Category Archives: food & Drink

3 Great Reasons to Visit South Africa

South Africa, the southern tip of the dark continent; dark not only because of how little people know about it (“that’s where they manufacture dictators, right?”), but by how often people cast their shadow on our roofs when they fly over the continent on their way to “somewhere nicer”. When I tell people I am from South Africa responses run the gamut, from ‘I really want to visit Cape Town’ (you should!), to ‘I hear the crime rate is bad’ (isn’t it anywhere?) and even surprisingly often a bewildered expression at my not being black. Ahem. Well, allow me to introduce you to our beautiful rainbow nation and give you a couple of compelling reasons why you should put it at the top of your travel list!

First things first… there are spots in South Africa that I would recommend you don’t go, but every country and every major city is the same. Keep an eye out, don’t flash around your smartphone and stick to populated areas. That said, it’s not a country with stellar public transportation, so if you go out at night, use your own (or rental) car; I hear Uber is now up and running out here, so that is an option too.

Finally, we can get to the fun, the magic and the enchantment of South Africa. I myself haven’t been back there in a couple of years, so my nostalgia wishlist includes three places that I would recommend to anyone and everyone; in fact I’m planning on dragging friends and family there with me at the first possible opportunity…

  1. Kruger National Park

One of many places you can do breathtaking safaris, look out over the golden veld and admire both fauna and flora from the mother continent. Elephants slowly but surely crossing kilometres as they graze and let out their “inner calf” when they roll and spray in the watering hole; hyenas giggling and cackling as the sun sinks pink and purple into the horizon… A very peaceful image and really that is the best place to disappear for a week or more, forget about cellphone coverage, status updates and just let go. The Kruger National Park itself is really big and covers almost the entire SA-Mozambique border.

The park is unquestionably popular among foreign and domestic tourists, especially during the dry months, when there is no rain or long grass to obscure your view. So, if you don’t want to drive around yourself and squint into the middle distance looking for a flicking ear or a swatting tail (it can be hard to spot animals in the bush…) there are rangers that can take you out for guided safaris. Besides being familiar with the regular habitats of certain groups, they also sometimes keep tabs on some bigger game. Since all animals in the park are wild, rest camps, lodges and camp sites are fenced and it’s totally prohibited to get out of your car when driving around the reserve.

The Kruger National Park tradition: Get up at 5:30am (yep, you read that right), breathe in that first smell of creamy coffee and get out there in the bush to catch nocturnal animals slinking back to their lairs after a night of veld festivities!

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Elephant at the Kruger National Park

2. Durban

Just south of South Africa’s border with Mozambique, on our “north coast” you’ll find the urban-beach sprawl of Durban welcoming you with open arms. The sparkling, white sandy beaches stretch from way north of Durban (Umhlanga being one of the most popular) to Margate in the south, including beaches perfect for surfing, scuba diving and watching the incredible annual sardine run, where billions of sardines spawn from May to July just off the coast. Not only is this in itself breathtaking to see, but it also attracts other oceanic wildlife that is usually a rare sight, including dolphins, many varieties of sharks and other game fish.

Although there are a million things to do in Durban (skydiving, bungee jumping, shopping, hiking, etc), I am used to Durban being my relaxing beach holiday destination. Stretch a towel out on the soft sand and bury my nose in a book… and often dip my toes in the deliciously warm water of the Indian Ocean. There are endless gig guides on live music, cultural events and general mingling opportunities in Durban; however, if I am looking forward to a night on the town, Cape Town is where almost everything happens.

The Durban tradition: No trip to Durban is complete without the signature, home-grown dish of “bunny chow”, with its unique touch of Durban Indian cuisine. I have even encountered this specific gastronomic delight in other countries, though usually it’s made by South Africans, for nostalgic expats hungering for a little taste of home. In principle it’s a loaf of bread, cut in half and hollowed out with warm, spicy Indian curry filling the fluffy inside, but that is only the basic idea, to which everyone adds their own touch and their own particular flavour.

