height into which I can fit any excess weight. Secondly, I have bad knees and a bad back which means many exercises are verboten. (I am possibly the only person in the history of the world who, as a little girl, had to face the humility of failing grade 1 ballet because my teacher, Miss Hazel, didn’t think my legs could handle moving to grade 2 yet. I don’t think “loser” adequately conveys the extent to which you are a sporting failure if you can’t pass first grade ballet!) And lastly – and here is the clincher, possibly exacerbating all of the above – I don’t like veggies. At least, not the type of veggies that are good for you in any way. Caramelised in butter and sugar like the Afrikaners like to do them? Sure! Drenched in a creamy, cheesy sauce? Sure! Steamed and healthy? Not so much. So it came as quite a surprise to me when I thoroughly enjoyed a plate of braised aubergines on a trip to Zhujiajiao recently. Granted, in one dish there is probably more sugar than in a Twinkie and more salt than in John McEnroe’s headband, but at least it’s a vegetable and it’s low in fat. The problem with eating anything in China worth writing about though, is that the recipe of said dish has inevitably been passed down from generation to generation and is a secret guarded more closely than the identity of the Stig. Of course that means that I simply have to wait for a disgruntled ex-employee to spill the beans in an otherwise boring book, or I could consult the world’s greatest oracle. So to Google we go! This recipe has been adapted from Bland veggies like aubergine and courgettes work well to absorb the flavoursome sauce, but it would work just as well with peppers and onions.

Sichuan Style Braised Eggplant

Serves 4

750g aubergine

1/4 cup Shaoxing rice wine (I felt a bit lost in front of the rows and rows of rice wine in the shop, so eventually settled for the prettiest bottle, which turned out to be green plum wine. Oops. If you can’t get your hands on Shaoxing wine, you can use Japanese sake or dry sherry or even dry white wine. When using the latter, add a little more sugar during the cooking process.

1 heaped tablespoon of Sichuan fermented chilli-bean paste (It’s a lot yummier than it sounds! If you can’t get your hands on it, use equal parts sweet chilli sauce and hoisin sauce and reduce the sugar by half a teaspoon)

2 teaspoons flour

3/4 cup chicken stock (or substitute with mushroom or veggie stock)

2 tablespoons dark mushroom soy sauce (I love the almost cloying richness of mushroom soy sauce, but you can substitute with 3 tablespoons of regular soy sauce)

2 tablespoons of Zhenjian aromatic vinegar (substitute with equal parts Balsamic and white wine vinegar)

2 tablespoons of sugar

2 tablespoons of ginger, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

4 spring onions, sliced and whites and greens kept seperate

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1) Slice the veggies into battons, roughly 2 x 2 x 6cm’s. Steam the pieces in a bamboo steamer (or pot) until tender, about 15 minutes.

2) Combine the Shaoxing wine and flour in a medium bowl and whisk. Add the stock, bean paste, soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar and whisk to combine. Combine ginger, garlic, spring onion whites, and chilies in a small bowl.

3) Heat  the oil in a wok over medium heat. Add the ginger mixture and stir fry until aromatic. (At this point I like to switch the heat off for a minute and just sniff the heavenly aroma of garlic and ginger cooking together. But I can be a bit weird, so don’t feel you need to do this.) Add eggplant and toss to combine. Add sauce mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Stir in the spring onions, and serve immediately. Serve with fluffy rice to soak up all the sauce.

Green plum wine – too pretty to ignore.

De Oude Bank Bakkerij

De Oude Bank Bakkerij

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.

Tel: +27 21 883 2187

Pierneef à la Motte

Pierneef à la Motte

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!

Pierneef à la Motte is a bright and beautiful restaurant with spectacular food, an impressive wine list and a deck that will make you forget that you’ve already been out there for hours and you need to go home at some point. Dining here feels like you’re having lunch in an effortlessly stylish friend’s home. You know, those friends who have so much money that they can turn delicate dinner ware into beautifully unique chandeliers and have people serving them lunch and refilling their glasses? Yeah, I don’t have them either. But you can come here and pretend that you do! The Cape Winelands cuisine is inspired by the seasons and is a fusion of traditional South African fare with an international twist – think bokkom salad with quail eggs and almonds, for example. The flavours are bold and in your face, making liberal use of perfectly balanced herbs and spices. The honey glazed snoek salad with salted cashew and pumpkin brittle was properly moreish. I mean come on, cashew brittle? How do you stop wanting more cashew brittle? But the dish that I can’t stop thinking about is the warm quail and orecchiette pasta salad with smoked pork lardo and almond ginger sauce, amongst a melange of other flavours that somehow just worked perfectly together. Seriously, if the Chinese could taste how chef Chris Erasmus combines Asian flavours with creamy Italian pasta I would not struggle so much to buy dairy products there! The slow cooked Karoo lamb shin and mushroom risotto just oozed flavour and the crayfish ravioli with a coconut and saffron velouté was light and delicate. We were positively stuffed by the time dessert came around, but in order to be thorough for this write up, we soldiered on and after just sipping more bubbly for a bit we eventually settled on sharing the warm, bittersweet Valrhona chocolate tart wiith peanut butter mousse, candy floss and cherry syrup dipped peanut truffles. I don’t really need to say more do I? No wait. I will. Have it just for the mousse, even if you think you can’t eat another bite. I’m not a fan of that light, sorry-excuse-for-a-dessert mousse, but this stuff was I-wish-this-will-stick-to-my-palate-forever good.

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.

Telephone:  +27 21 876 8000
Restaurant: pierneef(at)
Tasting room: tasting(at)

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.

Quirky Café Juno

Quirky Café Juno

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.

Café Juno

191 Main Road



Telephone: +27  21 872 0697

Email: info(at)

website: /

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Anyone who has ever had the success rate with rice paper wrappers that I used to have has probably already navigated away from the page in total disgust, trying to erase the nightmarish visions of gloopy sheets of glutinous slop sticking to the bottom of the pan, the side of the pan, the slotted spoon in the pan and everything else within a 3 meter radius. The end result of trying to make anything with rice paper is usually a pitiful little clump of oil logged veggies with a shredded piece of wrapper stuck pathetically to one end, clinging on for dear life like a snotty tissue. Enter the chef on board one of the Bhaya Cruises vessels to clear up all the confusion in a cooking class on deck. What I thought was revelation shining down on me in amber hued rays as we cruised around Hulong Bay in Vietnam turned out to be just a break in the passing storm cloud, but the discovery was no less eye opening. Why, why, why has everyone always said you must dip the wrappers in a bowl of water? Worst. Idea. Ever. Unless you like having sticky bits of rice paper stuck to your plates, working surfaces, fingers and eyebrows. No. The secret is to place the rice paper wrapper on a wet tea towel and just pat it lightly. It should be just soft enough to become pliable without ever becoming sticky. Once you have the knack of it, the rolls can either be deep fried in oil or you can serve as is. If you choose the latter option, serve a dipping sauce with the rolls to make them softer and easier to eat. These have been claimed to be the best spring rolls ever made. The claimants were my friends, but don’t let that diminish their observational powers for you.

Deep Fried Spring Rolls (Nem Rán or Chă Giò)

Serves 5


60g vermicelli (glass noodles)

100g lean ground pork, prawns or a combination of both (omit for a vegetarian option or add cubed tofu)

4 pieces of wood fungus, soaked and finely chopped (this is not really available at your average supermarket, so if you’re not going down to the woods today then stay at home and use one large, black mushroom fried in a little butter till done)

1 large egg, lightly beaten (omit if you won’t be frying the spring rolls)

2 spring onions, finely chopped

1 carrot, grated

2/3 cup of cabbage and onion mix (Okay, this wasn’t in the original recipe at all, but I really like cabbage in spring rolls. Besides which, if you’ve come here for light and refreshing meals you’ve come to the wrong place. To make the mix I chop up about half a head of white cabbage and one or two onions and fry slowly until caramelised. The leftovers are great spiced up with a bit of curry powder and added to lentils and brown rice. (There you go. That’s my healthy tip for the day.) I would leave this out if you aren’t going to fry them.)

1/2 teaspoon of salt

a twist or two of black pepper

1 tablespoon of sesame oil. This is absolutely essential!! Do not, under any circumstances, leave it out. Unless, of course, you are deathly allergic to sesame seeds and it will kill you.

24 sheets of rice paper

2 cups oil for frying

Dipping sauce (nước mắm):

3 fresh red chillies, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, crushed

a handful of roasted peanuts, crushed

1/4 cup caster sugar

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

3 tablespoons fish sauce

3 tablespoons water

Combine all the ingredients in a dipping bowl and stir.


1) Soak the vermicelli in boiling water for 5 minutes to soften. Drain and cut more or less in half.

2) Combine the noodles, egg, pork, mushroom, spring onions, carrot and cabbage and season. Add the sesame oil.

3) At this point, ignore whatever any recipe using rice paper says (even if you have those really thick, hard rice paper wrappers). Just take a clean tea towel and wet it thoroughly. Place each piece of rice paper on the tea towel and press down until you feel it becoming slightly more pliable. Place a tablespoon full of filling in the center of the wrapper. Fold in the sides and roll up tightly. Wet the last edge with a bit of water and stick it down.

4) Heat the oil over moderate heat and fry the spring rolls till golden and crispy, turning them several times. Drain on a paper towel and serve with the dipping sauce or a bit of soy and some sweet chilli.

Forever Fairview

Forever Fairview

“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!

Shop & Deli
Goatshed Restaurant

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.

Telephone: +27 21 863 2450 / Goatshed: (021) 863 3609

Email: [email protected]

Website: /

Waiter, there’s an armpit hair in my cong you bing.

Waiter, there’s an armpit hair in my cong you bing.

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.

Fusion Fajitas

Fusion Fajitas

Every now and then I experience a truly miraculous foodie moment. An instant when I know my culinary world has shifted and life will never be the same again. Making our own corn tortillas last night was such a moment. It was a first attempt and by no means perfect, but oh my word! They are SO much better than the store bought variety! And infinitely better than making them with wheat flour. We eat a lot of wraps back home, but tortillas are hard to find in Shanghai and therefore, I would imagine, in the rest of China. The only place I have seen them is at City Shop (there’s one in the Shanghai Center in West Nanjing Road) and then it’s the packaged variety that comes with it’s own stay-fresh sachet and a long shelf life – never a good sign in a product that should only last a few days. They’re okay in a pinch, but not great. So we decided that if you can’t buy them, make them. To make corn tortillas you need a special type of corn flour called masa harina or harina de maiz and a Mexican friend. Okay, the Mexican friend is not, technically, required but it helps. When our rounds kept splitting on the edges our friend Tom recommended we add a bit of wheat flour to the mixture and it worked a treat! The process by which masa harina is made is very different from normal corn flour or maize meal which is why, if you have ever tried to make corn tortillas from normal maize meal, you’ll know it’s like trying to shape a bowl full of cheap playschool glue mixed with ground up bits of old rubber boots. Unlike normal maize meal that just gets sticky and gritty, masa harina makes a soft, pliable dough when mixed with water. We found a 2kg bag at City Shop for US$14.00.

