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What’s for Dinner? Exotic Eats in South Africa

Bless her heart.  My Mom loves dessert.

The end of every dinner is the inevitable question.  “If I order something for dessert, would you have some?”  Why Yes … Yes I will.  And I love to share it with her.  So off we go – to early dinner or late lunch – and we can always count on a little sweet to end the meal.

Ostrich, anyone?

And tonight, after driving to the start of the Garden Route in the tiny beachfront town of Wilderness, and tucking into a fabulous dinner and dessert, I’ve decided I might never leave here.  

View from our guest house in Wilderness 

Because why would I?  With the beach out my window.  And delicious food and wine a couple of blocks away.  And national parks’ worth of hiking and activities out the door, it really seems pointless to go anywhere else.

We just made arrangements to stay here an extra day.  I’m pretty sure tonight’s oysters and sparkling wine tipped the balance on that decision.

After the first few days in South Africa with no appetite – it’s hard for the stomach to know when it’s time to eat on the opposite side of the world – I’m happy to report that the belly is back into to full-on food appreciation mode.

We are now having a good breakfast every morning at the hotel, and then a nice meal out somewhere late afternoon or early evening.  We keep fruit and cheese and other noshes for in between.  

And WOW.  Is the food here top quality.  Lots of fresh, organic, locally sourced.  Creative.  Inventive.  Just plain good.  

Not to mention the wine.  And, honestly, we do not get the good stuff from South Africa exported back to the states.  In fact we were told that the stuff we get as exports is a blended together conundrum from huge distilleries – it’s hard to find the good estate sourced wines at all.   So while I’ve tasted quite a few I like here, I think it will be difficult to ever find them again locally.

We’ve officially tasted two wineries – one founded in the 1600’s and one newly started in 2002 by a former commercial fishing family in a different region of South Africa.  And I’ve been doing my best to sample many other options over meals.  There are over 750 wineries here now.  Half popped up in the last decade.  And they aren’t all great … there is definitely a cavalier style to the making of some of these wines.  A “plant the vines where they will grow, and blend it till it works” mentality perhaps.  But they get it right a lot, too.  

South Africa grows Chenin Blanc as its most common grape.  It’s better known for the Sauvignon Blanc, the Shiraz and their unique hybrid – Pinotage (Pinot Noir meets Hermatage).  

Biggest Oysters Ever. 

Tonight I had fresh oysters the size of my hand pulled from Knyssa Bay – just a few miles from where we are staying in Wilderness with a local sparkling wine. Followed by grilled Kingclip – a thick white fish that is delicious over a bed of vegetables and rice with a soy ginger sauce and a rose geranium jelly on the side, with a Chenin Blanc.  Yum.  

Last night my mom ate ostrich – farmed here for their rich, red meat – with fresh fig and a port compote … delicious.   Tonight she powered through a plate of head-on prawns and had a pile of big-eyed heads piled up on the plate looking at me before the end of dinner.

Today, as we drove east to Wilderness from Hermanus we stopped a farm and bought cheese from their shop … it was delicious and so inexpensive.  In fact most of this food is very affordable compared to what we would pay for the same quality in Seattle.  

Yes, you can tell we are in culinary difficulty over here.  And there is so much we haven’t tried yet.  The influence from the spicy Cape Malay flavors of cumin, turmeric, cinnamon and other near east spices brightens up everything.  And one of Mom’s friends from South Africa sent her with a list of food to try, including Biltong (jerky), Boerwors (Boer sausage), Snoek (smoked fish), Melktert (a custard), Koeksisters (doughnut-like fried pastries) and sosaties (curried lamb Kabobs).
So we better get cracking – lots of eating left to do.  
I expect we can rise to this challenge.
Leigh Pate
Leigh Pate lives in Seattle, WA. She is a two time cancer patient and cancer research advocate, a communications specialist and writer, a nature lover and fan of beaches, mountains and big trees in the Pacific Northwest.