It’s Hard to Find African Food in Cape Town

There’s an interesting article from NPR about the international culinary scene in Cape Town. It’s a result from having one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world and the general political stabilization.

With the influx of tourists, travelers and honeymooners comes a drawback — you need to go well outside the city limits to find traditional African food. It goes without saying, when you go to Italy, you want Italian. When you to go to Japan, you want sushi, ramen and yakitori.

Cape Town’s restaurant scene has gotten quite buzzy. Cape Town is now listed by Lonely Planet as one of the “world’s tastiest destinations,” alongside the likes of Buenos Aires and the Italian piedmont. Two area restaurants are included among TripAdvisor’s 25 top fine dining spots in the world. Last year, readers of Conde Nast Traveler picked Cape Town as the world’s best food city.

Yet the restaurants that are being widely hailed have menus that would offer nothing new to diners in London or Paris. Indigenous cuisines and ingredients are simply not offered to the vast majority of restaurant patrons.

The local economy does need to cater towards tourists, but since the ingredients are local, you are kind of, sort of eating African food.

Which brings me to something I had to research before going there last year. What is African food? I’ve had Ethopian, but that’s not close to South African cuisine. Being a New Yorker, I have not come across any South African-focused menus.

Braii is a South African barbecue, which not exactly a type of sauce, it’s more of a tradition. It’s meat, a certain type of sausage and a pap, a starch. I found it in Johannesburg along with their traditional dessert, malva pudding.

Also a popular South African dish is bunny chow and IT’S NOT BABY RABBIT. It’s a curry-base stew served in a hollowed out bread, similar to Indian dishes.

This you might be able to find at Mariam’s Kitchen, which has two locations in downtown Cape Town. It’s a cafeteria-style lunch place that features the Indian-influenced African cuisine that’s lacking in the city.

In the heart of Cape Town, there are about a half-dozen restaurants that proudly announce themselves as serving dishes of the African continent, with names like Marco’s African Place or the Africa Cafe. But those are restaurants that cater to tour groups, with the focus not on food but the entire experience, complete with animal skins hanging on the walls, marimba bands and waiters wearing boldly-printed shirts.

“We don’t really get that many local people,” says Samantha Harwood, night manager at Mama Africa. “We as a restaurant are not your African heritage food meal. It’s what a tourist can handle.”

So basically you’re getting the sanitized, Disney World Epcot version of African food. Thus, you’ll have better luck in Joberg or Durban getting the local flavor.

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