Making the tortillas is dead easy. (Or at least, it would be with the right tools which, of course, we don’t have*). All you need is a heavy based cast iron pan, two sheets of wax paper and a rolling pin. We used cling film, the roll the cling film is wrapped around, a breadboard (for whacking) and a stainless steel pot.

– Mix together 1.5 cups of masa harina, 0.5 cup of wheat flour and one and a third cups of water.

– Once you’ve kneaded the flour and water into a soft, pliable dough, leave to rest for 30 minutes.

– Divide the  dough into 12 pieces and roll into balls.

– Place each ball between two sheets of wax paper (*cling film) and roll it into a 2mm thick round with a rolling pin (*whack it with the bread board till more or less flat and then finish off with the cling film roll).

– Cook in a hot pan for about 45 seconds per side et voila!

With a bit of practice they’ll be perfect and you’ll never buy tortillas again. It is also a fantastically social bit of cooking – each person trying to roll a better tortilla or come up with a better filling – and who couldn’t do with a little more of that? We started off with prawns, Ranch dressing and basil pesto, but as the evening progressed and we had more impromptu dinner guests, we added some beef and onions from Ajisen Ramen, peppers that Tom whipped up and a few pieces of processed cheese wedges. Fusion cooking at its “what do we have left in the fridge?” finest.

Remy’s Ratatouille

Remy’s Ratatouille

I don’t like veggies. At all. When Jessica Seinfeld appeared on Oprah with tips on how to get your kids to eat veggies, I was frantically taking notes. For myself. I eat them only because I have to and then grudgingly so. So I don’t know if it was with this energy that I went grocery shopping and whether the poor, shunned veggies could sense my reticence, but this recipe turned out disastrous. I don’t know why really, because despite not liking the ingredients in many other forms, I am rather partial to a good ratatouille. Which probably proves that veggies are not as intuitive as we might think they are. I have been eying the gorgeous, glossy Chinese aubergines (which are longer than regular aubergines) for some time now, and ratatouille seemed like the perfect way to try them out. I don’t know where I got this recipe from originally, but it’s supposed to be the recipe that Remy made in the movie Ratatouille. I don’t know whether that’s true (or as true as it can be, considering the claim is that an animated rat made a traditional French dish), but I do know that it’s a really good one, which is why it still tasted fantastic despite a slew of cockups. The first time I made them I did them in individual ramekins and unmoulded them to serve.


For the piperade (bottom layer):

1/2 red bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed
1/2 yellow bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed
1/2 orange bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion
3 tomatoes (about 12 ounces total weight), peeled, seeded and finely diced, juices reserved

1 sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig flat-leaf parsley
1/2 bay leaf

Remove all ingredients from the fridge. Read through the recipe and realise that it says cooking time is about 2 hours and you have 45 minutes before dinner is served. Pour yourself a large gin and tonic. Pop the one red, slightly shriveled (cause it’s been in the fridge for so long) pepper you have in the oven and grill until caramelised. Skin and chop finely. Fry the onions (two whole ones, because you now have to make up for all that pepper you don’t have) in the oil until it too is caramelised. Everything’s better when it’s caramelised. Add a tin of tomatoes (because you’re too lazy to peel and seed 3 measly tomatoes) to the pot. Realise the tin of tomatoes you thought you had is no longer there, so chop up three tomatoes, skin, seeds and all and add to the pot. Add the garlic which should’ve gone in ages ago, salt and bay leaf and leave to simmer.

For the Vegetables:

1 medium zucchini (4 to 5 ounces) sliced in 1/16-inch-thick rounds
1 Japanese eggplant (4 to 5 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch-thick rounds
1 yellow (summer) squash (4 to 5 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch-thick rounds
4 Roma tomatoes, sliced into 1/16-inch-thick rounds
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Slice the aubergine and zucchini into 3mm slices to just simmer in the sauce because you’re running out of time. Realise that the punnet of what you thought was zucchini is actually 5 cucumbers. And they’re not even the burpless kind. Damn your inability to read Chinese characters! Pour another G&T. Double the quantity of aubergine as you now have no zucchini. And you also forgot to get the squash. And you’ve used up the last of the tomatoes for the piperade, so there’s none of that either. Add the aubergine and thyme to the pot and simmer slowly for about an hour. Serve with ricotta gnocchi fried in a little butter till golden. I haven’t even bothered including the recipe here, because ricotta is not easy to find in China and I didn’t think it was all that much better than good old potato gnocchi anyway.

For the Vinaigrette:

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Assorted fresh herbs (such as thyme and chervil)
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Obviously I didn’t even bother with this as I gave up halfway through step 1. But, should you feel energetic and have at least two hours to spare, the proper recipe follows:

To make the piperade, preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil. Place pepper halves on the baking sheet, cut side down. Roast until the skins loosen, about 15 minutes. Remove the peppers from the oven and let rest until cool enough to handle. Reduce the oven temperature to 275 degrees.

Peel the peppers and discard the skins. Finely chop the peppers; set aside.

In medium skillet over low heat, combine oil, garlic and onion and saute until very soft but not browned, about 8 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, their juices, thyme, parsley and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer over low heat and cook until very soft and little liquid remains, about 10 minutes. Do not brown.

Add the peppers and simmer to soften them. Discard the herbs, then season to taste with salt. Reserve a tablespoon of the mixture, then spread the remainder over the bottom of an 8-inch oven-proof skillet.

To prepare the vegetables, you will arrange the sliced zucchini, eggplant, squash and tomatoes over the piperade in the skillet.

Begin by arranging 8 alternating slices of vegetables down the center, overlapping them so that 1/4 inch of each slice is exposed. This will be the center of the spiral. Around the center strip, overlap the vegetables in a close spiral that lets slices mound slightly toward center. All vegetables may not be needed. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the garlic, oil and thyme, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle this over vegetables.

Cover the skillet with foil and crimp edges to seal well. Bake until the vegetables are tender when tested with a paring knife, about 2 hours. Uncover and bake for another 30 minutes. (Lightly cover with foil if it starts to brown.)

If there is excess liquid in pan, place it over medium heat on stove until reduced. (At this point it may be cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Serve cold or reheat in 350-degree oven until warm.)

To make the vinaigrette, in a small bowl whisk together the reserved piperade, oil, vinegar, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, heat the broiler and place skillet under it until lightly browned. Slice in quarters and lift very carefully onto plate with an offset spatula. Turn spatula 90 degrees as you set the food down, gently fanning the food into fan shape. Drizzle the vinaigrette around plate. Serves 4.

Shanghai’s greatest shengjianbao

Shanghai’s greatest shengjianbao

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.

Fifteen minutes or it’s free: DIY Debonair’s sub

Fifteen minutes or it’s free: DIY Debonair’s sub

While it’s important to embrace your new surroundings when moving to a new country, what’s really helped keep me sane (okay, maybe not SANE, but it’s at least kept me from rocking myself to sleep in a corner while I click my heels and whimper “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”) is being able to enjoy little bits of said home as often as is practically possible. Food makes me very happy, so how much better is food that also triggers fond memories and temporarily creates the illusion that if you yanked back your curtains you’d be staring at your own front yard, even if just for a few minutes?

I’m not big on Debonairs pizza (sorry tuxedo’d dudes!). I like my pizza like I like my catwalk models – thin, flaky and smelling faintly of smoke. But if there’s one menu item of theirs I crave on a regular basis it’s their Club Sub. It hits all the right spots and here, in particular, it reminds me of happy times back home with good company. This easy dinner is whipped up in a quarter of an hour. Just save a bit of Marinara sauce the next time you make and freeze it in portions (ice cube trays work great!) or buy a bottle of ready-made.

DIY Debonair’s sub

(Serves 2)


1 large or 2 medium sized baguettes

2 chicken breasts, cooked, cooled and diced into 1cm cubes

150g ham*, diced into 1cm cubes

4 tablespoons of mayo (or to taste), lightly seasoned

125ml Marinara sauce (if you don’t have, just use 2 tablespoons of tomato paste)

1 cup grated cheese (mozzarella is best, but not always easy to find here)

Preheat your grill. Combine the chicken, ham and mayo in a bowl. Slice the baguette in half lengthways and toast lightly under the grill. Divide the Marinara equally between the two slices and smear evenly over each half. Top with the meat mixture, sprinkle cheese over the top and grill until bubbly.

* Eating meat products in China is a bit of a culinary Russian roulette. Not so much because you’re not always sure whether the animal you’re eating died in a sustainable and humane way (probably not) , but because the Chinese tend to eat a lot of sickeningly sweet meat. Few people can forget their first time biting into a piece of bakkwa when they were expecting biltong. It’s akin to finding your dad putting presents under the Christmas tree in his sleep shorts when you were expecting Santa. But the Yurun range of pork products is actually pretty good. Their barbequed pork is slightly sweet, but only in a general BBQ sauce kind of way and can be substituted for ham and they even make a passable banger!

How do you say “Get me the hell out of here?”

How do you say “Get me the hell out of here?”

Well this is demoralizing. One month later and I haven’t written a damn thing. This has been so much tougher than I expected. I did 6 months in Poland when Facebook was still a twinkle in Zuckerberg’s eye, I didn’t even own a laptop and whatsapp was how old people erroneously pronounce the latest catch phrase and I was happy there for crying out loud! Surely China would be a breeze with all the options available to me to stay in touch with home and with what is going on in the rest of the world? But nothing prepared me for this. I am feeling increasingly disconnected from the life and people I have left behind, but I have not managed to connect to the life I have here now. I don’t think I have ever felt quite so alone. This is a concept more foreign to me than the country I find myself in. I’ve always loved being alone! But it turns out that was when I knew a friend was just five minutes away with the bottle opener poised over the Diemersfontein Pinotage if need be. It’s very different when you really need someone to talk to and you know everyone’s on the other side of the world and deep into their REM phases.

