Is SA turning into a foodie nation?
- Developing a taste
01 March 2013|
A proliferation of cooking schools and classes across the country; a spurt of specialist food markets across SA and a new-found taste for the exotic. Saaleha Idrees Bamjee wonders if we are turning into a foodie nation.
Ten years ago, samp and sabayon would have found limited co-existence on an SA dinner menu. Today upmarket restaurants and intrepid home cooks confidently dish up local flavours complemented with European techniques and a globalised approach to meals. Terms like artisan-made, charcuterie and provenance jostle like simmering snow peas in a pot of hipster foodie nomenclature. Samoosas are at home with sushi, and roasted mealies and chicken dust (chicken cooked at the roadside) cosy up to shawarmas and falafel. And nachos and pizzas, with an SA twist, find their place beside melktert.
South Africans have always been food-focused, dishing out from that battered metaphor of melting- (hot-) pot heritage that is a stew of British, Dutch, French, Portuguese, German, Malay, Indonesian, Indian and traditional black SA foods. But something else seems to be cooking on a low heat.
SA Masterchef is in production for a second season; the number of organic food markets are on the rise; pop-up speciality food stores are everywhere; and the availability of gourmet ingredients on supermarket shelves points to a movement that is fast gaining momentum among South Africans. But is there more to SA's flourishing foodie culture than the mass media is telling us?
Lila Bultel, a French-trained patisserie chef who offers training for catering professionals, says she's seeing South Africans becoming more conscious of food trends. Bultel specialises in macarons - little almond, egg white and sugar confection sandwiches that are finicky to perfect but a mouthful of chewy awe if done right. For her, the proliferation of macarons in bakeries and coffee shops is evidence of how SA is evolving in the foodie space.
"When I arrived here from France in 2009 there was only one shop in Johannesburg selling the macaron. Now they are everywhere." Though Bultel tut-tuts about the quality of some of these meringues-dressed-as-macarons, she says people are definitely interested in learning proper French patisserie.
"It is still seen as a luxury thing and SA has a long way to go. But I am working with professionals coming to me from small towns, places like Potgietersrus, to learn patisserie methods and techniques for macaron, croissant and brioche." What's being put into motion is a knock-on effect from food industries offering a quality product that in turn makes consumers more discerning.
The quality of SA food blogging is another marker that suggests SA cuisine is moving beyond the braai and the frying pan. The Food Blogger Indaba held in the Cape each year since 2010 is garnering increased interest. "We had 56 delegates to the 2010 Indaba and our event last year was attended by 125 delegates," says founder Colleen Grove, a food blogger and entrepreneur. Grove recently partnered Jeanne Horak-Druiff, a former advocate turned food, wine and travel blogger, who's come on board to grow the Indaba's reach this year.
The Internet is also helping introduce SA food to the world, and there is now a global enthusiasm for things like melktert, koeksisters and pap, says Grove. "I remember a time when one supermarket was labelling pak choi as savoy cabbage - nobody could get away with that now because the general level of food knowledge has increased so much."
One criticism of the foodie movement is that it is very much a middle- to upwardly mobile class thing - for the majority of South Africans organic means little when even pesticided fruit and vegetables don't come cheap enough to maintain a healthy and balanced diet.
"What I do hope is that instead of going down the UK route, where lower socioeconomic classes tend to buy cheap, non-nutritious processed food, SA might be willing to invest in community farm schemes to assist people to grow their own food, even in urban areas," says Horak-Druiff. "Where people grow their own food, they immediately have more of a sense of ownership and responsibility, which can only translate into a meaningful grass-roots foodie movement."
Lucy Mabundza has been selling organic fruit and vegetables at the Bryanston Organic Market since 1982. "The early days here were tough. Not many people were interested or understood what organic meant," she says. Mabundza works with communities and small-scale farmers, giving them skills to produce gardens for sustenance and profit. "Growing up in rural Northern Province, we were growing vegetables without insecticides. We were already eating organic then."
Another vendor at the market, Christa Medri, voiced similar thoughts. "I started selling free-range eggs here in 1986. The people were like, 'Oh, what is free-range? Are these eggs fresh from Checkers?' They just had no idea." Now free-range is a ubiquitous offering, and yes, quite easily purchased fresh from stores such as Checkers.