I had my first Steers burger this weekend.
It was... well, it was what it was, which is more than you can say for some food. The roll was white and sprinkled with sesame seeds; the patty was meaty; the accessories were fresh; and the whole affair ‘squidged’ out of the bun and dripped satisfying bits into the carton.
(I think the world is divided into two kinds of people: those who love to pick at the gherkin slice that plopped out of a burger, the salty end to a bag of crisps, the toasted pine-nuts out of the salad dressing coating the bowl – and those who don’t like to pick at all. I’m suspicious of the latter. But that’s another story.)
Anyway, so I was so thrilled about this Steers burger experience – at an N1 pitstop outside Worcester – that I didn’t stop talking about it until someone told me that Steers was staple food for half the country.
The other half are, I’m told, are Wimpy people. So I had a Wimpy burger on the way back down the N1, outside Beaufort West. The experience was... well, it was what it was. Not much to choose, really, except that there were eight people in purple shirts with yellow pinstripes on duty at Steers, and only three in a sort of red and white outfits at Wimpy; and the Steers burger came quicker.
The point here is honesty. There are few things as honest as road food. When you’re covering 2,500km of motorway, you start to understand that it takes concentration and strategy to produce – reliably and consistently – the sort of food that’s going to appeal to the lowest-denominator-palate of people who’re stressed and tired, hungry and impatient to get going again. How would the average family cope if the neon board behind the counter offered a variety of items featuring chilli, stir-fried anything, or Cajun spices? At R69 a pop?
There appear to be five trucks for every car on the road… are truckers looking to end their day with a salmon tartare and frisee salad? I don’t think so... a road trip begs for hearty handy food. You supplement your burgers with toasted sandwiches; and that’s something anyone can make, and anyone can eat, and most people can afford.
So – since no-one seems to give them credit – I say credit’s due to the army of men and women who fry patties in the thankless canteens behind the hatch, behind the till, at roadhouses and the length and breadth of the country. Without them, we’d still be packing boiled egg sandwiches and drinking tepid flask coffee.
Heather Parker is the editor of Health24 and Bride magazine. She is one of SA's most respected journalists, and a serious foodie to boot.