Now, I realise that not having company shouldn’t be such an issue right? I’m in a new country with a fascinating culture and people. I should be out there soaking it all up, learning as much as I can and embracing this new world. But oh my word, it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be! We are only thirty kilometers from downtown Shanghai, but we might as well be on Mars. (Or at least from there based on how we get stared at here. People actually take photos of us when we pass by! This is very disconcerting for someone who has a mild case of social anxiety. I mean, I used to not even want to go to Pick & Pay on my own because I was nervous dealing with strangers that might look at me! I had to get over that little issue pretty damn quick.). Even though there are other expats in the area, we are still an anomaly and people usually react to us in one of two ways: They are either almost embarrassingly friendly and quick to help in any way they can, eagerly repeating the one or two English words they know till you want to say “Really, I’m nobody. Please carry on as normal.”, or they avoid eye contact and just say they don’t understand you. They won’t even look at you and try to decipher what you’re saying while you stand there impersonating a 6 armed orangutang as you point and grunt and gesticulate till you want to shout “Look at me and let’s work this out! I’m a person with needs dammit!” And yes, I know, I should learn Mandarin and then this will all be a lot easier, but I have all but given up. For example, I want to do something as simple as ask the housekeeper to please change our buckwheat pillows for hollow fiber ones. So I don’t try anything as complicated as learning the Mandarin for buckwheat, hollow fiber or even pillow. Just “swop” and “the same”. The props and my miming should convey the rest right? No, it does not. I might as well be speaking Greek. A language that is probably easier than Mandarin, which I’m starting to think isn’t even a language at all really! It’s just a plot to confuse the rest of us to facilitate Chinese world domination while at home they speak English to each other. I have told an old man that I like his allergies, informed the front desk that my success is broken and tried to convince a bunch of ladies in the park that I am a green shoe. So eventually I just stopped talking or asking for anything anymore, because no one understands what I’m saying and they don’t want to make an effort to stick around and figure it out together. I can’t even ask them to write something down so that I can translate it later. I cannot get used to unpacking my groceries at the till and not being able to make small talk with the checkout lady. 1.3 billion people and I feel utterly alone. I miss my home, I miss my animals, I miss my friends, I miss my family, I miss the security I felt knowing where we would be next week, next month, next year. I miss it all.

So it’s been hard. I have been trying to get out there and trying to write, but I don’t know what I’m looking at most of the time and no one wants to read a blog where the best description I can come up with for something I saw is “Chinese people doing something festive with a rabbit, a paper dragon and a piece of old ribbon. And I think that bit there is porridge. And I cried into it.” Every night I go to bed excited about going out and exploring and I return to the hotel the next day, alone, demoralized and feeling like I just sat through a movie where I couldn’t read the subtitles and everyone else thought it was life changing and hilarious. My confidence has been shattered and there are so many days that I just don’t want to go out there at all and all I can think about is how much I want to go home. Everyone keeps telling me what an amazing opportunity this is and how they wish they were in my shoes, and I feel like I’m letting them down. I’m letting myself down.

Man, I’m having an awesome pity party here! I wish it was easier to cater for, but I don’t know how to ask for a sandwich platter.

Little Sheep

Little Sheep

I could never understand why my husband was stuck in such a dietary rut here. Beer and tuna salad were pretty much his staples until I arrived and I couldn’t see how this gastronomically fairly adventurous man had been reduced to this timid epicurean.

And then I started doing the grocery shopping for us…

Shopping for new and never before tried foodstuffs in China leaves you a bit like a puppy that thinks he’s been let out of the house into an unsecured yard with the whole world outside open to explore when really, there’s a shock collar around his neck and sensors on the perimeter set to buzz him the moment he gets too close to freedom. You know the type? The first day you rush out, all happy and bright-eyed and excited to try out the fabulous cuisine this country has to offer. You’re delirious, eager, ready for anything. The world is your never before tasted, exotic oyster. And then BAM! You eat something that you took off the shelf with only a vague idea as to what it is. And it’s vulgar. You are shocked, your taste buds assaulted, but you’re sure it’s just an isolated incident. So the next day you rush out, slightly less eager, a little more hesitantly, but still ready to try anything. And BAM! You are shocked again. What in the name of all that is holy IS that?? Surely this is not food? How can anyone eat something so foul? Like a smoked sausage that appears to be chorizo, but tastes like a piece of plastic sweetened with too much sugar or a spring roll stuffed with nothing but what’s supposed to be shepherd’s purse but tastes like shepherd’s mouldy undies. So eventually, just like that little puppy shocked one too many times, you peer hesitantly around the corner when the elevator door opens by day 4, wondering if you really should venture forth because it can only turn out badly for you. You slink slowly into the supermarket and, defeated, you buy an onion, two apples and a bag of Lays because at least then you should know what you’re going to get. Honestly, they could make Ready Steady Cook: The Extreme Edition in this place – whip up a meal with an onion, two apples and a bag of Lays. Finding something to eat when you don’t have time to make everything from scratch is a minefield. Which brings me to the purpose of this post: Every now and then you find something that’s really pretty good! (Note how I am not overly extolling the virtues of these foodstuffs – I’m just saying they’re pretty good okay? I know there is great food out there – I just haven’t found it! Yet.). And if we find something we like, I’ll share it here in the hope of helping some other poor, lost expat standing in the supermarket and unsure of what to try next.

I have been pleasantly surprised by the mutton (I haven’t found lamb yet) we have had in the restaurants around here. I think I had more mutton in the first week than I ever had in 7 days back home! I kept thinking it’s a fluke and we won’t see it again. But, even though you can’t find fresh lamb or mutton in our immediate area, we were rather chuffed when we discovered Little Sheep mutton kebabs in the frozen foods section at our local supermarket. The meat is tender (maybe even a little too tender, but the Chinese seem to like all their meat that way – I’m not sure whether that’s due to their less than stellar oral hygiene?) and it is perfectly spiced with cumin, without having the usual Chinese 5-spice obliterating all other flavours. It’s properly muttony though – the way I like it – with quite a strong sheep flavour. I actually prefer the Chinese mutton I’ve had so far to the Karoo lamb we get back home (cue the collective gasp). Simply grill the kebabs for a few minutes and serve with salad, flat breads and dressing.

Shanghai’s Venice

Shanghai’s Venice

Zhujiajiao is an ancient water town located on the Cao Gang River in the Qingpu district of Shanghai. Roughly 50 square kilometers of tree lined rivers and canals, winding cobbled lanes and well preserved Ming and Qing dynasty architecture lure hordes of day visitors keen to get out of the city for a bit. For this reason you should plan to get here early and preferably on a week day. By lunch time you will be fighting sweaty American tourists and hungry locals (who don’t ever seem to sweat) for the pork and pastries.

There are many temples, galleries, museums and old residences to explore here. The Kezhi Garden, Qing dynasty Post Office, Yuanjin Buddhist Temple, Tongtianhe Chinese Pharmacy, City God Temple, Y-Art Gallery, Shanghai Qianhua Art Gallery and Shanghai Handicraft Exhibition Hall all require an admission ticket, but entry into the town is free. The maze of pedestrian lanes house loads of shops selling traditional Chinese art work, engraved jade, delicate chopsticks (you can pick up a set engraved with your name in Chinese characters for US$0.50), silk clothing, duvets and pillows, scarves, jewellery, handmade embroidered bags and shoes, beautiful cheongsam (including the cutest little itty bitty ones for babies) and all the other usual tourist trap trinkets. But even though North Street is known as “a mile long road with a thousand shops” the discriminating tourist tax is high here, so unless you’re good at bargaining, don’t plan to come here purely for the shopping. Rather grab a tasty street snack and explore the stone cobbled lanes with their old style shopfronts and decorative red lanterns, walk down the quiet, deep alleyways or zigzag back and forth over the canals across the arched stone bridges.

There are loads of stalls selling a variety of foods from roasted pork knuckle to rose flavoured fermented bean curd, but one of Zhujiajiao’s proudest exports is the bamboo or reed leaf wrapped dark rice dumplings or zongzi. Also known as Grandma Dumplings (apo zong), the pillow shaped parcels of Zhujiajiao are wrapped with straw and are purportedly the best place in China to get them. That’s sort of like claiming that a certain shop in SA sells the best boerewors in the country. It’s a big freaken deal. And with some vendors selling up to 30 000 dumplings a day, this is a rumour best believed. The dumplings are stuffed with flavoured rice and may also include pork, red bean paste or red beans. Locals in the know recommend Xiaotian Apo Zong at 263 Bei Da Jie Lu as the best one to try.  For dessert my favourite Zhujiajiao snack is the flaky, sweet and salty stocking sole pastries. Although Tongli is most famous for these sesame topped treats, the ones in Zhujiajiao are just as moreish. Like the zongzi, every stall seems to have a different recipe and some are better than others but, like sex and pizza, even the bad ones are good.

Zhujiajiao is crisscrossed with rivers and streams spanned by 36 bridges ranging from wood to stone and marble and built during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The biggest stone bridge is Fangsheng Bridge (Setting-fish-free Bridge). Here you can buy bags full of goldfish and set them free in the river for good luck. (Personally, I would rather throw salt over my shoulder. It’s not like they’re going to come swimming back like those birds you release, but still.) This is also the area to catch a ride on one of the man powered dragon boats. There are short (US$9.50 per boat) and long (US$19.00 per boat) routes covering different areas of the town and it’s really worth seeing the bridges, temples and buildings from this serene perspective. Each boat can seat up to 6 people. There are loads of restaurants, teahouses and bars lining the canals, and many have little balconies overhanging the water. Lovely places to grab a bite to eat and watch the world go by. Don’t always settle for the price on the menu – some establishments can be bargained down if you haggle before the meal.

Zhujiajiao can feel a bit like a tourist trap. This is probably because it is. The ancient part of the city covers 3 square kilometers and can get crowded at times. If prices aren’t displayed (as they often aren’t in China), make sure you get a fixed price before having to fork out 10 dollars for a cup of tea that tastes like the runny stuff at the bottom of a compost heap. (I don’t actually know what the runny stuff at the bottom of a compost heap tastes like, but I imagine it’s something like that.). But it is a wonderful place to spend the day, instantly transporting you back to what life must have looked like here 1700 years ago. Just, you know, with all the added plastic and cheap T-shirts and stuff.

Getting there:  From Shanghai, take the Huzhu Express Line at People’s Square at the intersection of Pu’an Road and Jinling Road. It is an hour’s drive and costs US$2. There is a bus every half hour. Alternatively, take Line 2 on the metro all the way to Fuxing East and then catch a taxi. The ride should cost you around US$10.

For more info visit

On Faltering Follicles

On Faltering Follicles

I found my first grey hair today. I glanced up unsuspectingly and there it was, mocking me from a mirror that is not my own, in a hotel room that is rented by the month, in a country where I, try as I might, cannot communicate enough with the locals through grunts, sign language or Google Translate to ask in which isle they keep the Nice & Easy.

