Eat Your Way Through Cape Town
Rugged scenery, raw nature, an intertwinement of cultures, an unspoiled blend of flavours. So much about a country and culture is expressed through its cuisine. Cape Town, is the cape of fusion.
Escorting me is our local food guru, Annie Morris from Cape Fusion Tours. Her mission for the day is to help me discover what gives Cape Town its pulse. I was desperate to experience Cape Town’s vibrancy, taste her ethos and get lost in her inner soul. We were going to explore the backstreets of Cape Town to find the tastes that represent the rainbow nation. Bo Kaap was the perfect place for us to start.
An explosive burst of colourful, character filled streets, dotted with vividly painted houses. Table Mountain looming in the background like a proud father overlooking his precious daughter. Formally the Malay quarter of town, Bo Kaap’s rainbow houses varied in colour so they could be identified.
The Malay people (9% of the population) were those who lived in this vivid houses. The houses were not as bright in their former lives as they are today and this area is starting to overflow with yuppies and young money is raising the standard of living in this beautiful area of town.
The general store, a mini mart, was my first stop. It was like a step back into the 80’s. Vinyl flooring, wooden wall panels and that smell of old furniture – kind of like what Grandma’s house would smell like. We were greeted with a cheery smile and ushered inside through the plastic streamers flapping from the door as we are handed samosas and koesister cake.
The samosa is meat and curry flavoured – so fresh, so tasty. Koesister cake is a donut created with bread flour, dipped in sugar syrup and duster with coconut. A healthy alternative to real donuts. The locals watched me devour my Malay snacks with approval. Their eyes crinkled with their broad smiles, their heads nodding at my satisfaction in reaction to their cuisine.
There is a real community sense in Bo Kaap. Everyone knows each other and looks out for each other. The small shops in this area have been established for over 34 years and have been running with the same owners from day dot. Longevity breathes pride into Bo Kaap. Annie even parks her car in the driveway of an elderly lady’s house who no longer drives. She greets everyone by name and they do the same in return. There is a real sense of belonging here. It is truly beautiful.
Meandering slowly through the technicolour laneways, I veer off touristy Dorp Street and follow my nose. Spices float on the air. Children squeal and giggle in empty lots, practicing dance moves and climbing chain metal fences. I learn that there are Malay cooking classes offered in Bo Kaap where you learn to make local Malay cuisine. My mouth waters at the thought.
Atlas Trading Spice Market
Back onto the main road and the Atlas Trading Spice Market is my next stop. Spices line the walls from floor to ceiling, large drums are clearly labelled and small bags are rolled open. The spices here are cheap. $3.90AUD per kilo for Tumeric. Every spice you can think of is in existence here including Mother in Law and Father in Law masala. My nostrils flair with appreciation. The Indian community make up 1.9% of the south African population, most of them arriving 150 years ago as labour workers in the sugar cane fields of Kwazulu Natal.
Continuing on, I reach Heritage Square. An unexpected little square. Quaint, with sandstone walls and a hidden winery in the far corner called Dorrance. The entry is almost as secretive as the square. You enter via small stairway that leads underground, luring women in with an enticing sign claiming ‘George Clooney is inside’. Wine maker Christophe Durand, is there to greet me. He has been running this boutique winery for 14 years but only recently opened in Cape Town six months ago. I explore his barrel room and swirl his Chenin Blanc on my palette. It is smooth. Fruity. Fresh. He offers cellar dining amongst the oak barrels as well as a vast array of condiments created from local produce. Chutneys, jams, pickles.
Continuing through Heritage Square, I enter the Cape Heritage Hotel. Framing the entrance is the oldest vine in Cape Town. Introduced from France, it is supposedly the only one left in the world. Its twisted body looks aged and worn. Perfect for a reserve. Dorrance Winery are going to be producing wine from this significantly ancient vine. The vine is expected to produce 20 litres of wine which should sell at a cost of 1000R per bottle.
The hotel oozes with uber cool décor. Rustic globes, wired and beaded artworks, lamp stands made from recycled plastic bottles and a lamp shade that I was unsure of. Was it an upside down bucket or pot plant?
