Friday, February 27, 2009

This is not a story about wors.

Though it sort of starts out that way. Hungry for lunch and nothing on our schedule, Bordeaux and I hopped on a train to Claremont, following a tip from the Rough Guide that advised that women often set up grills to sell boerewors around the station. Of course when we got there, there were no ladies, no grills, and no boerewors for sale. Thankfully, we found Maheera's.

Maheera's is the kind of shop that sprouts up near railway stations, selling cold cream soda, tubes of chapstick, and airtime vouchers. And in Cape Town, they're one of the best places to sample local fast food, which is an offbeat mix of British, Afrikaner, and Malay flavors. We ordered two wors rolls with chips, a small dessert to share, and took them back to the train station, where we ate them on the steps. The roll was not accompanied with chips, as I had assumed, but filled with them-- even better. And the whole thing was doused with a tasty soaking of vinegar, and a drizzle of salt.

But the unexpected star of the meal, the focus of this entry, was the dessert. A golden ball of fried dough called a koesister. The Malay cousin of the Afrikaaner koeksister, it's smaller, rounder, less syrupy, and infinitely more flavorful. The glazed exterior is flaked with coconut, and gives way to a doughy interior studded with spices, sharp with cinnamon and clove. Had we not already eaten the wors and chips, we easily could have returned inside to buy a few more-- as it is, the koesister provides more than ample reason to make a return trip to Claremont.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Apartment complex.

We've arrived safely in Cape Town, and have been busy this past week seeing friends, revisiting old hangouts, checking out what's changed-- and searching for an apartment, a much more stressful process than I expected. The hardest part of our search is that we found the perfect place on our first day. It had everything we want-- character, views, high ceilings, and a great location-- and one thing we didn't want-- a lot of other applicants. Hopefully we'll find somewhere soon-- nine months is long enough for me to be itinerant. I'll update as soon as there's a lease with my signature on it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

eatingCULTURE/tastes: Eat your liver.

Opinions in eating.

Are there any foods you don't eat? Bordeaux and I have been cooking for other people quite often lately, so we've been finding out a lot about what different people won't eat: no egg, no basil, no cilantro, no tofu, no chili. In comparison, I tend to think of myself as really eating almost everything-- though every now and then, I do run up against something that I'm not exactly eager to try. Like liver.

Had I ever eaten liver before? I doubt it-- but somehow I got it into my head that I wouldn't like it, perhaps from some mass pop-culture aversion to the stuff. But my mission this year is to learn all about boerekos, and it's impossible to do that without at least eating a little liver. And really, I admire the eating of liver-- if you're going to eat an animal, it's more responsible to eat the whole animal.

So at an outdoor cafe in Pretoria, I ordered a simple meal of chicken livers on toast. The dark grey livers arrived in a small bowl, bathed in peri peri, a South African hot pepper sauce. I spread it on the toast, and gave it a try. I have to admit, my first taste was a little off-putting. The slightly metallic tang, the stodgy texture. But it grew on me-- despite its downsides, it has some rather redeeming qualities. It certainly has far more flavor than most meat, possesses a richer taste and complexity, and took on the spice of the peri peri well. I could certainly see ordering it again-- with less hesitation next time.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


While in Kruger, we did get to view quite a few real kudu-- but the one I was admiring the most was this well designed one on our National Park dishes.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

eatingCULTURE/eaten: Padkos.

Eating the world, one bite at a time.

Less than a week after arriving in South Africa, we headed into Kruger National Park. Though I've been in the park before, this was my first time doing it South African family style. Instead of staying at a lodge, we rented out restcamp cabins, and catered our own meals-- starting with a stop for some padkos on the way in.

Though the Afrikaans term padkos could be translated as 'road food', it bears no resemblance to the street-side noodles and sidewalk satays I enjoyed in Asia. Instead, it's food for the road, packed ahead and meant to be eaten on a trip. For our first stop, we had two dishes: frikadelle and sliced beef tongue. Though a little heavy for a morning snack, the frikadelle was easily likable, as it was well spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and coriander. And though I hesitated a little before biting into the tongue, it was surprisingly tasty as well. It paired particularly well with a tangy peppadew chutney, giving it the distinctly South African combination of savoury and sweet.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Though I’ve approached South Africa from overseas four times now, this was the first time in which I didn’t arrive in Cape Town. Instead, I was welcomed back to South Africa by the city of Pretoria.

