Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Forks and Glasses

I love food—eating it, cooking it, and learning about it.  Food on a trip is as important as the cities, historic sights, and natural beauty that you are searching for as a traveller.  I consider grocery stores in a new place as a tourist attraction.  And if I can try the foods of the places I’m visiting—even better. 
After two weeks away from our kitchen, we experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly.  We ranged from homemade picnics on desolate mountain roads to the gas station lunch of Mrs. Balls’ chutney chips and ice cream bars to gourmet dining in Cape Town with Stellenbosch wine tastings and obscure breweries in between! 

While in Lesotho, we were well fed by the women of Malealea village and then had the unique experience of lunch in the home of a Basotho family.  We were welcomed into the home of Imushi and Thebo, where we ate the traditional meal of papa, nama le moroho (pap, meat, and spinach).  On our walk over to their house, we passed the garden where their spinach grew, cut through their maize fields, and kicked chickens out of the way whose relative had just been slaughtered.  What better way to eat lunch than on a stranger’s couch in remote Lesotho with a bowl between your legs, sharing what it’s like to be from Canada!
Papa, nama, le moroho

I sampled the local Maluti premium lager, “expertly brewed for the Kingdom of Lesotho and its People”, but I think it only tasted amazing because I was relaxing on a patio in a Basotho village in the centre of mountains and valleys.   
Brewed for the Kingdom of Lesotho

Aga stove in the lodge
The view from the Basotho house
Our cultural and culinary experience took a slightly different turn upon our arrival in Aliwal North, an inland armpit town where everyone spoke to us in Afrikaans.  Famous for their burgers, we had put a meal at Wimpy’s on our roadtrip to-do list and eating a giant burger alongside the Senqu (Orange) River in +35 degree heat was the perfect setting.  Sadly, it was too hot to take photos!

The platter
We moved on to the heat and desolation of the Karoo desert, famous for the Karoo lamb where we gorged ourselves on succulent monster lamb chops.  In Nieu Bethesda, in the middle of the Karoo desert and Sneeuberg mountain range, down an abandoned road surrounded by cacti, we found an oasis at the Two Goats Deli & Brewery.  I bought a couple bottles of the home-brewed Sneeurberg Ale to wash down the platter of warm homemade rosemary bread, local kudu salami (kudu=African moose), roasted olives and soft feta, beetroot relish, homemade pickles, freshly churned butter, aged cheddar, two hard goats’ cheeses, and three soft goats’ cheeses (one with sweet chillis, one with black peppercorns, and the final with honey, brandy, and rosemary).  We dined under the trees in the backyard of the cheese maker’s home and listened to the bleating of the goats whose delicious cheese we had just eaten!     

What better way to spend your Christmas Eve before a beautiful midnight mass than a big chicken dinner from Nando’s in downtown Cape Town?   

I like to think of our visit to Stellenbosch as a cultural and educational experience that just happened to include copious amounts of booze.  The town of Stellenbosch is a beautiful upscale tourist mecca, surrounded by wine estates and orchards and the centre of South Africa's wine industry.  Sarah and I pulled into the city after a long drive through the desert onto the Vine Hopper bus for our day long tour. 
We started at the Van Ryn’s Brandy Distillery, where we opted for the luxury tasting of 3 brandies (12, 15, and 20 years) paired with chocolates and coffee.  I was more interested in purchasing the chocolate as even the most premium brandy tasted like rat poison and I was given dirty looks by the tour guide for my lack of appreciation of this supposed first-class beverage.  I’ll leave it to the old men.

It all started out so classy

We moved on to Bilton, a small winemaker where we had a 4 wine and chocolate tasting and we almost got kicked off the tour!  While describing the merlot as a “lady’s wine because it’s not too aggressive and something she can enjoy all night” and describing its character as being the perfect mate for a relationship with roast chicken, I found his pretentiousness to be hilarious and could not stop laughing-trying to hold it together made it worse.  With tears streaming down my face, I tried to explain that I wasn’t mocking him and then offered my expert wine opinion that the wine actually smelled like old shoe leather. From there, we moved on to two more wine estates, including an unscheduled and after-hours private stop, which is where the day gets a bit blurry.  I can tell you that we tried a lot of great red wine in beautiful settings and I was lucky to have Sarah guide my purple-toothed body into the van.  Fittingly, our hostel was called the Stumble Inn and I believe after a full day of boozing, I was in bed by 8pm.
The chocolate pairings

Downhill from here...

Our wine tasting group

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