Exiting the hotel to my right was the Chefs Warehouse and Kitchen. Run by Michelin star chef Liam Tomlin who previously had restaurants in Australia (Banc in Martin Place was one of many.) Liam and wife Jan wanted to have a more relaxed lifestyle so they moved to Cape Town and created this fascinating space. No reservations can be made. The food is tapas style and the interior, rustic but a chic warehouse ambience. Long tables run down the right hand side and on the left is a small market place selling trendy branded pots pans, utensils and assorted condiments.
If you visit Chefs Warehouse, be sure to hello to their plump dog, Bailey. A portion of the food created in the Chefs Warehouse is taken downstairs to another hole in the wall named ‘Street Food on Bree.’
Located directly underneath Chefs Warehouse, this capsule of a space is formally the wine cellar for the Cape Heritage Hotel.
When Liam is trying out new menus for Chefs Warehouse, he sends the new creations down to Street Food on Bree as a trial. This space is like an underground cave. The ceilings are low, the lights are dim. It is for locals who stop by and want something amazing to eat but don’t have the time to dine. It is almost like a drive through but on foot with a loading bay out the front where you can pull up and grab your bite to eat. I have the privilege of tasting todays ‘street food’. A delicious panko crumbed chicken salad washed down with a freshly squeezed juice.
Around the corner to the right and up a slight gradient is my dream café. A place called ‘Honest Chocolate’. The reason it is my dream place is because I am dairy intolerant and can never normally eat chocolate without being violently ill. My wonderful guide Annie, had asked me prior to our tour if there was anything I could not eat. When I mentioned dairy, she went out of her way to find this magical gem for me. The chocolate here is made without emulsifiers, dairy, preservatives or additives. I spend some time with the chocolatier, learning of the painstaking process as even the slightest drip of condensation can make chocolate split and inedible.
For me, this is pure heaven. Rich, delicious and as healthy as chocolate can get. The counter is littered with truffles available for tasting. The cute outdoor courtyard leads into a small art gallery and a small gin bar – what a perfect combination.
I read through the menu. Chocolate pizza, praline, truffles, banana bread with ice-cream and fudge. Brownies, dark chocolate cake, selections of chocolate varieties feature on the walls with their wrappers created by local artists. Each wrapper has a creative name such as ‘Don’t be afraid of the Dark’, ’Mint Forest’.
I pass an interesting venture called ‘House of Machines’, created by a group of mates, who have successfully launched a micro business which is a combination of their passions - coffee, bikes, bourbon and live music.
A brief stop is then made at Kamili coffee. There are coffee roasters popping up all over Cape Town and there is an interesting story behind them. South Africans used to head to the supermarket and purchase Italian coffee due to the nostalgia attached to coffee that is said to be ‘Italian’. What they didn’t realise though, was that the coffee beans were originally from South Africa. By time the beans were shipped from South Africa to Italy, repackaged as Italian coffee and sent back to South Africa for sale, the beans were a year old. Once this was realised, the owner of Kamili Coffee bought his own roaster and started sourcing their own coffee beans and now South Africans can enjoy fresh coffee.
District Six is where I headed next. The buildings here are like taking a step back in time. Still original from the 30s and 40s, these Art Deco styled buildings are a fascinating combination with a strong English, French and Dutch influence. Charlies Bakery, known for its world famed cupcakes is in this hood, along with New York Bagels who has a queue down the street. The bagels smell good. Fresh salmon and cream cheese supported with fresh juices is the specialty here.
South Africa’s largest coffee roaster, Truth Coffee was my next port of call. Located within a massive restored warehouse. It is industrial, trendy, loud, chic and has a monster coffee roaster. Roasting beans from all over the world, they offer barista classes out the back and coffee here is taken extremely seriously.