3. Cape Town

That brings me to the metropolis – the Mother City – home to hipsters, retros and trend-seekers; haven to art lovers, free thinkers and the perpetually entertained. Cape Town is an incredibly diverse city, from foreigners just passing through and filling the streets with their musical accents, to Cape Townian locals wishing their city would stay untouched by the masses of curious “African adventure” seekers. Many people who were not born in Cape Town feel just as “foreign” in this cradle of our modern rainbow nation concoction, so that even us who have SA running through our veins are only “approved” as Cape Townians after years (and years) of living in the city and breathing the sweet, mountain air. That hasn’t stopped anyone settling and making their dream home in the Mother City, though. People keep streaming in from the land, air and sea to sample food, fashion and fine wine in this iconic city. These days it is not even strange to brush shoulders with celebrities and famous personalities at farmers’ markets, world-class restaurants and even boutique chocolate shops that line streets in the city centre. However, the Cape Town basin, nestled in the shadow of our own Table Mountain is only one part of Cape Town magic; so much of the region’s charm and what people fall in love with lie on the periphery – the lush, green peninsular nature parks and Boulder beach (where you share the beach with penguins sunning themselves) on the one hand and little beach towns each with its own spirit that smiles its way into your heart. Simon’s Town, Fishhoek and Hout Bay are only the ones I lovingly carry in my heart and in my memories, but there are dozens more to explore. This is a part of the country where the best thing you can do is rent a car and get lost in the mountain passes and what we call the “Garden Route”.

The Cape Town tradition: Oh my gosh there are so many, but perhaps the thing that makes me feel most at home is when I have a bottle of rich, local wine and I drive out to Chapman’s Peak Drive: a 9km road that looks like it was literally carved into the rock, with thrilling drops right into the ocean and the most magnificent view you can ever have of the sun setting on turquoise, aquamarine water. Park anywhere where you find a little inlet or rest stop (there are many) and just drink in the extraordinary reality of where you are and who you’re with, even if it’s just you and your own alter ego.

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Cape Town sunset

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Here’s to butchering the beautiful language of Portuguese… ;)

At the recommendation of my Portuguese teacher I am attempting to communicate on my blog, in Portuguese. If anyone reads this and understands, good luck to you 🙂 I promise to revise and correct after my patient teacher or Portuguese-speaking friends have given me some notes.
(Corrections have been made 🙂

Feijoada accompaniments

O primeiro sabor do Brasil

Brasil é um país muito grande (na verdade é enorme), então é lógico que aqui também tem muitos tipos de comidas…

O Nordeste é conhecido pelas comidas apimentadas e quentes. Além disso tem um alimento muito famoso chamado “moqueca“: é um tipo de ensopado/guisado com caldo denso, com sabor rico. Moqueca me lembro de “bouillabaisse” da França, porque os dois usam frutos do mar (gostoso!). Mas bouillabaisse tem mais água.

Tem as pessoas que falam que os alimentos de Minas Gerais são melhor que todas as outras locações. Eu ainda não visitei este estado, então ainda não posso julgar. Por agora a única comida de Minas que eu provei foi “pão de queijo“, mas eu espero que pão de queijo autêntico seja melhor que alguns que eu provei. Logo eu vou à Minas Gerais, e depois vou te dizer o que eu penso.

Uma outra culinária que eu gosto muito é a do sul do Brasil. As pessoas do Rio Grande do Sul (especialmente duas de Porto Alegre😉 ) têm orgulho do churrasco deles. Churrasco é bastante similar ao “braai” na África do Sul – os dois usam carne de alta qualidade (como picanha ou contra filé), misturam com temperos particulares e preparam na grelha. A grande diferença entre churrasco e braai é: no churrasco a carne já preparada está cortada, e logo todas as pessoas comem juntas descontraído os pedacinhos; no braai os peços de carne inteiro são preparados e logo todas as pessoas pegam as porções de carne, vegetais e pratos extras, para juntas desfrutarem o alimento.

