As the future of Cape Town reveals itself, sky's the limit on the food scene.
Inevitably the famous flat plateau mystically vanishes, though its bright return will be highly anticipated.
South Africa is a young country politically and socio-economically, effectively reborn in 1994, and still coming to terms with a legacy that has left marked tension in every aspect of life. Yet over the past decade, Cape Town's creative and cosmopolitan energy has woven an exciting culinary tapestry, both in the city and in the surrounding wine regions and towns.
Simply called "The Mountain," Table Mountain dominates the Cape Peninsula and its curves contour the city. At its northern end, the Bo-Kaap neighborhood, once known as the Malay Quarter, invigorates with vividly colored buildings, charming cobblestones, and the city's friendliest people. As The Mountain loops south, it wraps around a downtown dotted with cafes, bars and restaurants. Some, like Truth, a steampunk coffee shop, or The Dogs Bollocks, a driveway burger joint that slings just 50 patties a night, would be hot in any global city.
Further south lies Constantia, Cape Town's tiny but luxurious wine region. The west coast of the peninsula at Muizenburg and Kalk Bay flirts as a British fishing village, hippie enclave, and surf spot.
At the Cape Point, The Mountain tails off into vast southern oceans bearing with it the weight of an entire continent. Here, sheer cliffs and thumping waves converge headfirst. Motor along the serpentine Chapman's Peak Drive. After 114 curves, the carrot at the end of the stick comes at Hout Bay, where fish and chips rival the best of Britain. At Camps Bay, the rich and beautiful have erected their mansions and populate pastel beachside cafes and slick cocktail bars.
Once, the Cape had just a handful of bright culinary stars. Now, a torrent of baristas, brewers, rebel winemakers, artisanal producers, and chefs has settled in. They are creating a distinctly South African culinary movement, whether simply encouraging top quality, responsible producers, or making food that embraces flavors from the range of local cultures.
Celebrated now are the traditions of Black Africans. Starchy corn forms the base for a polenta-like dish called pap, and nose-to-tail or feet-to-beak eating has a fan base. There's no shortage of chicken feet and smileys, whole cooked sheep or pig head.
As Dutch immigrants, Afrikaners contribute dishes and traditions now deeply embedded in the culture. Grilled, seared flavors from the braai are found throughout the city. Charcuterie has prospered, for instance with biltong, cured meat made from beef or venison, notably springbok, gemsbok, or kudu, and spiced with warm, citrusy coriander seeds. Boerewors, a thick, farm-style sausage manifests the same flavors.
Inspiration is found in the root and herb lore of the Khoikhoi, the Cape's first inhabitants and master foragers of the coastal shrubland fynbos.
The well-known Cape Malay sweet-savory spice mixture introduced by Muslim slaves from Southeast Asia lends familiarity to most top menus around the city. Fiery Portuguese/ Mozambican peri peri and Indian spices from Durban add further flavor notes.
Watching over this metamorphosis is The Mountain. Yes, she's impassive, but one senses her silent approval. For the first time in centuries the people who live in her shadow, who she shelters from the storms that roll up from the South are beginning to come together. This city, equally Western and African, is being healed by Nelson Mandela's children. The process might be slow but it's a good start now that Cape Town is eating, drinking, and cooking together.