Truth Coffee roast beans several times a day. I was lucky enough to meet their head roaster just as he was setting up to begin the next lot of roasting - 8 x 60kg bags. Their mega roaster is run on biodiesel and has a fancy computer with a live graph to show the temperature of beans vs the temperature inside the roaster. Due to the variance in the beans, this graph has to be monitored constantly to avoid over or under roasting. The team here do their own onsite packaging into 1kg bags for distribution for clients and also to other coffee houses.
I sip away on my rich espresso as I learn. Inside this vast warehouse, they also hold a vintage market once a week where the funds to go to a Red Sock Charity. The furniture here is retro. Old school typewriters, safes, vintage lounges and a beautiful old piano fill the room. Think Ernest Hemmingway’s house.
It is now lunch time and onto Haas. Haas (meaning hare in Africans) is famous for its mini Bunny Chows, a bread roll stuffed with meat and saucy goodness. When you order the mini Bunny Chow, don’t make the mistake most people do. Each order comes with 3 mini bunny chows and trust me, they are super filling.
The team here at Haas are also coffee roasters. This space is an interesting one. It’s a bit of an industrial mix slash artist workshop. The team support local artists here allowing them to display their installations in the shop for exposure. Today, the display is small children’s soldiers representing any young person who has suffered pain in their life.
I venture with Annie down to Woodstock. An up and coming area of Cape Town but very rarely visited by travellers. Many locals are still reluctant to explore the streets here. There are a multitude of dilapidated buildings which are slowly being brought and restored and slowly evolutionising into trendy loft apartments. This area was previously the drug and prostitute area of Cape Town, but today is very much a wholesale zone for items such as hessian bags, second hand furniture and wood.
Albert Road is the main drag and is located just outside of the city centre. This area is rich in street art. A local man believed that art is for everyone not just well dressed wealthy people who go to galleries. This man wanted everyone to see the talented artists of Cape Town. So what did he do about it? He used the outer walls of his house for local artists to showcase their work and then started approaching other people in the area for use of their walls. Artists would show the wall owners their designs and then paint them. Due to this movement, artists from all around the world come here to have their artwork on show.
The Old Biscuit Mill is one of the newest and trendiest complexes along Albert Road. Purchased by an advertising company who has their offices situated upstairs, they rent out the lower level to foodies and trendy fashion designers. It has vibrant markets every Saturday which are filled with locals. Also within this complex is a fascinating restaurant called The Test Kitchen, a wine bar and a chocolate bar.
The Test Kitchen is distinctly industrial with brick walls, oak beams, ducts and pipes exposing the integrity and honesty of the building. The tables are made of oxidised mild steel and have a consciously rough, rusted appearance in harmony with the surrounds.
The open plan kitchen engages directly with the guests seated at the wooden bar that wraps around it. The dining room is small, seating only 65. The guests are able to see and hear the buzz of the chefs at work, and smell what’s coming next across the pass. This place has serious draw card factor.
As I continue to wander the street and explore some of the local shops, I discover that a majority of the shops are actually multiple stores in one. Furniture at the front, a juicing business in the middle, alongside that are boutique fashion designers, then a pool hall at the back. Totally random but it somehow works.
The smell of barbecue is a pleasant invasion to my nostrils. Alongside me is the local grill for meat lovers with a brewery upstairs. The idea is that you explore the brewery whilst your meat is cooking. By the time you go back, your meat is ready.
A few metres down the road is The Bromwell, a Boutique Mall. There is a cute café downstairs and upstairs is an exclusive South African designers forum for fashion, art and homewares.
There are so many nooks and crannies in this developing part of Cape Town. It is a very exciting area to explore.
The Woodstock Foundry offers even more coffee roasters including Tribe Coffee, the second largest roaster in South Africa after Truth. Also within this complex is a Bicycle Café where you can get your push bike fixed while enjoying a freshly squeezed juice.
This was the last stop on my foodie adventure. My belly was now full and my time with Annie was coming to an end. It was now time to slip into a food coma and have a siesta. The eclectic mix of flavours uncovered and tasted in Cape Town on this gourmet expedition provided a brilliant insight into the amalgamation of cultures in this southern African city. A true testament to multiculturalism strengthening a nation through its food.
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