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A Cape Town Culinary Safari: Nibbling away in the Mother City

Wardia-2

My day on a Cape Town Foodie Tour was a day well spent discovering some of the culinary gems of this amazing city. Part history lesson, part cross-cultural encounter, part gastronomic extravaganza, this privately guided excursion used the vibrant food scene of the city as a vehicle for exploring both the very popular and hidden gems that Cape Town has to offer. Ryan, my personal guide not only used to run a restaurant but also seemed to know everyone along the way of our 4 mile stroll through the city. We started the day on Bree street – the epicenter of boutique Cape Town eateries. First up was Bacon on Bree where the menu revolves around, you guessed it, bacon! Easing into the day we enjoyed a cup of excellent coffee and a bowl of bacon. Fear not vegetarians – there are plenty of alternatives if you have a more veggie centered palate. This hormone and antibiotic free bacon came from "happy pigs" raised on a local farm.  

From there, we stopped at Jason Bakery, a bustling window-service artisanal bakery where we enjoyed milk-tarts before heading on to the colorful Cape Malay Quarter of Bo-kaap. Sneaking into an easily overlooked storefront, Ryan was warmly greeted by the manager who was all to eager to share a spiced and coconut dusted koeksister with us. Simply fantastic and a totally different take on the typically fried and syrup-soaked South African doughnut.  

Next up was a locally famous samosa chef operating from a makeshift tent stall on a side street. Revered by locals as the place to get a wicked good samosa, Wardia was able to put her daughter through college on the success of her small business. She gets up at 3am every day to make her own pastry dough! The day we were there, a cheeky competitor had decided to setup alongside her stand. In the half hour we spent chatting with Wardia while noshing on samosa after samosa, not a single customer visited him. As we moved on, he also (wisely) opted to throw in the towel likely seeking out a less competitive corner.  

After a brief stop in the Atlas spice market (where we found a tea mix that could cure just about anything), we ventured into the heart of where the locals eat at a rooftop market and food court. This was the highlight of the tour for me. It was a privilege to sit down with a chef who walked me through some of the traditional dishes he prepared every day. It was like visiting with an old friend and sampling the food was delicious: samp and beans, spinach, pap, and chakalaka. While we were there, an elderly gentleman stopped by and we chatted a bit about South African history - he had been imprisoned on Robben Island for 10 years and had been beaten and tortured by the SA police for being involved with political demonstrations during the dark times of South Africa's apartheid era.

Our afternoon took us to Haas for lunch: a Malay influenced Bunny-chow (no rabbits were harmed in it's making – it's a type of curry served in a hollowed out loaf of bread, or in this case, a baguette). Then, for dessert, it was on to Honesty Chocolates where we enjoyed "healthy" chocolates without any trace of guilt (organic, locally sourced, and fairly traded).

Our final stop (which came none too soon as I was starting to waddle at this point) was at Truth Coffee, voted the best coffee shop in the world for several years running. Coming from Seattle – land of the hipster coffee shop – I was skeptical. This place was amazing! The steam-punk theme ran deep here with baristas and servers in costumes looking liked they had just walked out of a futuristic steam-powered science fiction fantasy world! Bizarre contraptions assembled from plumbing equipment and recycled bicycle parts were used to fill coffee bean orders for guests. A hulking 2,000 pound vintage coffee roaster sat surrounded by casks of freshly roasted beans that were "de-gassing." I enjoyed my specialty coffee and croissant (baked on site by a French pastry chef who flies his butter in from France –a secret that has earned him the coveted "best croissant in the city" award). 

 This tour was amazing for two main reasons. First, the food itself was a cross-section of the unique, local, artisan, popular and quintessential. The other was my guide, Ryan, whose encyclopedic knowledge of the history, people and places we encountered throughout the city were something you could never recreate trying to do this on your own. I would have never found some of these places and certainly would not have been able to learn as much from the experience as I did from him. This is a must-do tour for anyone who loves food and walking and is looking to experience Cape Town on a tour unlike any other.

Pro tip: do NOT eat breakfast on the day you do this tour!!

Your friendly African safari expert,

Chris Moriarty

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