Category Archives: travel

South African Adventures

This time last year, I had just made the move to South Africa and didn’t know if I’d be coming back to the States or not.  It’s hard to believe how much has changed in one short year; I’ve moved back to the US, set up house in a new city, started graduate school and met more amazing new friends than anyone should have the right to.  It’s gone by incredibly fast, but when I was in South Africa two weeks ago it almost felt as though I’d never left.  My favorite places like Bird’s, &Union and the Biscuit Mill are still thriving, and new places like the Power and the Glory have opened up too.  The fresh food available (if you can afford it, as so many people can’t), is simply amazing.  It’s almost silly to put ‘organic’ or ‘grass-fed’ on food packaging, because that’s kind of the status quo there.  Chemicals are expensive, land isn’t in short supply and agribusiness doesn’t reign supreme as it does in the US.  You can taste this in the food; the lettuce is sweet, the avo is creamy, and the dairy, eggs and meat are far more flavorful than anything I’ve tasted in the US.  There is also no shortage of culinary talent, so when you have these spectacular ingredients combined with the creativity and skills of the chefs, your meal is quite often unforgettable.  I enjoyed many wonderful meals cooking with my family, and also out at a number of lovely restaurants in the Cape Winelands.  It’s hot this time of year–it was 110F for several days– but it’s dry, so there are very few bugs.  The outdoors becomes an extension of the indoors– you leave your windows open, you eat outside.  The Western Cape remains one of the most beautiful places I’ve been, with craggy mountains, green expanses of grape vines and olive trees, dusty purple lavender fields, the indigenous fynbos (including my favorite, proteas), and a vividly, richly blue ocean.

Franschhoek, in the heart of the Cape Winelands

Now, for the food.  We celebrated Christmas (belatedly) with my little niece Maya, so we had to make cookies for Santa.  I made a simple snickerdoodle for Maya to decorate (along with cream cheese icing that was on flavor-wise but very off in terms of texture).

decorating santa's cookies

I also made a South African version of Momofuku Milk Bar’s infamous compost cookie, using a Black Cat Peanut Brittle Bar, Otees cereal, pretzel sticks from Pick n’ Pay, Cadbury Whispers, and Lay’s Crisps.

the ingredients

I also made sure to drink Windhoek, a favorite Namibian beer:

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and Savanna, my favorite not-too-sweet cider that is beyond delicious with a slice of lemon.

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I also had enough granadilla (passionfruit) to feed a small army.  In addition to being perfectly tangy, their color combination is, to use a South African expression, stunning:

 

delicious.

We had some delicious meals in:

 

onion, peppers, baby fennel and baby corn fresh off the braai

peri-peri prawns and coconut corn on the braai

rocket and prosciutto pizza

And some exceptional meals out:

 

chicken salad with mango and coconut cream

seared beef with wasabi cream, micro-greens and rice noodles

perfect udon, so delicious that I ordered them for dessert.

malva pudding, a traditional South African dessert

It’s hard not to fall in love with the place– it’s people, culture, food, and breathtaking beauty (not to mention wonderful friends and family) keep drawing me back.  Yes, the country has problems, problems that I dealt with and experienced firsthand while living there, and that I’m studying how to remedy in graduate school.  But most of what I see is positive, and I’ll return as soon, and as often, as I can.

Putting Food on the Map (literally)

It’s probably shameful to admit on a cooking/food blog, but I haven’t really cooked in awhile.  I’ve been living off a supply of frozen veggie marinara sauce, curry and veggie burgers since about halfway through my midterms.  I’ll get back in the groove at some point, but it’s become a little bit more challenging now that the bounty of summer produce is on its way out.  As much as I love food, I’m just not a huge fan of the bazillion and one types of squashes, gourds (unless they’re tabletop decor— warning: contains strong language) and root veg that are everywhere in the markets at the moment.  In the interest of not neglecting this space completely, I’m going to be posting about some interesting food-related tidbits I’ve come across recently on the web and recycling some recipes of mine from when I was living in South Africa.

I’ve written here about Indian food before, whether it was my Bangalore-inspired rainbow curry or the sustainability of an Indian meal eaten in the traditional way.  What I haven’t touched on is the incredible diversity of Indian food (and culture!).  In a country with 1,576 classified languages and 22 “official” languages, uniqueness is something of a hallmark.  It can be found in dress, in both written and spoken languages, religion, geography and last but not least, the cuisine.  This is why I was so excited to discover the following map (via David Leibovitz and the Tasting Cultures blog) that maps out (har har) must-try Indian specialties.  I sampled most of the Karnatakan delicacies when I was living there, but as you’ll see from the huge list, I’m a long, LONG way from even making a dent in it (Mysore Pak is a particular favorite).  What have you tried?

picture from the Tasting Cultures blog

A Lesson in Sustainability

Yes, that’s my plate.  Yes, it’s a leaf (albeit a big one). Yes, silverware is mostly lacking, as is a napkin.  You use your hands, rinse them off with water afterward and dry them on a (cotton) towel.  Out in the countryside, that leaf will probably come off a banana tree in your yard or neighborhood, and then you’ll feed the leaf to your cow after the fact (if you can afford one).  Either way, it doesn’t get thrown in the trash.

I took this picture in southern India back in 2005, slightly before sustainability became the hot-button, slightly trendy topic it is today.  This meal pretty much epitomizes sustainability; as I mentioned, the plate is made of a freshly picked (and cleaned) banana leaf.  The food is all locally grown, consisting of rice, pulses, coconut, onion, spices, veg, yogurt and wheat flour.  You eat with your hands, sometimes using the roti as a sort of pincher (ignore the spoon), or just using your fingers to delicately scoop the food into your mouth.  While the latter skill took me awhile to master, it’s really a very graceful way of eating.  From left to right, and slightly clockwise:

Salt, spicy lime pickle, coconut chutney with carrot and moong dahl, potato curry, green pepper and tomato curry, onion raitha, roti, peanut rice.  We’re drinking water, and the white substance is lassi, a popular yogurt drink in India.  The round ball you see is a dessert called gulab jamun, which is basically a donut soaked in cardamom syrup.  This, for the record, is one of the best-tasting meals I’ve ever had.

**the “featured image” you see above is of a typical Indian-style market.  Quite different from the sanitized, orderly world of Western grocery stores (okay maybe not always orderly, have you been to Trader Joe’s or the 14th St Whole Foods during a rush?).  In India, you always bargain, everything is fresh, and it is 100% full of awesome.

lunch, sustainably.