If you had told me ten years ago that I would get my first grey hair before having my first child, I would have smiled knowingly and smugly looked away. Not only because the Krugers are born with exceptionally strong follicles, but because I had it all planned. Finish my Masters degree (check), marry The One by 27 (check), move to one of the most beautiful parts of the world (check), settle down with two dogs (check) a cat (okay, we had three, so I slightly overdid that one) and a veggie patch (erm…) and start a family once we’re all nice and cosy and ready for the logical next step. How hard can it be, really? I mean, everyone does it. Even drunk teenagers get it right completely by accident. It’s the path your life has to follow so that you fit in with the norm. Love. Marriage. Kids. Retire. Death. Easy. But we were never the norm. My husband’s work took him away from home often so, besides not being overly keen on getting intimate with a turkey baster when there wasn’t ‘t even someone there to hold my hand,  we never seemed to get to the next, logical step. There was never the security of a whole family, complete but for the pitter-patter of little feet. The only thing I felt that was missing from my life most of the time was more of him. So I dealt with the “When are you?”’s and “Why haven’t you?”’s as best I could, often having to field the questions on my own and wondering why that alone wasn’t enough to tip off the questioner. I don’t think people are cruel on purpose. Most probably they’re just making small talk and don’t know what else to say. Or they’re just so completely and utterly in love with their new bundles of joy that, being the caring friends that they are, they want that for you too and they’re convinced your life won’t have any real meaning until that bit is sorted. The same amnesia that sets in after childbirth and ensures that women all over the world think what the hell, let’s push something the size of watermelon out THERE again, also makes them forget how being childless makes you feel like you no longer belong with the very people who used to be your mirror. They forget how you start wondering whether you can do enough with your life to make up for the fact that you are not a mother. Whether it matters that you have your own successful company, have ridden Space Mountain, can make homemade croissants from scratch and once improv’d on stage on a cruise ship, if you have failed at the most basic of female purposes. Or maybe it’s just me. Erm. Where was I? Oh yes. The best laid plans. So the kids hadn’t happened yet. But we weren’t worried. 2012 would be The Year of the Kid. I didn’t even tell my husband that this was my thinking. Rather under promise and over deliver right? Just in case. I am 35. A number biologically more important than Fibonacci’s sequence. Whatever happened, we had to make it work. We would grow my business and my husband would give up his contract work. We would finally have a stable home environment and we would not spend months apart ever again. Sure, financially it would be a little scary, but we had a plan. Or so we thought. Then, overnight, it all changed. As much victims of the current economic climate as of the type of unscrupulous people your mother warned you about, my business would no longer support us and we had no choice but to pack up our lives, say goodbye to our friends, family, home and animals and head for China.

So now, here I am. One grey hair richer and my self esteem in pieces. (Okay, I lie, I yanked that pigmentless bugger out the minute I spotted it). I’m closer to forty than thirty and living like a twenty year old again. I have arrived here with whatever I could fit into two suitcases and the only thing to cook with is a tin pot that Adam purchased before I got here. I’m not really sure what to do from here. I really have only one overriding, all consuming thought: Where are we going to get cheese and cream in this place? There’s nothing in this district unless it’s whipped and sweetened. I am sure there will be bigger challenges to living here, but for now I’m tackling this one. It’s a baby step, okay? And hopefully, once I’ve crossed that bridge I will find something to write about. Because this blog should be about embracing the new things around me and trying to hold on to what I can never leave behind.

Cocoa Bean and Vanilla Biscuits

Cocoa Bean and Vanilla Biscuits

People have been commenting a lot on my lovely personality of late. It’s like they feel they need to say SOMETHING nice somewhere in the conversation. Is this because I am, in fact, a twinkly beacon of light in the gloom? No. It is not. It is because I have gotten pleasantly plump. I mean really, I cry at the drop of a hat, go into a complete sorry-for-myself sulk whenever I have to say goodbye to another pet / friend / family member / sentimental belonging and sit for hours, not focusing on the conversation around me because I’m quietly doubting whether I have done this right or made the best decision there. So I know that everyone’s sudden admiration for my personality is not because my leaving has gotten them thinking about what they will miss about me. It’s because they don’t know how to tell me that my jeans are rather snug. If you compliment someone on a personal trait and ignore the increasing girth of their waistline, it cannot be empirically proven that you are, in fact, lying through your teeth.

I adapted this recipe from a Women’s Health magazine (July 2010) to use up some of all the lovely goodies I have to leave behind now. The Cocoa beans add a subtle bitter chocolate taste and have such a beautiful fragrance that you constantly want to take a whiff of the packet like someone with a glue sniffing problem. As it was from a Women’s Health magazine I obviously also had to add a smidgen more of this and that to get it more to my liking. These biscuits are designed to improve your personality and not your waistline.

Cocoa Bean and Vanilla Biscuits


Recipe type: Baking

Serves: 25 – 30


  • 200g butter, cubed
  • 100g icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 egg
  • 1 level teaspoon vanilla seeds (or 5ml extract)
  • 250g cake flour, sifted
  • 2 heaped tablespoons freshly ground cocoa beans
  • 2 or 3 grinds of coarse salt


  1. Beat the butter in a bowl with an electric mixer until pale and creamy.
  2. Add the sugar, egg and vanilla and mix until combined.
  3. Add the flour, salt and beans and continue mixing until the dough just comes together. At all times, try to keep the dough as cool as possible and don’t over mix. Wrap in clingfilm and leave in the fridge for half an hour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 180˚C. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to about 4mm thick and press out the shape of your choice. Or just roll into walnut sized balls and flatten.
  5. Place on a prepared baking tray and bake for 8 to 10 minutes until lightly golden.


* You could use your favourite cookie or shortbread recipe and just chuck in the cocoa beans.

Creamy Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms

Creamy Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms

I must confess, I’ve been shoving it in. Food that is. When my husband ecstatically declared after a foray to the mall near our soon to be new home in China that he “Could buy cheese and ham!” I started going into panic mode. He was getting excited about cheese and ham? What does this mean for the foodie in me?? I have visions of living in a foreign country for years, deprived of a lamb chop. Of months dragging by with not an oozing wedge of Camembert to be seen. Of days spent pining for a piece of bread that contains less sugar than the average Checkers Sunday Morning Cream Cake Special. So I’m getting it in while the getting is good. And even if it’s all my favourite stuff, a surprising number of these dishes really could not be included here. (Like Royco’s Dijon Chicken with homemade chips and All Gold tomato sauce. It is my secret shame that a packaged pronto dish would feature on my list of last meals.) But these really should be. These moreish little mushroom morsels are hugely popular and disappear in a flash so make loads of them! It has been adapted from a recipe I saw in the Huffington Post one year when they featured the best snacks for the Superbowl. I don’t know anything about the original conceiver of this dish. All I know is that her name is Adriene. Thank you Adriene!

Creamy cheesy sausage stuffed mushrooms

Serves: Well, it could serve just me. But probably 6 if I share.

Creamy Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms

Hands-on time

15 mins

Cook time

45 mins

Total time

1 hour


Recipe type: Snack

Serves: 6


  • 2 punnets of small brown mushrooms (or 4 very large ones)
  • 6 smoked sausages* (anything will do, as long as the texture is fairly chunky)
  • 3 heaped tablespoons plain cream cheese
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup grated cheese* (preferably something like a Gruyere that melts nicely)
  • 1T tomato paste
  • a bit of fresh oregano, finely chopped
  • 3 T olive oil
  • 3 T balsamic vinegar
  • salt & pepper


  1. Wipe mushrooms clean with a damp cloth and pull out the stems and discard. Toss the mushrooms with the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Spread out on a baking dish and bake in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees C for 20 minutes. Set aside and cool.
  2. Slit the sausage and remove the filling from the casings. Crumble in a dry heated pan and saute until golden brown. Break up into small pieces while it is cooking. Remove from the pan, reserving the pan fats and juices and aside to cool.
  3. Add the onions to the pan, with a bit more oil if neccesary. Cook slowly until caramelized (about 20 minutes), deglazing the pan with a little water if you need to. Then add the garlic and tomato paste and cook for another minute.
  4. Put the cooked sausage, onions and garlic, cream cheese, salt & pepper, herbs and the grated cheese in a bowl and mix well with your hands.
  5. Line up your mushrooms in a greased baking dish with the core side facing up. Stuff each mushroom with a generous portion of the creamy sausage mixture.
  6. Now put the baking dish in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees for roughly 20 minutes or until they are golden brown. (This dish can be made up to 3 days ahead of time and put in the cooler until you are ready to put them in the oven.)
  7. Serve and stand back so you don’t lose a finger. Blink and they’re gone.


* You can substitute any good bangers for the sausage, but then be sure to use a smoked cheddar cheese.

Royal Siam Thai

Royal Siam Thai
Royal Siam Tai

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.

Royal Siam Thai wontons

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
+27 44 877 8815

Three Cheese Phyllo Chicken Parcels

Three Cheese Phyllo Chicken Parcels
Three cheese chicken phyllo parcels

It’s not easy being posh, especially for someone like me who will literally spend an entire weekend in my PJ’s, hair unbrushed, face undone and drinking juice straight from the carton when my husband is away. Whether I’m trying to get my hair under control or serve up a fancy feast, being posh requires time I don’t have, effort I cannot be bothered with and a plethora of tools probably gathering dust in a cupboard somewhere. Not so if you make these easy little chicken parcels. Minimum effort, relatively high posh factor (we’re not talking Fat Duck here okay? But they’re at least one step up from mac & cheese). Then again, you can wrap a bit of old shoe in some phyllo pastry and people will ooh and aah when you serve it.

Three Cheese Phyllo Chicken Parcels

Hands-on time

20 mins

Cook time

60 mins

Total time

1 hour 20 mins


Recipe type: Main

Serves: 4


  • 4 skinless and deboned chicken breasts
  • 1 cup cheese (use a mixture of feta, mozzarella and a bit of cream cheese)
  • basil pesto
  • 1kg tomatoes, cut into wedges
  • 125ml cream
  • phyllo pastry
  • butter


  1. Switch your oven to grill. Cut the chicken into strips. I find that cutting across the grain and holding your knife at a 45 degree angle makes for the most tender pieces. Season, place in a baking dish in a single layer and grill until almost done, but still slightly pink in the middle.
  2. Turn the oven to 180˚C, chuck the chicken on a plate to cool slightly, and place the tomatoes in the baking dish. Saves on washing up. Drizzle with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. Roast for 30 minutes.
  3. Remove your thawed phyllo and keep under a moist kitchen towel until you’re done working with it. Cut three sheets of your pastry into 20 x 20cm squares and place on top of each other, brushing each layer with butter as you go (For the love of God, don’t use cooking spray or margarine. Life is too short). Now, place a few pieces of chicken in the middle of your pastry. Spoon a quarter of the cheese mixture on top, place 2 wedges of tomato on top of that and finish your little tower with a teaspoon of basil pesto. Gather the phyllo together around the chicken and make a little parcel. The butter will help it all stay in place if you just sort of scrunch it together. Bake at 180˚C until golden brown.
  4. To serve, blend the remaining tomatoes, strain trough a sieve and heat. In a separate pot, add about 2 tablespoons of the pesto to the cream and reduce until slightly thickened. Serve the parcels with the sauces and a few crispy potato wedges.