Having Pretoria serve as my entryway back into South Africa was an odd experience. Unlike Cape Town and Johannesburg, which are distinctly world cities, Pretoria has an oddly insular atmosphere-- despite being home to a range of foreign embassies and consulates. Beyond that, it has a traditional vibe, with distinctly Afrikaner overtones. You can see it in the city’s landmarks and architecture: the orange brick apartments, the towering Voortrekker monument. You can see it in the style: men wear their shorts a few centimeters higher above the knee, blond children walk into grocery stores completely barefoot, and women favor a red henna tint in their hair (I refer to it as a Pretoria rinse). And to some degree, you can see it in the food, where hints of boerekos work in among the dishes on refined café menus.

In the past, South African food had a reputation for being heavy, bland, and uninteresting. Thankfully, opinion has changed in recent years, with more people paying attention to the country’s diversity of culinary influences, unusual local ingredients, and traditions of homecooking. I have to admit that over my last period of residence in the country, I didn’t pay much attention to the food. So this time, I’ll be making that one of my focuses. In particular, I’ll be focusing in on boerekos, ‘farmer’s food’: traditional South African cooking, a mix of Afrikaans, English, African, and Malay traditions. In many ways, the above boerewors is a classic example: farm style sausages made with dry Malay spices. While it may not be as photogenic as the Thai curries and Cambodian salads I’ve previously featured on this blog, let’s hope it’s just as tasty.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

South Africa.

Well, we've made it to South Africa, and have had an insanely busy week of seeing friends, visiting family, making big announcements, and staring at wild animals in Kruger National Park. We're heading back to Cape Town this weekend, where I'm looking forward to finding an apartment, settling in, starting up some big projects, and getting back to writing more regular entries from my new home.

Future entries won't be exclusively shots of wild animals, I swear.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I had only been to Chicago once before, and even then it was only by chance. My parents and I were flying to Spain, and a several hour layover at O’Hare became a 24-hour delay. So after a night in the only dodgy hotel we could find with a room, we spent a few hours strolling downtown and gazing at impressive old buildings. Not enough really to give me any sense of the city. So when my friend M___ invited us to visit on our way to South Africa, I decided to rework our route.

And in a way, Chicago was a fitting city for my departure from the United States. Though it’s not a city I know, it was the setting for some family history, where my grandmother lived and worked as a young woman, and where she met my grandfather. Beyond that, Bordeaux and I had come to the partly to experience winter, and we would certainly get one last dose of it in Chicago. And lastly, we entered the US with a weekend of eating American in Los Angeles—where better to go out eating a few last American meals than in Chicago?

The few days we spent in the city were obviously not enough to see much, but it give us a glimpse at least. We checked out the Art Institute, admired old houses as we rumbled past them on the El, and visited incredible independent bookshops, cafes, and design stores. Our few days also gave us a chance to see why so many people consider Chicago to be one of the best cities for eating in America. Chicago boasts an incredible variety or international cuisines-- including at least two Thai restaurants per city block, one of which we enjoyed a delicious bowl of khao soi in. But really, it was two American standards we were after: hotdogs and deep-dish pizza.

Hotdogs weren’t difficult to find. We passed tiny counter restaurants, and catering trucks that steamed the cold air. But how to find a good one? Though it’s not always a reliable method (think of overrated Pink’s, in LA), we opted for one of the classic shops: Clark’s. Bordeaux ordered a chili dog, and I had a Polish sausage with sauerkraut and mustard. The food cooking behind the counter looked relatively ominous, with sausages boiling in brown water, and chili bubbling an intimidating shade. Thankfully, it all tasted good. Years of a developed sense of New Mexican superiority over anything resembling ‘tex-mex’ have disabled me from ever ordering chili, but I have to admit that Bordeaux’s hotdog was much better than mine.

The next night, after a little experimental Chicago theatre, we returned to M___’s apartment, where her boyfriend had ordered us a pizza: a massive deep dish pie filled with sausage, onions and green peppers. It was my first time eating deep-dish, and it was more fantastic than I could have imagined. Though pizza rarely makes a featured appearance on Primitive Culture, I have to admit that it’s actually one of my favorite foods. It can be modified and played with so easily: made with different crusts, topped with delicious and unusual cheeses, and serve as the ideal base for experimental ingredient combinations. This one definitely deserves a spot as one of the best I’ve eaten.

It was so good, in fact, that we sought out another deep-dish pizza for lunch the next day. Hours before the flight that would take us over the Atlantic and out of the US for who-knows-how-long, we had one last delicious American meal.