Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Out of Africa

In this old cultural-melting pot that is London, even in this yummy mummy corner of South West London, you can eat the world without even leaving your postcode. I mean within walking distance on my flat you have French, Indian, Morrocan, Thai, Vietnamese, Spanish, Caribbean, Italian, er... Spur Native American Steak and Grill. Some world cuisines are always going to get the star billing (ol' Michelin fav French) or the mass vote (anything with batter or MSG) but what about the more obscure? Hello South Africa.

As I've mentioned before I love a trip I do. But usually it is my stomach that leads me. This time however the draw of animals, and not just the ones on my plate, was to strong to resist: safari.

Don't worry this isn't going to be a checklist of which animals I saw. I was quickly back to the game plan: food. South African and African food in general, sidestepping the North African tagine-fest, is oft overlooked, hitting the news more often for the lack of, rather than the quality of the produce. You might argue that there are bigger concerns. My hosts &Beyond at Phinda has a policy of conserving the people, the wildlife and the land. So during our time there we visited the work of the &Beyond Foundation - the school, where some children walk two hours each way to attend; the clinic treating a population where around a third of the population is infected with HIV - you can see how gastronomy isn't top of the list. But that doesn't mean there isn't a passion for food. Good, simple, local food. Pineapples sold at the side of the road by the people who picked them. Local game. Juicy avocados. There's nothing quite like eating fresh food outside.

Our lodge The Homestead was readily homely with its 'interactive kitchen' (aka walk in help yourself or nosy around) and chef, the lovely and local, Faith Gina.

The lodge itself was insanely beautiful.

However, the thing they don't tell you about safari is that you have to get up at 5.30 in the morning. After 12 hours on a full overnight flight from London with only THIS for company...

... I was going to need some convincing. First up perfect Faith steak for dinner (she told me it was marinated  for three hours in soy sauce, wholegrain mustard, worcester sauce and red wine) and me and my fellow journos were packed off to bed happy tummed. Mornings, if you can call 5.30am morning, started with African coffee, 'crunchies' (oaty flapjacky biscuits) and South African rusks. A few animals later and it was time for a bush breakfast picnic. Now this was almost worth the 5.30 start. Animals? Oh yeah those too...

Give that boy a pineapple.

But, you're thinking, what about the South African food? Apart from biltong (for those not familar - it's a dried meat snack kind of like beef jerky to Americans) I was after some local flavour and Faith agreed to rustle me up some things to try. Unfortunately this was the precise point I started to feel ill, very ill. Thank you Malarone (my not so friendly anti-malarials).
Now I'm not one to let a little vomiting to stand in the way of gastronomic discovery. I'm made of sterner, and greedier, stock than that. Oh no, throwing up in the bush behind a landrover, oh yes, that classy, was a mere temporary setback. However, my stomach had also shrunk to about the size of a crum of biltong... and it was a South African feast.

Morogo - a kind of South African spinach, fried with onion, chunky peanut butter and tomato

Pap - a starchy blend of cornmeal which is pretty tastless but served with everything and especially...
Tomato and onion sauce...
and roasted butternut squash

Oh and meat, lots of meat...

All together now... yum.

Plus the apparently ubiquitous South African dessert: malva pudding

My biltong-crum tum wasn't quite up to pud but my keen tasters pinpointed it as kind of like sticky toffee pudding.

Biltong crum or no I couldn't leave without a market and, although I decided customs might not appreciate my efforts to transport a bag full of South African chillis back off a 12 hour flight into Heathrow, it was a feast... though just for the eyes this time. They were definitely bigger than my stomach still.


So I had to make do with some salad tossers and my own &Beyond African recipe book... watch out Wandsworth.


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