Jethro Tart

Jethro Tart

We all have one of those recipes. A dish with a list of ingredients so extravagant that the only time you would ever actually contemplate making it is when the queen comes to visit. Actually not even the queen. Simon Baker maybe, but nothing less. Jamie Oliver‘s Jethro tart is one of those recipes. 255 grams of pine nuts. With the price we pay for pine nuts it’s utter madness! Madness I tell you! And so this recipe was destined to just lie there, untasted, glaring at me condescendingly every time I page past it in search of a dessert idea for a dinner party. Until I happened upon a ginormous bag of pine nuts for really cheap in the land where there are more pines than people. (I proceeded to stuff myself so full of the delicious little kernels over the weeks following my purchase that I actually developed Pine Nut Syndrome – an annoying but utterly fascinating side effect from pigging out on them). But don’t let that put you off. These tarts are lovely and completely harmless if consumed in moderation. If you don’t have a Costco around the corner (or Simon isn’t coming for a visit), substitute with any nuts you please. I made individual ones instead of one big one.

Jethro tart

Jethro Tart

Hands-on time

20 mins

Cook time

35 mins

Total time

55 mins

Author: Jamie Oliver

Cuisine: Dessert

Serves: 8


  • Prep time: 20 minutes plus about 2 and a half hours for refrigerating and baking
  • Ingredients
  • 255g pine nuts
  • 255g butter
  • 255g castor sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 115g plain flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • For the Pastry
  • 115g butter
  • 100g icing sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 225g plain flour
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons cold water


  1. Cream together the butter, sugar and salt then rub or pulse in the flour and egg yolks. When the mixture has come together, looking like coarse breadcrumbs, add the water. Gently pat together to form a small ball of dough. Wrap and leave to rest for an hour.
  2. Carefully cut thin slices of your pastry (or you can roll out if you prefer) and place in and around the bottom and sides of a 30cm tin. Push the pastry together and level out and tidy up the sides. Cover and leave to rest in the freezer for about 1 hour.
  3. Preheat your oven to 180˚C, and bake the pastry for around 15 minutes until lightly golden. Keep an eye on the pastry if you are making smaller tartlets instead as it might require a shorter cooking time.There is no need to blind bake. Reduce the oven temperature to 170˚C.
  4. While the pastry is in the oven, toast the pine nuts under the grill. (OK, now you need to listen. REALLY listen. You’re going to read this warning and think it won’t happen to you. You’ll think you’re invincible and you’ve got it covered. But you don’t. They will burn. It has happened to all of us. The nuts will go from a gorgeous Gisele Bündchen caramel to black in a matter of seconds. Don’t turn your back on them! Seriously. if you’re blasé about this it is going to happen to you too. You have been warned.) Using a spatula or a food processor whip the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in the pine nuts, add the eggs one at a time, then fold in the honey, flour and salt. Spoon into the tart shell and bake for 30-35 minutes.

Outeniqua Farmers’ Market

Outeniqua Farmers’ Market

In case you hadn’t noticed, I love food. Really. The absolute best part about having to pack up our entire lives, bid farewell to friends, pets, our country and our home and move to China is because I now have an excuse to drink all our best wines and use all the lovely goodies I’ve been hoarding in my cupboard for special occasions. (Saffron omelets with cocoa nibs for breakfast anyone? Maybe not.) But even for me, dragging myself out of bed at 6:30 on a Saturday morning to get to Wild Oats in Sedgefield before all the Île de paín ciabatta is gone or the pancake queue reaches new-iPad-on-sale proportions is a bit of a schlep (a worthwhile schlep, but a schlep none the less). So I – along with every other Georgian west of York who was relieved when the Pick & Pay mini market opened because now we don’t have to drive ALL the way to the big Pick & Pay – rejoiced when the Outeniqua Farmers Market opened their doors opposite the Garden Route Mall in November.

The creators of this foodie heaven travelled the world over to ensure they created a market that would keep people coming back and they certainly succeeded. Shaded by tall oaks, almost 80 stalls sell everything a food lover could want. Locally sourced and grown meats, breads, cheese, fruit, veg, juices, ice creams, spices, seafood and more make it a one stop shop when you need to fill your grocery cupboard. Or for those days when comfort is more important than fitting into your new Levi’s there are to die for brownies (in packaging so gorgeous you need never be stuck for a gift idea again), chocolate springrolls, nougat chocolate cups (nougat chocolate cups!), koeksisters, milktart, beautifully decorated cupcakes and just about every other gut busting sweet treat you can think of. If breakfast or lunch is all you’re after you are spoiled for choice. Rolls so soft you want to lay your head down on them with fluffy scrambled eggs and crispy bacon (lay your head on the roll, not with the eggs and bacon… you know what I mean), ciabatta with various toppings toasted in little pizza ovens, Thai and Indian curries, satays, Dutch bitterballen and kroketten, gourmet burgers and wraps, falafel and all things Lebanese, samoosas, pancakes, homemade pies of every possible description or just munch on a bit of biltong and have a great cup of coffee while you sit and watch the world go by. And at this market, the world goes by! It is a bustling hive of locals greeting each other, tourists happily calculating how much their pounds can buy and even patrons of the four legged kind giving each other friendly sniffs. There is live entertainment and lots for the kids to do with pony rides, face painting, jungle gyms and lots of space to just run and play in a safe environment. At present there is also a smaller arts and crafts area which the owners hope to grow once the food stalls are perfected. From where I’m sitting, sipping my fresh iced pineapple juice and munching on a nougat cup, they’re pretty much there already.

 Outeniqua Farmers Market

N2 (follow the signs at the circle at Sasol)

George 6530

+27 82 465 2952‎

Salina’s: A revisit

Salina’s: A revisit

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.

Satay & Sosaties

Satay & Sosaties

It was the beurre blanc sauce that did it in the end. Sitting in The Cactus Club Cafe in Vancouver, swirling the last morsel of butternut squash ravioli and perfectly grilled prawn through the delicate, buttery emulsion I was suddenly miffed. Why do we not get food like this at home? I mean really, how hard can it be?? Butter? Check. Prawns? Check. Squash? Check. We’re not talking eye of newt or toe of dragon here! You can buy everything at your nearest supermarket for crying in a bucket! Okay, it wasn’t cheap. But then nothing is cheap when you’re buying with a few bruised and battered rands. But on my chicken index (closely related to the Big Mac index and, inexplicably, my scale of choice for comparing prices on this particular trip) this plate of gastronomic grub had only cost 1.2 chickens before tax and a tip. And we found the same thing everywhere. Both the food and service was exceptional. It didn’t really matter whether we were doing fine dining at C Restaurant or just having fish and chips at the first place we found in Qualicum Beach. So why is it so hard to get the same thing here? It’s not because we don’t have the talent in South Africa. You need only venture beyond the borders of Mossel Bay and Sedgefield to get generally good food and service. And a trip to any of our local markets will quickly dismiss any suggestion that it could be a lack of excellent, fresh produce. It’s the mentality of this town when it comes to all things foodie and the mentality of South Africans in general when it comes to demanding to get what you paid for. If The Cactus Club had to open a location in George they’d be gone within a year. And a Wimpy would probably spring up in its place.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Wimpy. A Wimpy coffee and a breakfast is the highlight of any rainbow blooded South African’s every road trip. But there is a time and a place. And Saturday morning – so close to the Wild Oats Farmers’ Market in Sedgefield that you could brain a stall holder with a well aimed Mega coffee – is not the place. And yet, there they sit in their droves: Garden Routers who would rather eat yet another Wimpy breakfast than have anything as outlandish as a crispy potato rösti topped with salmon, a poached egg and real Hollandaise sauce from the market. For the same price. And THAT is why we don’t get food like we did in Canada, in George. Because we don’t ask for it. We are happy to pay for mediocre food and atrocious service, clandestinely murmuring our dissatisfaction to our fellow diners, but never daring to raise our objections with the owners of the establishment.

We need to be more discerning. More demanding. If you’re going to pay a ten percent tip to your waitron anyway, shouldn’t they at least clear your plates in a timely fashion and fill your wine glass before it is empty? If you’re going to fork out money for a plate of calamari, shouldn’t it at least be a good plate of calamari? There is a restaurant in town (that shall remain nameless) that was always a favourite of ours for really, really good seafood. But they’ve been, well, total crap of late. We tried three times and the outcome was the same. And while we will never go back, it is still jam packed when you drive past there, because the clientele just doesn’t seem to care. So how will they ever get better? They’ll just keep turning out the same plates of mediocre food to an undemanding audience, because they CAN.

I understand that you know what a Wimpy breakfast tastes like, and that that is why you will keep going back there. I get it. But there are 5 Wimpy’s in George alone. Five! Yet restaurants like Margot’s, Tarragon’s and Sunsutra didn’t make it. No one wants to try a lamb burger with chermoula when they know exactly what a Spur burger tastes like. I have seen local menu’s change from iced berries with hot white chocolate to ice cream with hot chocolate sauce (oh, the *yawn* excitement) and  the concomitant extinction of that little spark in the restaurateurs eyes. And when you look again, they’re gone. So next time you’re in the area, why not stop at the Wild Oats market and have a fresh roll topped with fluffy, creamy scrambled eggs and perfectly crisp bacon instead of your usual? Just once. Support the brilliant food stalls at the Outeniqua Farmers’ Market  on a Saturday. Live totally on the edge and have a croquette or Thai chicken curry for lunch. Have dinner at The Old Townhouse for a change and try one of their biltong, feta and peppadew springrolls or one of Dario’s weekly specials using the freshest seasonal ingredients at La Locanda. Surely fresh asparagus with parmesan cream sounds more appealing than yet another salad bar? It’s not that scary! Try it. You’ll probably like it.

Anyhoo. On to the cooking.

We might not be discerning when it comes to restaurants, but if there’s one thing we know here, it’s braaiing. Real braaiing. On wood and everything. We were only gone for four weeks, but we suffered some major smoke withdrawal! So in the spirit of adventure, why not try these chicken satays the next time you light the fire. If you’re a true Georgian, the fish sauce will scare you. But give it a bash anyway! If you don’t like it, you can just have sosaties again tomorrow. And you know Wimpy will always be there with an old faithful standby.

See more Thai recipes from Darlene Schmidt here.