Fim.

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First taste of Brazil

Well, not Brazil actually… just São Paulo so far 🙂
After four months in Sampa, as it’s called, we’ve had one or two opportunities to try something new. The first two things that Brasileiros mention when I ask about eats to try is Feijoada and Brigadeiro, both of which I think are an apt representations of Paulistanos (people born in São Paulo), if not Brazil: welcoming and sweet.

Feijoada is a thick, stewy, meaty dish served with rice, ground mandioca and fragrant couve. Besides the rice, everything else on the plate was a new experience the first time… The stew was traditionally made of throw-away bits of meat, and while you can still find that the modern version has tender red meat and bacon bits. Kiernan and I were invited to a birthday party where they had both the traditional and more popular version; they were both super tasty! One thing that is a staple of Brazilian food and always plentiful in a Feijoada pot is beans; since the pot of food is literally stewed for hours you get a thick, tender dish out of it that, to me, whispers “comfort food” in a voice like a soft blanket 🙂
Wednesdays and Saturdays are “feijoada lunch” days and I would not be surprised if people really eat this twice a week, every week. It even encourages your social, sharing side, since a meal of feijoada served at lunch restaurants (or lanchonetes) are big enough to feed two grown men, comfortably!

Feijoada pot

Feijoada accompaniments

Brigadeiro is like caramelised, chocolate condensed milk, rolled in more chocolate sprinkles! Yes, it’s very sweet… one bite is quite enough to give you a tweaky sugar high! 🙂 the first Brigadeiro we had was at a friend’s house – his girlfriend threw together a can of condensed milk, a tablespoon of butter and a generous helping of cocoa powder and kept stirring at it on the stove til it was thick and sticky. Yum!! I tried my own version of this, but in an effort to survive with all my teeth, I witheld cocoa powder and rolled the white caramelised condensed milk in cinnamon powder – nice and spicy. 🙂 and very nice with a glass of velvety red wine.

Sweets in Brazil tend to be very sugary and very sweet! It seems like a substantial portion of the population likes chocolate (not just girls); I routinely see people (guy, girl, old, young) polishing of a huge slab of chocolate on the metro! At another birthday party last night they had about four jars of nutella on the counter, spoons jutting out invitingly of the creamy chocolate spread; one jar was being passed around enthusiastically and all indulged 🙂 True, this is merely anecdotal of one sweet experience (pun intended), but I’ve heard that many foreigners complain that sweets here are indeed super sweet.

This was bought at a bakery as opposed to homemad.

This was bought at a bakery as opposed to homemad.

Soft, sweet, creamy brigadeiro

Anoter big activity here is churrasco (like BBQ, and actually surprisingly close to braai, especially in the south). Chunks of spiced, marinated meat are threaded on kebab sticks and roasted over a fire; yum! We have yet to try the traditional version of this, but we have had really good meat in Brazil! Not really at restaurants, but at people’s homes or at get-togethers.

The next couple of foodie must-do’s we’re aiming to cross off our list, are trying food from Minas Gerais and Bahia – two places with their own, unique and distinct food cultures. These are just Brazilian eats; São Paulo is well-known for the city you can find any kind of food. While that’s not totally the case (they don’t have biltong, but that may just be nit-picking;), Kiernan and I have had the most deliciously mouth-watering “African food”, in a mostly Cameroonian restaurant; dainty, light and refreshing Columbian cerviche & arepas. The closest you can get to sushi is a fusion of California rolls, cream cheese & fruit… I’m not kidding: cream cheese and strawberry or mango, wrapped in rice & seaweed. o.O ok. It wasn’t bad, but it’s not sushi! 😀

Cameroonian restaurant

The drinks, cocktails, beer and wine are in a world of their own; perhaps I’ll get enough letters together to write about that soon…

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OSP: Tea! #4 Tea Time Travel Bug

