When I decided to come to South Africa, I didn’t really know what to expect. I would be in a new country, with new people, eating new foods. Surprisingly, my main concern for the trip was not the fact that I would be in a new country for six weeks, nor that I would be with people I didn’t know very well; my main concern was about the food that I would be eating…or rather not eating.
Before leaving Hopkins, we met with a travel doctor to discuss the do’s and don’ts for the trip. One of the main topics was food. The doctor started with warnings about water and ice, advising that we should avoid tap water and drink “boiled, bottled or chemically purified water that are considered safe and potable.” She went into great detail about how freezing does not destroy bacteria so we should ask for no ice in our drinks. Yet, she still did not spend as long talking about ice and water, as she did fruits and vegetables. She told us that in general we should avoid eating unpeeled fruits and raw vegetables. If we wanted to eat any raw vegetables, we were advised to soak it in bleach first and then use a scrub brush to make sure we removed all potential bacteria from the food. She also mentioned that foods with veins like lettuce and celery should be avoided at all costs because no amount of “cleaning” could rid them of bacteria. When we asked if that meant we shouldn’t eat salads, she said, “No potato salad and macaroni salad are still okay.” Those really weren’t the types of salads we had in mind, but judging by that answer, lettuce salads were out of the question as well. Essentially, every food group had a caution along the lines of “avoid unless properly washed” or “avoid unless cooked and with fresh ingredients.” It appeared only safe food group was meat, but this was not good news for me.
|Can always count ice cream as a vegetarian |
friendly option (Chocolate Ice Cream
from The Creamery: PC Lara)
I have been a vegetarian for over 7 years now and don’t really see myself eating meat any time soon. So after hearing all the suggested food restrictions, I called my mom panicking that I wouldn’t be able to find things to eat. She of course calmed me down and told me that the US is not the only country with vegetarians; I would find food no matter what. I hoped that there would be at least one other girl on the trip so that I would not take on this food adventure on my own. To my excitement, I found out that two more girls were also vegetarians (Lara and Gauri), and that they shared some of the same concerns.
|Example A of foods we were supposed to avoid: fresh tomato and mozzarella with arugula and basil pesto on toasted ciabatta (Bruschetta from The Italian Kitchen)|
Gauri took the lead in testing the validity of the doctor’s statements. She ate salad and veggies from the start whereas I was skeptical about eating vegetables that had not been cooked, and I strictly stayed away from lettuce salads. It seemed silly especially since nothing looked unsafe but I really did not want to get sick. After Gauri indulged in meals filled with raw vegetables, lettuce, and unpeeled fruit, and nothing happened, it became clear that the doctor might have over-exaggerated her pre-cautions. Lucina, our trip coordinator/program manager and a native of South Africa, looked at us as if we had two heads when we told her what the travel doctor said. She re-assured us that vegetables did not have to be bleached, and that most tap waters were in fact potable. In hindsight, I’m sure that the doctor just wanted to make us hyper-aware that food-borne illness was possible and easy to contract. But in doing so, she made us all, particularly me, scared of eating anything from that had the phrase “avoid unless” attached to it.
Contrary to everything that the doctor had said, finding food in South Africa is not difficult at all AND it doesn’t require eating out every night. Of course from time to time I indulge in a nice meal from a restaurant or quick fix from a take out place, but on most days I am able to make my own meals from the food I buy at the grocery store (most common ones I frequent are Woolsworth, and Pick n Pay).
|Me posing with the cook book that|
created the food pictured on the right
|Chili Puffs and Samosas|
(Unfortunately the samosas pictured on the
left were made with meat but you can
substitute veggies easily)
What’s great about Cape Town, or at least the area that we are staying, is that we are surrounded by food. You can find a Woolsworth, a pizza place, a Thai Restaurant, Italian Restaurant, an ice cream shop, and a frozen yogurt shop after walking just two blocks right of our cottages (about 10 minutes). A bit further in that direction is an Indian Restaurant, a Mexican restaurant, a Pick n Pay and some fast food chains. Left of the cottages has a similar spread of options as well; you can come across an Indian buffet, numerous pizza places, more fast food restaurants (KFC and McDonalds are everywhere), some interesting local chains, as well as another Pick n Pay, and Woolsworth all within 15 minutes from the cottage (walking not driving).
Take-out and restaurant food is always simple and easy, but it adds up fast. Personally, I would rather spend my money on paragliding or shark cage diving (sorry Dad) rather than meals at a nice restaurant (that being said, the fanciest meal that I’ve had here included an appetizer, meal, and dessert and came to R220, the equivalent of 18 USD). As a result a lot of my meals come from Woolsworth and Pick n Pay. Woolsworth is a bit “fancier” than Pick n Pay in that they have slightly more expensive items with the promise of being more fresh and healthy. Pick n Pay, however, definitely has more of a selection; the stores are generally double the size of a standard Woolsworth. On days that we don’t have catered lunches, I make myself a hummus and veggie sandwich and pack a couple of snacks (usually popcorn, rice crackers and an apple). On nights that we don’t eat out, I make myself a variety of things, from meatless burgers to pasta with sautéed veggies. On those that we do, I have my pick from Italian (for cheesy pizzas and creamy pastas), Mexican (for yummy tacos and steamy fajitas), Indian (for zesty curries and toasty naan), and Thai (for spicy noodles and crispy tofu). All in all it’s safe to say that food has not and will not be an issue for me on this trip. My main concern used to be about finding food to eat, but now it’s about picking which food to eat first.
My favorite meals from restaurants:
- Butternut squash and spinach ravioli with nutmeg sauce (Tuscan Beach Restaurant)
- Pesto pasta (The Italian Kitchen)
- Glass noodles with stir fry vegetables and tofu (Thai Café)
- Vegetable Tacos (The Fat Cactus)
My staples from the store:
- Regular hummus, pesto basil hummus, raspberry yogurt, brown seed bread, rice cakes, and apricot jam (Woolsworth)
- Strawberry and yogurt muesli, Fry’s meat-free burgers, Fiji apples, and yum yum peanut butter (Pick n Pay)