Satay & Sosaties

Hands-on time

25 mins

Cook time

15 mins

Total time

40 mins

Author: Darlene Schmidt via

Recipe type: Main

Cuisine: Thai

Serves: 4


  • 12 skinless chicken thighs, or 6 chicken breasts cut into thin strips or 2cm cubes
  • package wooden skewers – soak in water for an hour or so before use
  • ¼ cup minced lemongrass (If you don’t have one of these in your garden, plant one as soon as possible! They grow with no attention whatsoever and make a fabulous addition to iced tea, sparkling wine and of course all things Thai.)
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1-2 fresh red chillies, sliced or to taste (I omit this cause I’m a sissy)
  • 1 thumb-size piece ginger, thinly sliced
  • ½ tsp. dried turmeric
  • 2 Tbsp. ground coriander
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 3 Tbsp. dark soy sauce
  • 4 Tbsp. fish sauce (Essential! Don’t leave it out.)
  • 5-6 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil


  1. Place all marinade ingredients in a food processor or blend with a stick blender until smooth. Now sniff it. Seriously. It smells sooooo good! And sommer dunk your finger in there too for a taste.
  2. Place the chicken in a bowl, pour the marinade over the meat and stir well to combine. Allow at least 1 hour or longer for marinating (up to 24 hours).
  3. When ready to cook, thread meat onto the skewers, leaving the bottom quarter of the skewer open for gripping. Grill the satay on the braai or on a griddle pan on the stove. They should take about 15 minutes.
  4. Serve with rice and satay peanut dipping sauce. I am yet to find one that conjures memories of Thailand, but this one, also by Darlene Schmidt, is pretty good.



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.

Read about our follow up visit here.

Salinas, 458 Zundorf Lane, Wilderness

+27 44 8770001

Not Just Any Pizza Bread

Not Just Any Pizza Bread

I love this recipe for so many reasons. It’s easy, it’s flexible, it’s virtually impossible to mess up. I recommended it to a friend for her son’s birthday party recently and she absolutely loved it. So if a mother of three boys under three thinks it’s easy to make, then pretty much anyone can do it.

Not Just Any Pizza Bread


Recipe type: Breads & sides


  • Bread dough (buy a bag from just about any supermarket bakery).
  • Marinara sauce (either buy ready made in a jar, or just blend a tin of Ishibo (tomato and onion mix everywhere else in the world) with a clove of garlic, a teaspoon of dried origano and salt and pepper).
  • Basil pesto (and / or bacon, feta, sundried tomatoes, chorizo, caramelised onions or whatever else blows your hair back.).
  • A cup of grated cheese.
  • 250ml cream, seasoned with salt and pepper


  1. On a floured surface, roll out the bread dough to roughly 8mm thick.
  2. Smear the marinara sauce over the dough, stopping about 2cm from the edge. If this is starting to sound suspiciously like a pizza, then you’re doing it right.
  3. Add the rest of your toppings and pour over the grated cheese.
  4. Starting at one end, roll the dough into a sausage. Cut into 1.5cm thick slices and arrange the spirals in a single layer in a baking dish.
  5. At this point you can allow it to rise, or you can go straight to baking it. Pour the cream over the bread and bake in a 180°C oven for about 35 minutes.
Pizza bread

Glenwood Short Golf Course

Glenwood Short Golf Course

Enough about food. Time to burn a few calories!

Glenwood short golf course

If you’re keen to get out on the golf course a bit and practice your swing, then Glenwood Short Golf Course is the perfect place to do it without looking like a total Koos. Mainly because you’ll be surrounded with so many other hackers that you’ll almost sort of look like you know what you’re doing. Popular amongst scratch golfers and newbies alike, this course is really exceptionally well maintained for a mashie. Sure, it’s not The Links, but then you’re not paying Links prices either. At R45.00 for 9 holes and R60.00 for 18, it’s an affordable way to get your kids away from the Xbox for an afternoon. There are clubs, golf carts and pull carts for hire as well if the Wii has atrophied your muscles. It’s also a great place for a small corporate or private function, with braai facilities and a friendly bar. They have always been very accommodating when, once a year, friends of ours have a birthday bash there with, let’s say, flexible rules on the course. It really is a great place to get into the swing of things if you want to enter the big, scary world of golf.

Knysna Road, George Next door to The Pro Shop at The George Golf Academy.

+27 44 871 3656

Bacon & Blue Cheese Salad with Honey Mustard Dressing

Bacon & Blue Cheese Salad with Honey Mustard Dressing
Bacon & blue cheese salad

Yes, I know, this is a terrible photo. The rainbow assault from the colours in the table cloth completely overwhelms the food, which is supposed to be the star. The lines on the cloth are so skew that you’re probably clawing at your screen trying to straighten them. The proportions are wrong. It looks like a unicorn exploded all over the place. You can hardly tell what you’re eating. It’s just bad. But I need cheering up today and something about this photo is immensely cheering to me. And so is this salad (as are all salads that fatten you up faster than a jelly doughnut). The combination of the creamy Gorgonzola, the warm, salty bacon on the cool, crisp lettuce and the sweet, sharp dressing is so simple, but really, really delicious. It hits all the spots. Or at least, it hits all my spots. I was really happy with how the dressing came out – proof once again that pretty much everything on this planet tastes better with a dollop of mayo.

Bacon & Blue Cheese Salad with Honey Mustard Dressing

Hands-on time

15 mins

Cook time

10 mins

Total time

25 mins


Recipe type: Salad

Serves: 4


  • For the honey mustard dressing:
  • 80ml sunflower oil
  • 60ml white wine vinegar
  • 15ml Dijon Mustard
  • 40ml honey
  • 15ml Japanese mayo (Or any good stuff. You don’t want the sharp eggy-ness of a cheap one here.)
  • 2ml salt
  • For the salad:
  • 300g lettuce
  • 250g bacon, fried and chopped
  • 100g Gorgonzola or cremezola (preferably something mild and creamy and not too sharp)
  • One avo, cut into cubes
  • 2 large tomatoes, cut into wedges
  • 3 spring onions, thinly sliced


  1. Whisk all the ingredients for the dressing together and set aside.
  2. Toss all the ingredients for the salad together and serve with the dressing. For a more substantial meal, just bung the whole lot in a tortilla wrap.



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.

The bonfire at Botlierskop.

Botlierskop Private Game Reserve

Botlierskop Farm


Little Brak River


+27 44 696 6055

Lunch (Buffet or A la carte) 12:00 to 15:00 R130p.p.

Dinner (Buffer or A la carte) 19:00 till late R210p.p.

Oxtail Ragu Stuffed Pasta Shells in Parmesan Cream

Oxtail Ragu Stuffed Pasta Shells in Parmesan Cream

My uncle, who is an Afrikaner and therefore really knows his meat, always taught me that good oxtail needs a lot of onion. You could tell he knew about meat, because at our family braais on Sundays he wore short shorts and navy blue socks pulled up to his knees. This, along with the squeegee bottle used solely for the dousing of a wayward flame on the braai is, as far as I know, the actual kit handed out to all graduates of whatever meat connoisseur academy these people graduate from. So this might seem like a lot of onion to use in one recipe. It is. But trust him. This is one of those recipes born from a need to find a use for a bag of huge pasta shells and a bit of Parmesan that’s being sitting in the freezer for 6 months. For best results, cook the ragu a day in advance. This makes about two portions of meat. Freeze half and use in anything that requires a Bolognaise sauce.

Oxtail Ragu Stuffed Pasta Shells in Parmesan Cream

Oxtail Ragu Stuffed Pasta Shells in Parmesan Cream

Hands-on time

40 mins

Cook time

4 hours

Total time

4 hours 40 mins


Recipe type: Main

Serves: 4


  • For the ragu:
  • Roughly 1kg oxtail
  • 800g minced beef
  • 4 large onions, chopped
  • 5ml coriander (the brown ground up stuff, not the green, chopped stuff. 5ml of coriander leaves would be a total waste of time.)
  • 5ml cumin
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 250ml red wine
  • 250ml beef stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 10ml dried origanum (you’re going to boil this for hours, so it’s really not worth the effort of washing a mezzaluna for the fresh stuff)
  • 50g tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon of plum jam (or plub jab for those with sinus problems)
  • Seasoning
  • For the Parmesan Cream:
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 level tablespoons flour
  • 3ml coriander
  • 400ml milk
  • 250ml cream
  • 50g Parmesan, grated
  • Seasoning


  1. In a large, cast iron pot, brown the oxtail.
  2. Scoop the oxtail into a dish and add the mince to the pot to brown.
  3. Scoop the mince out and add the onion to the pot. Sauté over a low heat until they’re slightly caramelised. It shouldn’t be necessary to add oil as the meat should give off enough fat.
  4. Add the garlic and fry for a further 2 minutes.
  5. Add the cumin and coriander, stir through and cook for a further minute or two.
  6. Add the meat and any juices that have collected to the pot.
  7. Add the tomatoes, stock, wine, bay leaf, herbs and tomato paste. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and allow to simmer for 4 hours, stirring occasionally.
  8. Remove the oxtail, shred the meat from the bones and return to the pot. (The meat, not the bones. Give the bones to the dogs. After you’ve nibbled on them – it’s the best bit really).
  9. At this point, if there is too much liquid in the sauce, turn the heat up and reduce. You want a fair amount of liquid, but not too much. Sort of like the length of a piece of string.
  10. Adjust the seasoning. If the tomatoes were a bit too acidic, or the onions haven’t added enough sweetness, add a tablespoon of plum jam.
  11. For the Parmesan Cream:
  12. Melt the butter, add the flour and stir. Cook for 2 minutes. Add the coriander and cook for a further minute.
  13. Add the milk and stir till smooth. I heat my milk before adding it. Makes it easier to get a smooth sauce. If at this point you have made the type of lumpy white sauce that would get you a D in Home Ec. then don’t panic. Just take a whisk to it and the lumps will come out.
  14. Add the cream and stir in the Parmesan cheese.
  15. Adjust the seasoning. This should be a fairly thin sauce as the pasta is going to slurp up a lot of the liquid.
  16. To assemble:
  17. Preheat the oven to 180˚C.
  18. Pour the Parmesan cream into a dish just large enough to accommodate all the shells cheek to jowl. You’ll need around 28 of the large Delverde Conchiglioni No.240 shells. (Available in George at Checkers, York Street.)
  19. Place spoons full of the meat sauce in the shells and arrange in the dish on the sauce. The shells must be completely filled – if you leave a gap at the top it won’t cook through.
  20. Cover with foil and bake in the oven for 40 minutes. Check after the first twenty minutes to ensure that all the shells are covered with sauce. If any bits are sticking out, either push them back under the sauce or add a little more milk if it’s looking too dry.
  21. Remove from the oven, allow to stand, covered, for 5 minutes and serve.
Oxtail ragu stuffed pasta shells

Thailand: Krabi & Railay Beach

Thailand: Krabi & Railay Beach
Thailand: Krabi & Railay Beach

If you’re travelling to Thailand, you no doubt already picture yourself in either or all of these scenarios: 1) You’re lying supine on a white, sandy beach, slick with coconut oil, sipping a cocktail and occasionally going for a dip in a warm, turquoise sea. 2) You’re partaking in the type of hedonistic activity that will ultimately have you handing out bras in a Thai prison, a la Bridget Jones. Or 3) You’re buying bargains in a market, the stories of which will have your friends “No freaken way!”-ing at your next braai. Well the good news is you can very easily fit in all three if you have a week there!


