An Assortment of Cape Town Dining Choices
By Kurt Jacobson
Cape Town and the surrounding area of South Africa keep showing up as one of the best new places for food and wine.
Whether it’s European, New World, or African cuisine, Cape Town seems to have it all and excellent wine. South Africa was not on my travel radar, but I was pushed over the edge when my sister and my wife planned a safari.
I arrived after the longest trip of my life. My plane touched down in Cape Town, with 49 hours of travel elapsed. Cape Town was sunny and warm; much appreciated after chilly layovers on Chicago and Frankfurt.
After checking into the Airbnb “Sunny Green Point” apartment, I headed downhill to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. I’d be on my own for two days before the safari girls met up with me for three days together.
I didn’t know what to expect as some renovated waterfronts are just big tourist traps with kitschy shops. The V&A was a mix of a tourist trap and authentic shipping/fishing port. The best shopping venue by far was the Water Shed where dozens of local artisans sell quality goods.
Listen To The Music
I walked most of the waterfront enjoying free buskers. One was a group of six young black Africans playing marimbas, drums, a trombone, and singing their hearts out. The crowd loved the performance and I would have stayed longer if hunger and jetlag hadn’t been nagging me to move on.
On the way to find dinner, I was stopped in my tracks by the haunting sound of a cello. I headed straight for the music and found Reinhardt Buhr showing what one guy and modern electronics can do.
This one-man-sampling-band was playing an electric cello, acoustic guitar, drums, keyboard, some kind of African animal horn (Impala?) and singing. The result was a hypnotic blend of new age, classical, Spanish, and African rhythm music filling the waterfront with some of the coolest music ever.
Reinhardt kept adding track after track to this towering layer cake of music. I was concerned my grumbling stomach would cause distractions and left after just a few minutes but lucked out two days later to catch him performing again in front of the V&A Food Market, a food hall with over 40 vendors.
Dinner at La Parada was decent and affordable. My view of the waterfront and the constant flow of tourists was entertaining. The food and wine were just what I needed. After four delicious tapas, plus two glasses of wine, I headed back up to my lodging.
During my 15 minute walks down to the V&A and back up, I felt safe. I’ve heard of the crime problems in South Africa, mostly petty theft, and kept alert. I noticed most buildings had electric fences on top of security walls as I walked the town.
Walking with a camera can make one a target for theft in some places, but I wasn’t concerned. As I safely reached my B&B, I took five minutes to enjoy the big views of the V&A Waterfront before succumbing to 12 hours of much-needed sleep.
The first morning under clear blue skies in Cape Town did not disappoint. On the Airbnb list of recommended places to eat was Giovanni’s Deliworld. After a ten-minute walk on the Main Road, I arrived at an authentic Italian deli.
I wandered all the aisles I saw someone checking wine inventory and asked if he was the manager. He said, “I’m the owner, Giovanni.” When I asked how long he had been in business, he said: “This June first makes it thirty years.” as he shook his head in disbelief of how long he’s been there.
I looked at the house-made yogurt, bread, and other tempting treats in consideration of breakfast and asked him if they had avocado toast on the menu.
He said: “No, it’s not on the menu, but if you pick the type of bread you want it on, we can fix it for you.” I sat at the coffee bar and gobbled up a world-class avo-toast before catching a taxi to one of the area’s main attractions.
I headed up to Table Mountain to ride the cable car. This is one of the most unique gondola type rides I’ve ever had due to the car’s ability to rotate while climbing the mountain. Everyone got excellent views and photo ops.
Up top, I walked the entire trail system and would share my photos except I learned that journalists and professional photographers have to pay for a permit and images used in publishing. Tourists don’t have to worry about such rules, so go ahead and shoot away.
Food Safari Tour
For me, there’s no better way to get to know a town than by taking an excellent food tour. Elsje is part-owner of Cape Town Culinary Tours and was the guide on my Cape Town Food Safari. Elsje, an ex-flight attendant, was personable, knowledgeable, and just plain fun to hang with.
Our group included two from DC, one food blogger from Cape Town, and myself. Elsje told us, “This will be the biggest portion size of the day and will show you typical foods from Tanzania.” We were served vegetable curry, coconut rice, fried kale, and roasting ’obe & chapatti- a slow cooked beef dish.
Although I liked all of the dishes, the vegetable curry was so good I said I could live off it. Carling Black Label beer was served with our lunch to complete the experience.
Next up was an introduction to Ethiopian cuisine. At Madan Taitou we entered a world apart from Cape Town. This small eatery seems more like a museum than a restaurant.
Each dining space is like your own private room complete with all manner of items common to Ethiopia. They even have two tree-house themed dining spaces for those who don’t mind climbing a short set of steep stairs.
The owner said, “In Ethiopia, it’s common to have a hut above ground for protection from predators and venomous snakes.” Our sampling featured seven dishes on a round platter with soft rolled bread to use in grasping the food by hand.
All of us enjoyed the eating-by-hand experience and headed off to Khadim’s Coffee Shop for Senegalese coffee. The presentation was enjoyable, but since I can’t stand the taste of coffee, I passed on drinking a cup.
At the Eastern Food Bazaar, we entered a food hall and ordered bunny chow with lamb from the Bunny Cow. Elsje told us how, under Apartheid rule, the slaves were not allowed to eat meat during a cruel stretch of this dominance of whites against blacks.
The clever slaves in Durban used rabbit where the scourge of the big-eared varmints was not appreciated. When confronted by slave masters thinking the slaves were eating forbidden meat, the slaves would say they were eating bunny, which was allowed.
Thus began the rich history of this curry and meat dish served in a tower of a hollowed out bread loaf. If I hadn’t been full from the other stops, I could see making a meal out of this lamb and vegetable creation.
We had two more stops on the tour. First stop, Honest Chocolate, where we picked out two types of chocolate bonbons before heading to Openwine.
At his point, Elsje said, “Here we will take our time and enjoy the wine and chocolates. Leave when you want or stay and order another glass of wine.”
We enjoyed a taste of Graff’s red blend and a Semillon from Old Road Wine, both South African vintners. During the tour, I had learned about Greenmarket Square, Bo-Kaap neighborhood, different African country’s cuisine and Cape Town in a delightful three-hour tour. Well worth the fee of $80.
To finish up my time in Cape Town, I stopped at nü, a healthy fast food chain. Sibusisu took my breakfast order and entertained me with conversation while I waited for my waffle.
I found many locals like him delightful and interesting during my four-day stay.
Rental Car Adventure
On Sunday afternoon I went to the airport to pick up our rental car and my wife and sister. I brought to-go lunch from Giovanni’s for the three of us, a delicious and cheap lunch at less than $12 for sandwiches and chips.
The rental car plaza is in front of the airport and had shaded tables great for eating a takeaway meal. Dinner that night was at MareSol in the V&A Waterfront. MareSol is a Portuguese restaurant that’s good for the chicken, wine, and views, but we all agree it’s best to skip their seafood.
The next morning we headed out to wine country to explore Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, but that’s another story. On the last day of my trip we got a close up look at one of the numerous shantytowns.
Our GPS routed us to a gas station smack-dab in the middle of a huge shantytown next to the airport. Although I wasn’t scared, I was glad to be gassed up and out of there quickly. We were the only white faces in sight and attracted a few stares.
Overall, I loved Cape Town and was happy to have seen the area. I would strongly recommend it to serious travel junkies and foodies. There’s so much history, excellent food, and winemaking Cape Town a winner in my book.
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Kurt Jacobson lives in Baltimore, Maryland, and spent many years as a professional chef. Now he travels the world and shares his stories here and on other travel websites.