Destination: Darjeeling

As much as I would love to plan out a trip for each and every special spot where amazing tea is grown and produced, I want to build a realistic, in-depth itinerary and post it within a week of starting this OSP! 🙂 I have decided to build a travel plan around a place that I don’t know at all and which, until recently, has not been super high up on my travel wishlist: India. More specifically Darjeeling, in West Bengal. India is a daunting destination that calls up intense images of mass poverty, almost aggressive begging and overwhelming crowds. Granted, this is not at all based on personal experience and really, from here my expectations can only be pleasantly surpassed. Of course I’ve come to distrust popular media, especially after what I’ve heard other people believe about gorgeous, sunny South Africa. However, it is still a fact that the population of India in 2012 was 1 236 686 700 (yeah, you read that right, 1,23 billion!) and 32,7% of the country is firmly below the poverty line.[1]

My itinerary will consist of a two week travel plan, with day trips, a vague plan of places to see with some detailed info about the places or how to get there… Basically this is exactly how I plan when I travel; transportation and admin stuff very prepared and more of a loose framework of things I want to fit into a spread of days, while still leaving enough time to meander, smell the city (as per Rudyard Kipling’s travel musings) and get lost in the streets. My itinerary is planned around going at the end of March, before monsoon season starts.

Darjeeling train station, Copyrighted to Atomicbre under Creative Commons license

Darjeeling train station, Copyrighted to Atomicbre under Creative Commons license

Day 1: Arrive in Kolkata, India
I will land in Kolkata, because I can get less transfers than landing in Bagdogra (the closest airport), and getting to Darjeeling overland is quicker than from Delhi. Also, I get to spend time in two cities! 🙂
In case of delays or tight scheduling and just to decompress from a super long flight, I’ll spend one night in Kolkata before zooming in on Darjeeling. Hostels are roughly ₹800 (Indian rupees) per night (i.e. US$14); I would try to stay in the area of Howrah Train Station, which is where I’m catching a train the next day. The Howrah station is in the North Kolkata area, which is known for it’s old Zamindar buildings and narrow alleyways. Though I might not go looking for these little alleyways quite yet on the first day I arrive, there is another place I would make a beeline for: College Street Bookmarket. A whole street with bookshop after bookshop, in a variety of different language on myriad topics (is what I’ve heard/read); after which I would go to the College Street Coffe House and pore over my purchases (not even kidding, I know I’ll walk away with something).
The first day of ‘take it easy and just take it in’ works well for me, so after College street, I’ll stroll aimlessly for a bit, probably keep an eye out for some sherbet, since late March already sees temperatures as high as 30 Celsius[2] as well as some street food to keep me going. On Scoop Whoop Srishti posted some amazing suggestions of Kolkatan street food to try – those samosas and phuchkas look dangerously delicious! Phuchka: “…In fact, the filling of spiced mashed potatoes dipped in tamarind water or meethe paani (mishti jol) is simply put an explosion of spicy tart, crunch and softness from the potatoes that account for a milieu of happy memories.”[3] I am so ready!

Copyrighted to Mjanich under Creative Commons license

Copyrighted to Mjanich under Creative Commons license


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OSP: Tea #3 The Social and the Solitary

People put-tea-ing the word out there

I was honestly surprised by how many blogs there are out there, totally dedicated to tea! Tea reviews and tastings, how to brew each kind of tea properly, guides to knowing what tea to buy and where to get it. Blogmetrics has a list of the 25 top tea blogs out there! I didn’t look into how they determine who’s “top”, but they have a link on there to their 20 criteria.