Krabi is a small town on the west coast of Southern Thailand, on the eastern shoreline of Phang Nga Bay. This is not the pumping beaches and raucous night life of Phuket. Here you spend your hours languishing on bean bags on the beach sipping Mojito’s by day and have quiet candle lit dinners with your feet in the sand by night. It is a more convenient base for day trips to Koh Phi Phi and Railay than Phuket.

Krabi & Railay Beach

Railay is, in my humble opinion, the undiscovered jewel of the Andaman Sea. Sheer cliffs have their feet firmly planted in long, white beaches and there is not a lounger in site. There are over 700 climbing routes in the area and even though it is not an island, the cliffs mean it is only accessible by boat.  Long boats can be chartered from the dock in Ao Nang. (Make sure your life insurance is in order before boarding – it’s almost safer travelling on the N1 in December. When we were on Bamboo Island two locals dragged themselves on to the beach after capsizing the previous night and swimming for 8 hours with nothing more than a polyester cooler box to keep them afloat! It if was my husband’s cooler, the beer would’ve sunk us.) The longboats from Ao Nang drop you off in the sea on the Eastern side of the peninsula. And by in the sea, I mean IN the sea. Depending on the tide and whether the skipper likes you or not, we’re talking thigh high at least, so dress for the occasion. There is a walkway to the western side where there are views of the rock climbers and more imposing cliffs. Mangroves grow on this side, so it’s not for beaching, but it’s absolutely beautiful none the less. From here, make your way to the right towards the cliffs. A path follows the foot of the cliff through forests and stalactites and will eventually bring you to the beach. Be sure to have a peek at Phra Nang Cave  to get your fill of phalluses (if you’ll excuse the turn of phrase).

While there are a few restaurants at the main beach, I would suggest having lunch from the longboat moored on this stretch of beach. It’s really good and dirt cheap. We weren’t planning on eating here, but an unfortunate breakdown in communications meant that the fried ice cream I asked for was interpreted by the vendor as fwy wice. But it was good fried rice! This long (well, relatively long – we really are blessed with our beaches in the Cape!), white stretch of beach gives you splendid views of the limestone cliffs in the bay and – thanks to strict Krabi province laws prohibiting the use of loungers that are a blight on most Thai beaches – ample space to park yourself wherever you please.

If you’re going to stay in Krabi, the Tubkaak Boutique Resort is an absolute must. It might be on the pricier side by Thai standards (you can get a room in a local hostel from around R60 per night), but seldom will someone watching the pennies be able to afford the type of place where a total stranger greets you by name at breakfast and knows exactly how you take your tea  – even if it’s “English with condensed milk please”. (Under duress I will acquiesce to one major flaw in an otherwise superb establishment – their website is in Comic Sans. But don’t let that put you off!). The grounds and rooms are a harmonious blend of natural elements, with stone baths in the open courtyards fed from the mountain stream that winds its way through the property and the same orchids and green canopy from your bathroom greeting you when you step out of your room. This is a great place from which to explore the surrounding islands, and they really make it easy for you. There is a shuttle in to town on some evenings where you can peruse the local night market or have a bite to eat if you’ve gotten tired of the sunset fare at The Arundina, the Tubkaak’s own restaurant. (Just kidding! No one can get tired of the food at The Arundina. But make a turn in town any way, if only to go for a Thai pancake at Rotee Yaminlah. The crisp Thai style pancakes served from this cart will make you weep for joy. Try the cheese one with mayo or just stick to good old Nutella. Okay, I hear how that sounds, but trust me on the cheese and mayo!) The hotel can also organise a variety of day tours and will shuttle you to and from the pick-up points. It’s really a good idea to go with their recommendations, as they have done the dirty work of sifting out the shysters for you. They obviously make use of the more commercial tour operators, but as I’m the type of person who prefers the anonymity of a crowd to the Kumbaya moments afforded by the more intimate operators, we were very happy with our tour – Koh Phi Phi Tours. With around 40 people to a boat it’s small enough to get to know the guy who’s parked his flip flops next to you, but big enough to avoid the loud mouth woman who wore stiletto’s to a snorkel expedition. Tours depart at 8 o’clock, giving you enough time to have breakfast at the hotel. You can choose from a wide variety of Western and Thai dishes from the set menu or buffet or both (did I mention how much I love this place??). It might seem a bit weird to your pallet at first to start the day off with noodles stir fried with prawns, squid and lettuce, but you must have the Mee Hokkien for breakfast at least once! Their Phad Thai was also the best I tasted anywhere on our travels.

Depending on the operator, tides and weather conditions, the tour will take you to Maya Bay (it of The Beach fame, but without the man eating sharks and with more speedboats), Koh Phi Phi Lay, Koh Phi Phi Don (where we had a set lunch at the restaurant), Monkey Island (watch your stuff!), Bamboo Island and Mosquito Island (a total misnomer). Non-alcoholic drinks and lunch are included and at Bamboo Island you also have fresh fruit and Krabi cake (which you might have to share with washed up locals). We snorkelled off Phi Phi and Mosquito Island and I can honestly say it was one of the most magical experiences of my life! (I should add though that when it comes to snorkelling I am relatively easily pleased as my only other experience with it involved a two minute excursion with a leaky mask, a nasty black sea urchin and an ex off the coast of Natal.) I’m not sure where the area rates on a global scale in terms of snorkelling (the coral would be right down there – it’s just various shades of brown really), but for me it was the candy store of the sea and I was the little kid. Just the different varieties of parrot fish were enough to turn me into THAT person on the boat that has to be poked with a long stick because everyone else is waiting on board and they haven’t looked up long enough to see that they must come in out of the water. After a day of snorkeling, marveling at the sheer number of tones that the colour turquoise comes in and lying on the beach they will get you back to the hotel early enough for happy hour, so that you can watch the sun set over the bay while you sip on two-for-the-price-of-one cocktails. All for around R780.00 per person for the whole day.

Back at the hotel, dinner at the Arundina is sublime. You literally sit with your feet in the sand (should you choose), with the only sound other than the sea coming from the discreet local band providing quiet background music to set the tone for your meal. As with breakfast and lunch there are a generous number of Western and Thai options. So you can be adventurous with Fresh banana flower salad with peanut, roasted coconut and chilli or Tubkaak style deep-fried chicken served with papaya salad and sticky rice or stick to a more conservative Pan-fried sea bass served with mixed grilled  vegetables and garlic white wine sauce. The Homemade shrimp and lobster-spinach ravioli in a light blue cheese and tomato sauce (it was “or”, but they are very eager to cater to your every culinary whim) was also delicious. Everything was delicious. I didn’t eat a single thing here that I didn’t absolutely love!

The Tubkaak has a spa (which, amongst a long list of other treatments, gives the type of Thai couples massages that will make you forget how your legs work), a large pool and its own private stretch of beach where you can lounge on bean bags all day, snorkel in the  sea or paddle around in a kayak. (I quite like the idea of the bean bags. Loungers are all smooth and sleek, the better to contrast with your burgeoning “must try all things Thai” body, while the bean bags are sort of big and lumpy, making you look sleek and svelte by comparison.) Cocktails are served on the beach, so there is no reason to not spend at least one entire day just relaxing right here. And when you’ve had your fill of relaxing (not likely) and are ready to head to Phuket, the hotel will drop you off safely at the bus terminal from where you can take a bus to Phuket for a mere R35.00 per person, or use the hotel’s shuttle for around R800 for a charter right to your next hotel’s doorstep.

Getting there:  Thai Airlines and SAA fly direct to Phuket and Bangkok from Johannesburg, but when we went Singapore Airlines was by far the cheapest. You have a layover at Singapore’s Changi Airport, but that in itself is such an experience the detour is no hardship. If you land early enough (you have to register by 3PM) there is a shuttle that will take you on a tour of the city. There’s a butterfly garden, orchid garden, cinema, 3D experience, massage chairs and loads of other entertainment.

You Don’t Need To Keep An Italian To Eat Italian

You Don’t Need To Keep An Italian To Eat Italian

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.

You Don’t Need To Keep An Italian To Eat 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:
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

Breakfast Flapjacks

Breakfast Flapjacks

Like tea in a fine china cup, cheese when it’s grated and chocolate on a Tuesday when you started your diet on Monday, food just tastes better when it’s shared. I feel a little cheated when we go out for dinner and I don’t have at least two bites of my husband’s food (Tip: This handy habit also decreases your chances of getting order envy). So when we were asked last Sunday to cater for breakfast at the beach, I decided to haul out my Grandad’s old Mongolian Grill and get everyone to cook their own. I used to love the evenings when we did stirfry at Oupa’s house on this splendid contraption. I would scoop up spoons full of bacon, beef and chicken and top it all with two julienned carrots and a bean sprout and declare that I was eating my veggies. Not being Chinese, no one ever got the actual stir fry just right, but that didn’t seem to matter. There was just something about the “Check hers out!” and “Bru, I don’t think it’s supposed look like that!” that somehow made the complete lack of authentic taste of the food irrelevant. It didn’t really matter what they ate, everyone just loved the competition. I was sure the same could be achieved with some batter and a bit of bacon and I was not disappointed. There will always be that one guy who puts the cheese in too early. “Bru, I don’t think it’s supposed to look like that!”.

Mongolian BBQ breakfast

Breakfast Flapjacks

Breakfast has never been this much fun!


Recipe type: Breakfast

Serves: 4 – 6 (depending on the chefs)


  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • Cooking oil
  • 2 packets bacon, chopped
  • 1 punnet brown mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 cups cheese, grated
  • I bunch spring onions, sliced
  • Any other filling that takes your fancy (Feta and sundried tomatoes and a few fresh herbs would add a nice Mediterranean twist. Ooh, and salmon, cream cheese and caviar if you want to get all fancy!)
  • Eggs
  • Sauce to serve. We used a creamy mushroom, but Hollandaise would be fantastic!


  1. For the flapjack batter, whisk the eggs and sugar together.
  2. Add ½ cup of milk and butter to the egg mixture.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together and add to the egg mixture.
  4. Add the remaining milk and mix to a smooth batter.
  5. If necessary, add a little water to the batter if it’s too thick.
  6. Now oil and fire up the grill. To cook the flapjacks, each person fries whatever filling combination they like. Once cooked, you can flatten the ingredients on the grill into more or less a flat, round shape and then pour the batter over, but I found the best way is to scoop the cooked ingredients into a bowl, add the batter and cheese and then scoop spoonfuls back onto the hot griddle. When bubbles start forming on the top, flip over, cook the other side for a few moments and serve with the sauce and a fried egg.

Honeyed Pears and Walnuts with Port & Gorgonzola

Honeyed Pears and Walnuts with Port & Gorgonzola
Honeyed pears with port & gorgonzola

If you’re looking for an easy pre-dinner drinks snack then this dish is a winner! Sit near it and you’ll look like the most popular person at the party.

