Food Trip South Africa
If you’re like me you travel around the world making food and travel TV Shows so when the chance came to jump down the rabbit hole again with the Todd Squad well let’s just say, call me what you like but don’t call me late for TV dinner. Celebrity Chef Todd English, Food writer and good friend Annie Copps,sound recordist Steveevo and yours truly shuttle off to LaGuardia and connect with a flight to Atlanta then off to Mother Africa. Next stop: Dhaka, Senegal. Just another 8 hours to Johannesburg. Africa is big and we are going far. Insert ambien here.
Touchdown and finally arrive at the reknowned Hotel Westcliffe a perfect hilltop series of buildings overlooking the city. Dinner at Westcliffe of Lobster bobotie, Springbok and a South African Pinotage. Very nice. The crew is happy and ready to roll. We are glad to be together and ready for another food adventure. (nts: it is good to be Chef.)
A foggy morning in Joburg. The dinner last night reminded this place is all about food and so am I. The bounty of Africa awaits. I’m about to meet passionate local Cooks who mind tradition to keep soul in the food. So the Crew and I are in Johannesburg heading for a private plane that will take us back to the hungry and the hunted, back into Africa. Outside the Westcliffe enclave, graffiti walls and razor wire Johannesburg goes by as our van speeds thru town to avoid the morning motorway traffic. I wish we had another day here. I heard about a little place in Soweto where the lunch is awesome….next time. The plane is waiting.
The airport gets small and we climb out over cultivated lands that slowly change to velt as we fly east to the Zwa-Zulu Natal. We make a neat touchdown on an airstrip in the bush covered with Impala poop. The Impala, proud of themselves stand on the other side of the landing field. Their backsides look like the McDonald’s logo. McButt. A little queezy from the puddle jump we could use a beverage. The staff from CC Africa’s Forrest lodge awaits and obliges. Pimms No.1 Cup all?
Roofless four bench seat custom land rovers are waiting. They’ll be our ride for the next few days. A large caliber rifle and a machete adorn the dash and a special seat is mounted on the front of the hood for the tracker or bait depending on the scenario. Now if Safari is like fishing this trip starts out catching on every cast. Hello Rhino, Elephant, Giraffe. I ask if I can walk up to the Giraffe and our guide says fine if I want to be kicked to death. The animals are five or ten feet from me. I need the wide angle lens. Check in at Forest Lodge where we are warned not to leave our bungalows after sundown lest we be eaten. Security will collect and return us after dark. PM Game drive to a South African sundown and Sundowner Bar in a box is revealed and assembled by ye olde watering hole. Wart hogs and Ngala scurry along on their way home and a big African sky is having a hard time holding up a massive orange ball.
We are silhouettes as the Southern Cross and stars new to us come out. Cocktails appear with biltong (South African jerky), nuts, cheese, dried fruits, crackers and dreoworse (dried sausage/the real slim jim). These foods reflect the region’s food history when storage and refrigeration called for these preservations. They are excellent with the local beer Castle or Hansa. This night we have our first dinner in the Boma. Boma: think stockade of vertical sticks lit by firelight and torches. Basically the set of Survivor Africa. Lamb on the Braai; the South African Barbie, local spinach and beans, a dorado, and chutneys, sambals and blatjangs all reflect the Dutch, English, Indian and Malay cooks who reached even to this upper right corner of South Africa.
AM game drive. Did you know a group of Zebras are called a dazzle and they fart early and often? Dazzling. White Rhino and baby are just over there. A Cheetah and five young cubs tolerate us only meters away. Change to a telephoto lens and the close-ups of mother and cub are awesome. A Lion and three young males had been seen the day before but our tracker Daniel out on the bumper seat finds no trace. Back at the lodge it’s full colonial breakfast served by Barry excellent waiter and winning smile. Some nice person has already ordered me a Bloody Mary.
Next a visit to the local community with excellent guide V.R. Along the way he sings and repeats Zulu words. We were gettin Isi-Zulu-schooled. Sawubono (Sonny Bono= Hello). Hundreds of kid faces surround us at the community school. We learn one entire class are orphans. HIV here is at some of highest levels anywhere. The kids are so excited to see us. We make a gift of school supplies to the principal. CC Africa, which runs the game preserve and lodges, has donated some of the classrooms. The kids surround our van and it is hard to leave on several levels.
When you want your fortune told in Zulu country first clap your hands and say Togoza as you enter a dimly lit hut with drums and smoke and chanting. Stir up a froth from a cup of warm sorghum beer and we are ready to channel the spirits of the ancestors who will sound like Harvey Fierstein with a bad cold, dance with soda can bangles and rattles on ankles and eleven cows later you can see your destiny or add a wife. We made friends and I think the ancestors like us too. Is that so wrong?
