My favorite part about travel blogs are the posts where they go on and on about all the great food I’m missing out on. South African food is colorful, distinct, and full of rich flavor. The food was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. So without further ado here are the 5 best restaurants (in no particular order) I ate at while I was in Cape Town!
|The local band|
Mzansi Resturant is named after South Africa. It is the first part of the name 'Mzansi Afrika' which is slang for South Africa in one of the 11 offical languages—Xhosa. The restaurant is located in one of Cape Town’s townships, Langa. Nomonde, the owner, started this restaurant out of her home in 2006. A visit to the restaurant includes a fantastic meal, entertainment from a local band, and a brief talk from the owner Nomonde about the township and the history of her family and restaurant. For dinner we were served delicious chicken made on the coals, beef and lamb stews, lots of roasted root vegetables buffet style and sticky pudding for dessert. After, it was time to dance! They asked us to preform the “traditional American dance”, which I saw a wide range from the JHU group—there was the sprinkler, some sweet disco moves, the Carlton, and I might have even seen a twerk or two. Thankfully, the owners stepped in and taught us a dance township style. Afterward, we had a group jam session with the local African marimba band that had been playing. Mzansi offers good food AND an unforgettable cultural experience. I was blown away. Nomonde has all the right ingredients for a successful restaurant. As she says, it’s just a matter of people knowing about it.
You can't leave Cape Town without eating at Mama Africa is basically an unspoken rule here. This iconic restaurant is located in the heart of the nightlife hub—Long Street. The menu features a bold list of African cuisine including: feta & biltong salad, springbok steak, grilled crocodile, ostrich, and kudu, as well as Malva Pudding for dessert! For an appetizer, I had the Mama’s Game Kebabs that consisted of ostrich, kudu, and springbok. It was absolutely divine. For the main course, I had Mama’s Catch of the Day, which happened to be tuna in a butter sauce and I had just about died and gone to heaven. That plus the live music and good company was an all around good time!
What is the most South African thing you can do at any give time, but especially on a Sunday? A braai! A braai is the South African equivalent of an American barbeque. Mzoli’s is unique in that its not so much a restaurant as it is a hang out. Picture a family reunion where someone else is grilling your meat, but its BYO bottle, chips, sides, dessert, and just about everything else. Mzoli’s, another township based establishment, is located in the heart of bustling Gugulethu. The process is simple: buy meat, hand to the braai masters in the back, grab a table in the tent next door, go back to the braai and collect your tray of deliciousness, settle in, and chill to the sound of kwaito beats. There is an atmosphere like no other place I have ever been and it’s jam packed with people from all over the world. It’s definitely an experience not to miss.
|The braai stations|
|Tanzanian mango and lime chicken|
|Traditional song and dance|
Gold Restaurant offers a “sensory safari” through a variety of African dishes. The menu is only meant to be a road map as you sample everything that the restaurant has to offer. As we arrived, we were greeted by other guest learning to play traditional African drums and we joined in on the fun as well! At dinner the dancers and drummers entertained the diners with beautiful traditional song and dance offering a unique dinner experience. Some diners (including myself) were pulled from their tables to come dance in the open area. There is a video of it, which I’m currently working on having all the copies destroyed… For the last course, dessert, we found why the restaurant is called “Gold”: the pudding was laced in gold flecks and the cookies were as well. A few moments after it was served, they came around and sprinkled (allegedly) 14k gold dust on our heads with a horse tail. Gold Restaurant is a really awesome time and it’s easy to be there for over 3hrs and feel like hardly any time has passed.
|Gold on the S. African malva pudding with warm custart|
|Ben and the wooden lady (Elena who?)|
Last but certainly not least! Nando’s is a sort of fast food, sort of sit down Portuguese chicken joint originally from South Africa, but now all over the world (even the US!). The vibe inside Nando’s is like a Chili’s, but people actually want to go there like Chipotle. What I especially like about Nando’s is that it’s grilled chicken, not fried. To be honest, it puts KFC to absolute shame. Additionally, Nando’s peri-peri wedges are to die for! I’ve probably had Nando’s way too much while in South Africa, but it will definitely be a fond memory.
Lastly, I just want share with you all a delicacy of the townships—my inspiration for writing this blog. When we were driving in Khayelitsha I came across a curious sight. The township people call them “Smileys”. A Smiley is a whole barbequed sheep’s head with its lips fixed in a charred grin. Although I didn't try it myself, the township people love it and can buy a head for R40 ($3.75). These simple sheep heads really altered a paradigm for me. In fact, this whole experience with food in South Africa did. It allowed me to embrace the diversity here and even back home. Delicacies can take all shapes and sizes and it's one of the things that make us different and our respective cultures unique. And it's this diversity and uniqueness that makes everything in life so much more interesting. At the beginning of this trip I gagged at the sight Smileys, but over time I was able to open my mind and find some appreciation for them.
|Barrel of boiled heads|
|Local township resident preparing the heads|
-Summer Rak, '16