A 14-Karat Feast at South Africa's Gold Restaurant

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When tourists visit Africa, they often go on animal safaris in search of lions and giraffes. But on a recent winter holiday to South Africa, my daughter and I were invited to go on a “taste” safari—with gold and ostrich on the menu.

I probably shouldn’t have been surprised. Ostriches are native to Africa and run wild outside Cape Town’s city limits; they’re cultivated in many countries for their eggs and meat, which tastes mildly like beef when grilled. But the gold?

That harkens back to the extensive gold mining and manufacturing that has occurred in Africa for centuries. This valuable ore has been made into jewelry, headdresses, teeth, and clothing. Why not food?  So on the taste safari we went. But rather than travel over vast tracts of wild lands in a jeep, we hopped in a cab at our hotel and 15 minutes later, arrived at The Gold Restaurant in downtown Cape Town.

Of course, this is no ordinary eating establishment. Rather, it is part of The Gold Museum, the most comprehensive collection of golden artifacts made south of the Sahara desert. The museum is housed in an elegant home built in 1783 and originally used as the parsonage for the Evangelical Lutheran Church next door. The principal collection of 350 artifacts was assembled by Swiss art lover Josef Mueller over a fifty-year period. The museum now offers workshops in goldsmithing as well as tours of its breathtaking displays.

The Gold Restaurant spreads out over lush courtyards that lie behind the museum.  Arriving around 7:30 p.m., my daughter Dana and I were escorted to our al fresco table by the smiling hostess, a strikingly beautiful woman wearing a large headdress as colorful as her billowing blouse and floor-length skirt. Thousands of festive lights sparkled on tall trees and thick vines; candles flickered on tables while the wait staff, as brightly attired as the hostess, flitted about pouring water and setting baskets of hot bread on the tables.

That’s when our “safari” truly began. Every night, the Gold Restaurant serves a 14-course meal that offers a sample of foods commonly prepared in different countries on the African continent. Many are made in the “Cape Malay” tradition, a cuisine developed when Dutch colonialists enslaved people from Java, Indonesia and brought them to Cape Town to work in the early 17th century. Others come from countries far north of this southern metropolis but still nestled somewhere in between the Atlantic and Indian oceans.

First things first: we ordered wine. South Africa boasts some of the best vineyards in the world. Dana ordered a crisp Riesling, I the more subtle sauvignon blanc. After a jovial toast, we waited expectantly for our first tastings: South African Tomato Soup flavored with pounded green chiles, garlic and ginger, accompanied by African pot breads baked and served in small earthenware cups that reminded us of the popovers I usually make for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner at home. The soup steamed as we slurped it up with our spoons. It never occurred to us to add our own salt and pepper.

Once the soup bowls and bread pots were whisked away, our waiter quickly reappeared with small dishes of Mozambican sweet chili prawns served on skewers with a garnish of orange. The recipe “honors Portuguese seafarers who called at the Cape during the 16th century while on voyages of discovery searching for gold, precious stones, ivory, amber and spices,” noted the menu. We nibbled at the prawns until the skewers were bare, then licked any remaining delicious juices off the sticks.

Skewers

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