Honeyed Pears and Walnuts with Port & Gorgonzola

Hands-on time

10 mins

Cook time

20 mins

Total time

30 mins


Recipe type: Snack

Serves: 6


  • 5 firm pears – cored, peeled and diced into 1cm cubes
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 heaped tablespoons honey
  • 125ml walnuts, chopped
  • 125ml Port (Hanepoot or Jerepico will also get the job done, but the Port makes it really pretty)
  • 125g or more of any blue veined cheese
  • Melba toast or crackers for serving or puff pastry if you have the energy


  1. In a saucepan, heat the butter over a moderately high heat. Add the pears and honey and fry until golden and sticky. Add the Port and boil until reduced to a syrup. Add the walnuts, heat through and allow to cool. Once at room temperature, crumble in the blue cheese and stir until just combined. Now you can do one of three things. Four if you count munching the whole lot straight from the pan before it can even get to the table.
  2. Serve at room temperature with melba toast or crackers.
  3. Warm in a 180˚C oven until the cheese just starts to melt and serve with melba toast or crackers.
  4. Or, my personal favourite, cut puff pastry into squares (roughly – and I say roughly because I never seem to be able to cut two squares to the same size – 5 x 5cm squares). Score the pastry square all the way around about 5mm from the edge. This is so that the edge will puff up and contain the filling when baking, so don’t be tempted to skip this step. The time you save skipping this will be spent trying to scrub the burnt filling off your prized oven pan. Spoon teaspoons full of the mix onto the squares and bake at 200˚C until golden (around 20 minutes). When you do it this way the pear mixture goes all caramel and gooey on the edges. Very moreish!

The Views Spa

The Views Spa

Let me preface this post by saying that what I know about the prerequisites for a commendable spa can be written on the back of a cooling cucumber eye patch. But what I do know is that spending the morning at the Views Spa with my fabulous girlfriends left me feeling like I’d had an entire holiday. From the soft, fluffy, slippers that ensconce your feet the minute you set them through the door, to the unsurpassed ocean views you can enjoy from the pool, the whole experience makes you forget that there is a job, a dirty house, rhino poachers or that you live in a city where ninety percent of the inhabitants still don’t know how to use a traffic circle. It is, in a word, sublime.

The Views Spa

So let’s get the nasty part out of the way first: There is a gym. Moving on. Booking any of the treatments  also means you can make use of the Tylarium Sauna and Rasul Steam Room. Or simply relax and take in the breathtaking views from the tranquil waters of the pool or the loungers on the deck. Treatment rooms are beautifully appointed in shades of taupe and calming aquamarine – the better to relax you when you’re having your bits waxed or your skin peeled off. If pain and torture aren’t your thing, it was evident from the inability of my friend’s eyeballs to both focus on the same place at the same time following a deep tissue that the massages are pretty good too. The therapists are attentive, unobtrusive and professional. There are comfy loungers on the sun deck with views to Kaaiman’s and the serene blues of the interior blend so seamlessly into the turquoise of the sea that you just sort of waft effortlessly from one to the other like a beslippered nymph in a dressing gown.

Prices are really reasonable and – with all the little extras thrown in – splashing out on a treatment or two will get you a very special day with friends, your man (or woman – they have couples rooms and packages) or just a treat for yourself to get away from it all for a bit.

Views Spa & Gym:

South Street, Wilderness, 6529, South Africa

Tel: +27 44 877 8010

e-mail: spabookings(at)

Chicken Liver Parfait

Chicken Liver Parfait

Chicken Liver Parfait. Big whoop, I hear you say as you start navigating away from the page. But trust me, if you are in any way partial to chicken liver (and even if you’re not, but you’re easily persuaded to partake in activities you know you shouldn’t) try this! It is slightly more finicky than bog standard pâté, but it’s totally worth the effort of cleaning the icky sieve afterwards. It’s like the conscious (and poor) person’s foie gras. Just please don’t try to fry it. And whatever you do, don’t attempt to make it directly after watching an episode of American Horror Story like I did, cause the whole process is a bit gross. You’ve been warned. Also, you might want to befriend a cardiothoracic surgeon and keep him / her on hand before tucking in. This is not diet food!

Chicken Liver Parfait

From Food & Home Entertaining

Chicken Liver Parfait

Hands-on time

20 mins

Cook time

45 mins

Total time

1 hour 5 mins


Serves: 8


  • 500g chicken livers
  • 500ml milk
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 shallots or small onions, chopped
  • 6 sprigs thyme, leaves only
  • 375ml port
  • 375ml sherry (not too sweet)
  • 500g butter, melted
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • Salt and pepper


  1. NB. Ensure all your ingredients are at room temperature when mixing or they might curdle.
  2. Clean the livers and soak in the milk overnight to remove any bitterness.
  3. The next day, place garlic, shallots and thyme in a saucepan with the port and sherry. Simmer until reduced to a thick syrup and allow to cool.
  4. Preheat the oven to 150˚C.
  5. Rinse the livers and pat dry with a paper towel.
  6. In a food processor, blend the livers with the syrup reduction and slowly add the butter in a steady stream. Once it’s all incorporated, stir in the egg yolk. Don’t blend again, or the mixture might curdle. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve and season to taste. This is a bit tricky, cause you really don’t want to taste it at this point! I suggest cooking a teaspoon full in the microwave to check the seasoning.
  7. Pour into a terrine lined with plastic wrap. I just used a loaf tin, but this meant that the plastic melted where it came into direct contact with the metal. In retrospect this was a doff move.
  8. Place in a bain marie or oven tray with hot water halfway up the side of the dish. Bake for about 45 minutes. The centre should be at 68˚C (a knife stuck in the centre and placed on your lip should be hot, but not burn you. If it burns you you’ve overdone it and will now also require some Bactroban for that burn on top of having to dig out the frozen cheese puffs because you promised tonight’s hostess that you’d bring a snack to the party. I suggest you just sit down with a glass of wine before you start cleaning up that icky sieve.)
  9. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the water. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours before serving. Don’t be tempted to prod it in any way!
  10. Unmould and serve thin slices with melba toast.

Roast Tomato and Garlic Soup with Bacon and Cheese Toasts

Roast Tomato and Garlic Soup with Bacon and Cheese Toasts

In a sheer fit of lunacy, I once decided to attempt one of Heston Blumenthal’s recipes. Chilli Con Carne to be exact. After three days of painstakingly weighing, chopping, roasting, simmering, straining and thrice cooking about a thousand rand’s worth of ingredients I had Chilli Con Carne that tasted like, well, Chilli Con Carne (and a pretty chilliless one at that – I was obviously a bit too timid). But while I no longer see the point of making my own beef stock when Nomu does an excellent job of it, I did learn one thing: How to extract maximum flavour from the humble tomato with minimum effort.

Tomato soup

Roast Tomato and Garlic Soup with Bacon and Cheese Toasts

Hands-on time

25 mins

Cook time

60 mins

Total time

1 hour 25 mins


Recipe type: Soup

Serves: 4


  • For the soup:
  • 1kg fresh tomatoes, cut into quarters (If you can find on the vine, retain the vine. If you can’t, consider tending a tomato plant in your garden for that purpose. Pretty much every garden has one growing somewhere thanks to birds indiscriminately pooping wherever they please.)
  • 1 garlic bulb, cloves peeled
  • 2 onions, cut into quarters
  • 50ml olive oil
  • 30ml balsamic vinegar
  • 15ml sugar
  • 20g tomato paste
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • Seasoning
  • Basil pesto to serve
  • For the bacon and cheese toasts:
  • 4 to 6 Slices of bread (I used potbrood, but any fairly solid loaf will do)
  • 1 cup grated cheese
  • 250g bacon, fried and chopped
  • 3 heaped tablespoons cream cheese
  • 1 tablespoon fresh, chopped oregano
  • Seasoning


  1. For the soup:
  2. Preheat the oven to 200˚C once you are ready with your tomatoes. Place the tomatoes in a colander over a baking dish and sprinkle liberally with Maldon salt. At least a tablespoon full. Allow to stand until a fair amount of juice has collected in the dish. Add the tomatoes to the dish with the onion, peeled garlic cloves, oil and vinegar. Roast at 200˚C for twenty minutes then turn the oven down to 160˚C and roast for a further 40 or so minutes. Once everything looks beautiful and sticky, you stop. Stir occasionally and keep an eye on the garlic because it tends to get a bit too toasty if left on the bottom for too long.
  3. At this point you can take everything, chuck the tomato vine in and refrigerate until you’re ready for the soup. Once you are ready, place the whole lot in a blender with the chicken stock and process till smooth. My husband likes things chunky (a lucky coincidence for me considering I’m ten kilo’s heavier than the day he married me), but if you like your soups smooth, you can pass it through a sieve at this point. Remember to scrape the bits that stick to the bottom of the sieve off – it helps to thicken the soup. Add the tomato paste and stir in the sugar if the tomatoes aren’t sweet enough.
  4. Heat through and serve with a basil pesto swirl and a dash of cream if you like.
  5. For the bacon and cheese toasts:
  6. Mix all the ingredients together. Place the bread slices under a grill and toast till toasty. Flip over and spread the cheese mixture on the untoasted side. Place back under the grill and bake until golden and bubbly. Cut into soldiers and serve with the soup.

Mayo Dip for Fish Cakes

Mayo Dip for Fish Cakes

Considering the abundance of recipes overflowing from my kitchen cupboard, one would think that I’d kick the year off with something a little more shoo-wow than fish cakes. Even if the recipe did promise they would be as good as your gran used to wish she could make. But there was something appealing about making a humble fish cake the way a chef would do it. So in true me style, I took this Master Class recipe, swore hand on heart I would follow it to the letter, and then promptly changed it to suit my new need-to-shrink-a-dress-size and need-to-clear-the-clutter-from-my-life resolutions. The fishcakes themselves were no great shakes so I haven’t even included them, but the sauce was yummy!

Mayo Dip for Fish Cakes
(Adapted from the January 2011 Food & Home Entertaining recipe by chef Jodi-Ann Pearton)

Mayo Dip for Fish Cakes


Recipe type: Condiment

Serves: 4


  • 75ml good quality mayonnaise (OK, I lie. The recipe said good quality mayo, but I had some Cross & Blackwell (sorry Cross & Blackwell) I needed to finish, so I used that and I actually really liked the sweet tartness it added to the sauce.)
  • 75ml cottage cheese and enough milk to get the consistency you like once the sauce is done
  • 15ml green peppercorns (A horrific incident with a day old pepper steak pie in my student days means that I steer way clear of pepper, so I omitted this.)
  • 15ml creamed horseradish (fresh out, so substituted wasabi)
  • 15ml Dijon mustard
  • ¼ onion, very finely chopped
  • 5ml flat leaf parsley
  • 2,5ml lemon zest


  1. Chuck all the ingredients in a blender and whizz till smooth or just stir together if you prefer something a little chunkier. Serve with fish cakes or just about anything that could do with a creamy dipping sauce.