A good idea

The last 2 weeks I’ve really enjoyed reading and even back-reading some articles. Here are my personal favourites in no particular order:

  • The Snooty Tea Blog I found fun – I enjoy her writing and how personal she makes her tea reviews. The photos on the Snootea blog are aesthetically very pleasing, satisfying my right-brain compulsions.
  • Tea Masters on Blogspot looks very professional and meticulous. It’s run by Stephane, a guy who lives in Taiwan and shares his tea knowledge & experiences, some of which he draws from his tea mentors (he mentions Teaparker, author and connoisseur). His photos reflect how much attention he pays to detail, and his tea reviews are quite literary 🙂
  • The Tea Addict’s Journal’s last couple of posts have been more practical and experience-based – it seems like he’s in China right now, in tea paradise – and he’s posting about how to buy good tea from local tea shop rather than heading for the supermarket, as well as the gems he’s found along the way.

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OSP Tea! #2 Weird and wonderful

Now for the interesting tangents… Tea is pretty cheap, as a commodity (according to indexmundi tea has sold for just over US$2 p/kg for the last couple of months), and depending on where you buy your tea, one cup could cost US$0.09![1] What?? Even if you pay US$10 for a 2oz bag of loose leaf tea, which is on the more upscale end, it only comes out to US$0.55.[2]

On the other hand, nothing special ever stays absolutely accessible. One of my first wanderings into the tea world, I had to search out the most expensive tea… and it coincided quite conveniently with the weird and bizarre things people do to set their tea-drinking apart from what may be considered plebian. First-off I do not consider it a special kind of tea experience when there are golden flakes brewed among the tea leaves! That’s just bizarre and says nothing about a love of tea, rather more about a personal lack of authenticity. With that mini rant out of the way… There is a tea that embodies both decadent indulgence as well as adventurous daring! 🙂 This is the kind of beverage that, were I to be blessed by its ingestion, I don’t know whether I would brag about drinking a US$200 cup of it, or to just keep to myself what it is I’ve spent that much cash on… It is o.O panda dung tea.[3]

Unlike the civet coffee where the animal actually eats and poops out the bean, in this case the tea fields are fertilized with panda dung. Actually, that’s not so bad… An Yanshi, the guy whose idea this is, calls it environmental, organic tea in the spirit of recycling and using waste in positive ways. Whatever floats your boat, man 🙂 Continue reading

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OSP Tea! #1 Basics

Aaah, tea… A good cup of tea always makes me feel like my soul (whatever that is), is taking a deep, relaxing sigh. Soothing, like a soft, deep blanket; the process of brewing and drinking tea is usually the chance I take to stop… breathe… and remember to slow down. Other than this enjoyment I get and a half-glanced label saying ‘China’ somewhere on the box, I know very little about something that gives me so much pleasure. This is where my eclectic explorations have brought me – to the mechanics (or organics;) of tea.

Designed by Nico Venter. Visit his blog: 189.wordpress.com

Designed by Nico Venter.
Visit his blog: 189.wordpress.com

Origin & context:
Much to my surprise all tea comes from the same plant – Camellia sinensis – so you get black tea, white tea, oolong, green & pu’erh tea from altering the myriad steps in between picking the tea leaves and shipping it out. Wikipedia has a nice article about tea processing that even has a diagram on how to get each kind of tea out of the Camellia sinensis leaves. This means that some of my favourite teas (rooibos, mint, ginger tea, etc) are strictly speaking not tea, but herbal infusions. Meh 🙂 Continue reading

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Obsessive’s Starter Pack: Tea!

What in your starter pack are you digging into first?

OST #1: Basics
Click to explore what tea is and where it comes from. Is it super popular?

OST #2: Weird and Wonderful
Strange things put in their mouths and call tea! I need to try them all 🙂 From the really expensive, to the affordable and even something you can make at home.

OST #3: The social and the solitary
Tea blogs that I am impressed by and now read constantly, and my book wishlist.

OST #4: Tea Time Travel Bug
I have made a whole travel itinerary based on, but not limited to, visiting tea estates in Darjeeling, India.
(Not posted yet, coming soon)

Designed by Nico Venter. Visit his blog: 189.wordpress.com

Designed by Nico Venter.
Visit his blog: 189.wordpress.com

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