Cape Town needs a visit from Anthony Bourdain

Foodyism and obscure ‘ethnic’ food are trendy these days. So, it is odd that South Africa hasn’t received more attention.

Anthony Bourdain in Hong Kong Airport, 2011. Credit: Li Tsin Soon, via Flickr CC.

Good on The New York Times for publishing an article on South African culinary options. I suppose something is better than nothing in this case. For those without a subscription, an article entitled “A Culinary Gateway to Cape Town” appeared on the travel section of The New York Times’ website on Wednesday morning. The composite image above accompanied the piece.

The piece tells of the author Todd Pitock’s experience on a culinary tour of the Cape Town city bowl through an agency called Coffeebeans Routes. The tour took Pitock through parts of Cape Town well on the beaten tourist path; areas like the outer edges of the Bo-Kaap and the tiny Shortmarket Street, just off the worst stretch of Long Street, with all of its hostels, tourist bars, and travel/package tour agencies. The itinerary included coffee at a café owned by a Nigerian Nobel Peace laureate, a meal of Cape Malay classics cooked by the owner of a spice shop in the Bo-Kaap, another meal at a centrally located Ethiopian joint (Little Ethiopia; that’s the owner Yeshi Mekonnen to the left in the composite image in the article), and a final stop at a small Cameroonian restaurant. Despite the fact that the author spends the first third of the article describing his fascination and disgust with a tripe dish he was served at the Cameroonian restaurant, it’s nice to see South African cuisine and dining appear on the Times’ radar.

Given how trendy foodyism and obscure ‘ethnic’ food is these days, I find it odd that South Africa hasn’t received more attention for its unique and eclectic cuisine. Not to mention the growing presence within South Africa of foods from elsewhere on the continent (Nigeria, Cameroon, the DRC, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Somalia, etcetera) due to recent and historic immigration patterns, as well as ample fine dining and wine options. Heck, there’s even a burgeoning craft beer industry in the country (also see here, here, and here)! Logically, one would think South Africa should be a major food tourism hotspot, but for better or worse, this is not the case. Indeed, considering his rather perverse obsessions with post-conflict states, exoticism, and Asian flavors, I deem it an extreme oversight that Anthony Bourdain never traveled to South Africa for an episode of his recently concluded show, No Reservations. I mean, come on: the show would have practically written itself and Mr. Bourdain would not have had to work very hard to come up with a slew of his signature cynical quips and reflective monologues on the country’s history. But I digress.

For those wishing to sample some classic South African dishes here in New York, your options are rather limited, but there are still a couple of places. The two places that I’m aware of are Madiba in Clinton Hill and Braai in Hell’s Kitchen.

You’re welcome South African Tourism Board. I’ll take my commission in US dollars, please.

Further Reading

Goodbye, Piassa

The demolition of an historic district in Addis Ababa shows a central contradiction of modernization: the desire to improve the country while devaluing its people and culture.