Back inside the preserve we continue our search for Lions. They prove elusive. Our trackers spot their prints in the soft sand of the paths and roads but the kings of the jungle auger into the bush where even Dumi does not follow. The sun drops out of a painted sky like a glowing monkey orange and trades places with the Southern Cross. A big candle lit sundowner is setup around the bend as if by some magic and we recall the adventures of the day. A lion or a fortune teller, one or the other, roar far away.
Back at the lodge we celebrate the Todd’s birthday. What do you get the chef who has everything? A perfect evening under African skies, a splendid dinner, a birthday cake, friends close, a serenade by acapella choir and a Zulu Spear. It is good to be Chef. Sisaphila. Ngiyabonga kakhulu. (We’re OK. Thank you very much.)
Flashlight armed security guards escort us back to our Japanese style glass boxes on stilts. Outside Impala and Ngala drift about in the brush. Hard to say who else is sleeping in the jungle tonight or under the bungalow? Better get some sleep cause in the AM we are going to kill a goat.
Next day while the AM game drive is on, the strong stomach crew heads to off to visit a local young Chief in the community. The Chief or Inkosi ,dressed in a pink shirt and slacks received us at his compound (think Boma with a ranch house and outdoor plumbing). When we get ready to sacrifice the goat for lunch, Inkosi donned a grass tiara and entered a ceremonial traditional hut to OK this with the ancestors. Evidently they’d heard from the fortune teller so it was all cool. With a wicked sharp knife the goat met its fate and and no one lost it. It was intense to get that close to the food process and we headed back to the lodge before the meal and agreed we’d bring Inkosi a lamb at mealtime to complete the circle of lunch.
Some hours later we returned with lamb in tow and our whole group. Now this was the real Zulu deal. Lunch featuring pot cooked goat, beans, spinach, and Lala Beer. Small three legged cauldrons were simmering away over a wood fire. The famed Lala palm beer was in a large glass pitcher beckoning to the flies. The Lala, from which the term Lala-land is derived, causes a sleepy feeling of well being as it continues to ferment inside the drinker. Eatiquette involves stepping up to the jar and taking a big pull right from said container. As I gave it a good hit I noticed the Zulu women watching (separate from the men) laughing. Was this going to be a Carlos Castaneda thing or more of a Cipro thing? Try everything once is what I say. Plus the Chief went first. The feast on mats on the ground was eaten with both hands from wooden platters and was not bad. Sam the head cook made us traditional Zulu bracelets from the fresh goat hide stretched over our wrists and worn as long as one might dare. The Chief and the Chef each danced the traditional dance. A very Zulu Thanksgiving. It is good to be Inkosi.
Now the PM game drive included Mr. Crocodile as he cruised a small pond and another massive sunset and of course the essential sundowner. Our caravan of land rovers wheel into night in the bush. This night the bush dinner cooked by Dumi; in the bush. Local Zulu dancers fly thru the air as we run a gauntlet of drums and dancers. The Braai is all fired up and we dine on Springbok (a gamey antelope), boerworse (farmer’s sausage in spiral links), pumpkin and dumplings and beans and spinach. Shadows with big bore rifles patrol the perimeter and our voices and Cuban smoke rise with the sparks from the fire into the shimmering ceiling over Mother Africa.
Last day at Forrest Lodge and last AM game drive. Finally the Lion is sighted and we get close enough to hear what is clearly not purring and get some incredibly close shots. He is an older male who has killed a rival and taken his territory. With his black mane he is regal indeed and we wonder what he must make of us. A Cheetah paces our Rover along a road. We drive to a high overlook and shoot time lapse of the vista with clouds rolling by. One last Bar n’box and we say goodbye to Forest Lodge and our guides. I drive with Dumi for one last game drive and we witness a Cheetah chasing a McButt but the Impala gets away for now and the cheetah lays down to catch its breath. Another day in the bush. Back on the Impala poop strip two prop planes are waiting. We fly to Durban and change to a national airline to fly on to Cape Town. I’m sure I would feel better after a rough night if I could only get some pasta. The Cape Grace Hotel is very nice and after scouting some locations I borrow part of the kitchen to conjure some pasta. It looked and tasted the part. Sleep is also good food.
