Kitchen Exhibitionist
The Culinary Quests of a Food Enthusiast Stuck in the Sticks
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
South African Food Souvenirs

On any journey, international or domestic, my favorite souvenirs are local food items not available back home. It is an easy matter to find food souvenirs in obvious culinary destinations such as France or Italy, but you may be surprised by the goodies my trips to South Africa unearthed.

Rooibos Tea

Red bush tea, or Rooibos in Afrikaans, is a popular tea served everywhere throughout South Africa. Containing no caffeine, it is a flavorful and gorgeous reddish amber brew. Rooibos tea is considered somewhat of a health drink due to its high amount of antioxidants and its purported ability to reduce problems such as insomnia, irritability, headaches, nervous tension, and hypertension. Its reputation to relieve colic has made it a favorite beverage for the baby bottle. I like it because it tastes good.

Although I can find various brands of Rooibos tea in stores at home, my favorite brand, Five Roses, is not available locally, making this particular brand of tea mandatory return trip luggage fodder.


Biltong

To refer to Biltong as beef jerky does it a great disservice. Biltong is beef jerky with a pedigree. Where jerky’s texture is dry and brittle, biltong is tender. Where jerky is salty and smoky, biltong is mild but flavorful. Where jerky’s heritage is the common steer, biltong’s lineage reads like a who’s who of the African plains game family tree.

Biltong falls into two styles; dry and wet. The wet version is air-dried for less time than the dry style, so it retains more moisture. We tasted dry Eland biltong at the hunting lodge, homemade by our host himself. To eat dry biltong, you break it into small shreds and eat it with your fingers. It was very good and I was pleasantly surprised by its tenderness.

In a butcher shop outside of Hermanus we tried wet biltong. This biltong had just been made and was very moist and tasty. We tried it both flaked and chunked and couldn’t decide which we liked best.

Biltong seems to be a South African staple. We were served a biltong dip with crackers and discovered biltong flavored potato chips in the grocery store. A South African cookbook I brought home contains recipes such as biltong muffins and biltong pot bread.

Unfortunately, due to U.S. customs regulations regarding meat, you cannot legally bring South African biltong back into the United States, although many a biltong fan has smuggled in a bag or two.

Vinegar flavored salt

My introduction to vinegar flavored salt coincided with my introduction to avocado on toast. At first, avocado on toast seemed an unlikely combination, especially for breakfast. But I love avocados and I love good quality wheat bread, freshly toasted and lavishly buttered. What better butter-alternative for toast than a thick layer of rich, unctuous mashed avocado?

The crowning finish to avocado on toast is a generous sprinkling of vinegar flavored salt. The salt brings out the flavor of the avocado while the vinegar adds just a hint of acid to offset the richness. What a simple but wonderful combination!


Amarula



Amarula is South Africa's answer to Ireland’s Irish Cream liqueur. Like Irish Cream, it is rich and creamy, but with a subtle fruity flavor. That fruitiness comes from the Marula fruit of the Elephant Tree, so called because elephants adore the fruit. Stories abound of elephants becoming intoxicated by eating the fallen fruit, which ferments quickly in the hot African sun. Although the image of tipsy pachyderms makes me smile, I don’t believe the stories are really true.

After returning back from South Africa I discovered that this delicious beverage is available in the local liquors stores so I no longer use valuable suitcase space to lug it home.

As good as it is to drink straight, if you insist on gilding the lily, as most of us food enthusiasts tend to do, it can be taken to the next level via the Dom Pedro, a popular South African drink available in restaurants and bars everywhere. A Dom Pedro is basically a milkshake made with vanilla ice cream, cream and Amarula, although some versions use whiskey or Kahlua.

Amarula Dom Pedro Recipe

2 shots of Amarula Cream
2/3 cup vanilla ice cream
2 tablespoons heavy cream

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a serving glass and serve with a straw.

Yield: 1 serving


Kalahari Liqueur

Even if you are not a drinker of alcohol, Kalahari Liqueur will get your attention. The bottle, fashioned in the shape of a calabash gourd, is quite suggestive of, ahem, something else. And not just some thing else, but the whole package.

The liqueur itself is a potent spirit made with herbs, berries, and fruits of the Kalahari Desert. To my taste buds its flavor falls somewhere between the French Chartreuse and the Italian Strega, both of which I enjoy. Kalahari Liqueur may be an acquired taste, but you gotta love the bottle!


Wellington’s Sweet Chilli Sauce

I first encountered this jewel-like sweet-hot sauce flowing over a block of cream cheese alongside a plate of crackers. It was love at first bite. Imagine salsa meets chutney.

Wellington’s Sweet Chilli Sauce is a translucent golden red sauce studded with flecks of red chili pepper and tiny bits of onion. Its sweet, hot, tangy spiciness against the cool creamy cheese on the crisp cracker was an incredible contrast of textures and flavors. On the way to the airport to catch our flight home, I had to stop at a grocery store to pick up a bottle of this ambrosia. My only regret is that I bought just one.

Schweppes Granadilla Twist soda


Soda and I are not very good friends due to its carbonation, but I like to try new and unusual flavors. This passion fruit soda is both tart and sweet, a thirst-quenching combination that works well as a cold beverage drunk in a hot dessert.

In my international travels I’ve noticed that passion fruit is very popular in many countries where it flavors sodas, candies, pastries and snacks. I don’t understand why it has never been a common flavor in the U.S. I couldn’t recall anything back home flavored with passion fruit. But as I sipped the Schweppes Granadilla soda, something about that flavor suddenly took me back to my childhood. It took a minute and a few more sips before I realized, there is a popular drink in the U.S. flavored with passion fruit…. Hawaiian Punch!


Aunt Tillie’s Beetroot chutney

In between winery visits while touring the wine lands outside of Cape Town, we stopped for a snack at the Cotage Fromage (the cheese cottage). There we shared a nice platter of assorted cheeses with fruit, bread, and an amazing beetroot chutney. Like all things made from beets, it was a lovely color, but it looked deceivingly ordinary in its dish; just chopped bits of beets and onions in a sauce. However, one bite made my taste buds sing. It was sweet and tangy with a special spiciness that I couldn’t definitively identify but believe may be allspice. It was a perfect complement to some of the cheeses.

The Cotage Fromage sold jars of Aunt Tillie’s Beetroot chutney so of course I bought one to bring home. Back home, whenever I opened the refrigerator, it would beckon me and I found myself just spooning it directly from the jar to my mouth. As the jar became dangerously low, I searched online for sources. No luck. I looked for recipes but none of them really sounded quite like Aunt Tillie’s. I tried a few experiments but didn’t come close to it.

The last bite is long gone but its memory lingers on. I do believe Aunt Tillie’s Beetroot Chutney is a sufficiently valid reason to visit South Africa again.

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3 Comments:
Blogger Alanna said...
Welcome to the world of food blogging! It's a big table, with chairs enough for voices of all accents and cuisines! In my own forays into South Africa, I never developed a taste for biltong but brought home cases and cases of wine. Those were good years at MY table, wine-wise!

Blogger hayley said...
Where Could I Get Salt And Vinigar Flavoured Salt From ?

Blogger Manja24 said...
Hi there!

I love that Kalahari Liqueur bottle.
Do you know where can i find this liqueur?

I'm from Portugal, but I have family in South Africa and they told me that they didn't find it anywere!


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