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Home Cooking In...South Africa?!?!?!?! [moved from Home Cooking board]

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My fiance (who grew up in Syracuse, NY) just received a job offer in Cape Town, South Africa. It's a tremendous professional opportunity for him...not just a promotion but a multiple-level promotion. So I (who was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA) said "Wither thou goest..." This means that we are speeding up the wedding and come this July, we will be moving to Cape Town.

For the record, the furthest I have ever lived from Philadelphia before this was in Nashville, TN. I am a decent basic home cook. Though I love eating in all kinds of ethnic restaurants and trying all kinds of exotic foods, I've never really tried cooking with them at home. Why not? Eh...Laziness is at least part of the answer. Also, at home I tend to like comfort-type foods. Braised chicken thighs or beef short ribs, meat loaves, lentil (or other kinds of vegetarian) chilies, salads and steamed fish with lemon and garlic or shrimp with Old Bay, glazed carrots, lightly cooked string beans, roasted butternut squash, zucchini and tomatoes with garlic and herbs de Provence in the summertime, baked or roasted potatoes, brown rice pilafs...Good stuff, reasonably nutritious, tasty, but nothing fancy or out of the way.

What I was hoping is that there might be a few people on this board who might be able to tell me what food will mean in South Africa. What should I expect in terms of produce? I've been told that the climate is similar to that of Southern California. Should I expect lots of wonderful produce year round? What should I expect to find in terms of produce? What meats and/or fishes are available at the best price to quality ratio? What should I expect to find in terms of fruits? What about cheeses? Yogurt? Kefir? Nuts? I've heard that milk in Africa can be different from what we're used to in the states. Is that true? What are some common/favorite busy wife dishes in South Africa? Are there any cookbooks that might be useful for someone in my position (decent basic cook needing a crash course in using the local ingredients)?

As an aside, if you know Cape Town and would be willing to share some information about favorite bars and restaurants, especially of the non-fancy, non-tourist trap variety please send me a message (I know moderators here frown on such posts in Home Cooking).

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  1. Food in South Africa is great, and as you suspect, the produce is very good year-round. In general you will find the same vegetables that you get here, and they're not all that exciting in terms of variety (it's not like California that way). Fruits will also be similar to what you get in the US although there are a few local additions. What is really great, and in my opinion leagues ahead of what's available in the US, is the meat. They are big meat eaters over there and you can get the most fabulous lamb you've ever had, plus lots of other good things. Game meat is something that you will discover and have fun cooking with. On the fish end of things, they've got a lot of nice shellfish, plus a fin fish called kingklip that you'll get everywhere--a mild-tasting firm-fleshed fish.

    Milk is the same. There are some more varieties of dairy there than here, but the US has been moving in that direction also, so it won't be a shock.

    There are supermarket chains there that are very similar to the ones we have here in the US. The highest-end, most gourmet is Woolworths (these are combined supermarket/department stores, which is a little weird for a US shopper, but the same concept as Marks & Spencer in the UK). Other chains include Shop-rite, Checkers, Pik-n-Pay, and Spar--all of them are just normal big supermarkets like you'd see here. There is nothing like Whole Foods there, or Trader Joes, although there will be small gourmet stores in Cape Town.

    People in SA cook pretty much like we do here, and the restaurants are more or less similar, although without the tremendous variety of ethnic/immigrant cuisine that we have in the US. That is where SA is lacking from a grocery perspective as well, just because they don't have the kind of immigration that we do. They don't have a cold winter, so things like stew are not that common, but half the white population is of English ethnicity so you'll certainly get roasts. In general you will find the cuisine and the groceries very familiar.

    I am incredibly envious that you get to live in Cape Town. It is a fabulous, beautiful place, and the home of some of SA's best restaurants. Within a two-hour drive is the wine country of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, which are also home to some fantastic winery-based and independent restaurants. You will have a great time there. Be adventurous!

    4 Replies
    1. re: travelmad478

      Mad, are you by any chance from South Africa? I'd love some cookbook recommendations...Not more elegant, refined cooking, more like the old school Betty Crocker cookbooks. Simple recipes using the local ingredients? I'd like to have some training wheels under me as I familiarize myself with the local ingredients. Do you have any favorite restaurants in Cape Town?

      Actually, I see we live pretty nearby each other now. I'm in Philadelphia. I am crying at the thought of losing my beloved Italian and Jewish delis. I have questions about a million things down there. Any way I could pick your brain a bit?

      1. re: StrandedYankee

        I'm not South African, but I have been traveling there about 1-2x a year for the last 13 years, with my job. I get around the country, but I don't have familiarity with cookbooks from there. I've been in plenty of supermarkets, as you can see, but have never had my own kitchen there to cook in. I really don't think you'll find anything weird or unfamiliar, though--the food there is quite similar to what we have here. One spin through the supermarket will put your mind at ease.

        There is actually a sizeable Jewish population in SA (I'm Jewish myself and I was pleasantly surprised by that) but I have never been to a deli there. I expect they do exist, but it's not the kind of thing I'm looking for when I go there! There are also plenty of people of Italian ancestry, so you should probably be able to find Italian food stores too.

        I haven't been to CPT in two years and unfortunately I am completely blanking on restaurants. I went to a couple of good places last time I was there, but I can't recall names. The website www.dining-out.co.za is a good place to start searching.

        You can e-mail me at travelmad478@yahoo.com if you would like to hear more about the country.

        1. re: travelmad478

          Hello from a fellow member of the tribe! Jewish here as well. I'm with you insofar as if I were going to South Africa for a few weeks, I wouldn't even be thinking about Jewish delis and Italian hoagies. But I'm going for a few years...At least! It's...different. A few weeks, a few months without is no big thing, especially when there is so much stuff to try! But...years!?!?!?!? With no corned beef on rye with cole slaw and Russian dressing? With no knishes? No matzoh ball soup?

          Pardon me wile I go and cry...

          1. re: StrandedYankee

            That's what trips home are for. :-) I lived for three years in Russia/Kazakhstan and my first order of business on every trip back was to get thin crust pizza at Vic's in Bradley Beach, NJ (I grew up near there).

            You can make your own matzo ball soup...they have the ingredients. Maybe that's the cookbook segment you should be focusing on!

    2. Oh, and I forgot to say, if you like rooibos tea then you will be very happy. I drink rooibos every morning and I wait for trips to SA to stock up on it, because it's incredibly cheap there. They drink it the way we drink black tea--it is available everywhere. I just returned from my latest SA trip two days ago, my suitcase stuffed with a year's supply!