The Cape Grace Hotel is fine digs indeed. Outside my window a table cloth of clouds obscures Table Mountain, which commands Cape Town. If the weather clears we’ll take the Gondola up to the summit to view the Cape Peninsula and The Indian Ocean having a big fight with the Atlantic. Next stop Antarctica. Who were those brave souls who pioneered this spice route and plied these waters in wooden boats like bobbing corks? They were hungry evidently. Today the Cape Cuisine is a legacy from Portuguese, Dutch, English, Indian and Malay influences.
At a local farmers market Biltong and woersts and spectacular lamb, cheeses and honey, baked goods, herbs like Fynbos and other fresh produce are tempting. Chef Craig Patterson from the hotel is our guide and the bounty of South Africa is laid out in a pristine setting and teases what Craig will be cooking up back at his kitchen.
When you travel the wine country always go by motorcycle and sidecar. Batman and Robin in Constantia. At the winery we met the vintners and enjoyed a rare opportunity to sample elements of some great future red blends.That evening I got to cook with the Waterfront Chef Craig Patterson using the great local ingredients we’d gathered that morning then flung over to Bruce Robertson’s Showroom where that chef has clearly been struck by lighting. He is pixilated and the fare with countless ingredients is inspired. The Showroom restaurant is inside a car dealership which was an interesting décor. We linger for some fine South African red blends and then fade into the rainy evening. Nothing to do now but head for Cape Grace’s Waterfront restaurant. There was after all Chef Craig’s Cape Malay dim sum and notable entrees to dispatch. How about a Pork Belly secondi? Compliments…
Kalks Bay has some of the best frozen fried fish you’ll find. Wrinkled old fisher folk with faces like roadmaps twist native smokes up to bolster themselves before heading out to an unpredictable sea from this fishing village. The day’s catch of kingklip, john dory, bream, and dorado become delectably fried morsels at shacks along the quay and we tuck in.
Meet Egon Seconds a big star as far as Rugby goes in South Africa and we learn about the scrum and such then head off to Tiger’s Tavern in Cape Town’s Langa Township. Tiger’s, a Shabine or speakeasy was literally and otherwise cooking. An indoor Braai was turning out sausages and chicken. The history of this pre and post apartheid tavern is interesting as upward mobility brings back those with roots here. Their upscale cars are parked outside and local guys hand wash and watch them. The vibe of the township is intense and reveals this complex country has a long way to go in transition to pluralism. Inside the Shabine it is a noisy smokey crossroads and we seem to be in another dimension as no one notices us crew, cameras and all. Some are playing pool. Lots are drinking on this early afternoon. Some lovers locked in embrace, some friends deep in conversation. Games of chance. Children race about on small bikes indoors and babies are held as the business of everyday goes on. Folk cuddled cold bottles of Black Label beer and hot dogs on paper plates while a radio burst into life with a rendition of Amajoba. Some people may have been uncomfortable, others exhilarated. I ate a chicken wing that could not be beat. Shabine.
Last stop Table Mountain and the view is world class. We close the show and regroup for an elevated Indian Feast at Bukhara. Back at Cape Grace with over 460 different whiskies, Whiskey Sommelier Korbis de Koek knows his distilled libations well and we learn some things about the single malts. Cuban cigars. Fade.
In the morning we’ll squeeze our heads thru the rabbit hole again and get very small and head back to the point of origin. Good-bye game drive and big five. Bye bye Boma. So long Egon and Shabine. Farewell and Sala kahle South Africa. Tomorrow and tomorrow the stars will be familiar but some part of us will always long for Sundowners, and dinner in the Boma and Dumi, in the bush.
i've watched this episode a couple of times, and do enjoy it. i've mentioned on a recent thread the grilled apricots and bacon with chermoula that you guys had when you grilled outside (the second night?). http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7260...
the interaction with the local people and todd and his family was really endearing.
you all do a nice job on a well-done series. congrats on the james beard award. i do like the close-up encounters (and film shots) with the food and the people who make it -- which is the point of a food trip. i envy being in so many of those places. and i wish i could be there when todd is with his sous chef, creating some fusion dish from the experience. nice to know you on chowhound!
ps, your trip to thailand looked AWESOME. we had a little debate on another thread about whether the street vendor properly used ketchup in making the pad thai he served todd. am i right in recalling that he made it with ketchup?
the other foods looked superb, too. and i see that you, like me, are also a som tum lover. i would love to have it in thailand, where i guess you became a fan.
hi chef ginori, you've got a great FB page; your thailand show looks like it will be a hit. i look forward to your new series. congratulations; i'd love your job!
i don't see where your thailand episode is scheduled in d.c. -- maybe i missed it. but i'll keep on looking on the schedule for a repeat.
merry christmas and happy new year!