Nose-to-tail eating: Already ingrained in SA cuisine before it became a thing

In partnership with City Press.

by: Anna Trapido | 25 Jun 2017
 

(image: iStock)

Cape Town is all of a twitter. Literally. La Tête, the city’s hyperhip “nose to tail” eatery, was recently named by CNN as “one of the world’s top 10 new restaurants for 2017”. And rightly so – Chef Giles Edwards is extremely talented. From the first crisp-crusted, tender-centred sweetbread to the last soft, silken strand of deep-fried lamb tail flesh with aioli, this Bree Street bistro’s food is as delicious as it is stylish.


ALSO READ: Why nose to tail is a way forward in sustainable eating

For those who don’t spend their days following photographs of other people’s lunch, the term ‘nose to tail’ is foodie-speak for a waste minimising philosophy of farming, cooking and eating in which every possible part of an animal is consumed. Such a strategy is as old as the hills and was originally found in almost all culinary cultures, but industrialised farming and modern food retail systems caused the international English-speaking elites to abandon such consumption patterns.

By the mid-20th century, supermarkets and butchers in North America and Britain had virtually stopped selling internal organs and those body parts (such as feet, brains and balls) that were recognisably derived from an actual animal. In their place were plastic-wrapped “pretty cuts” such as fillet, sirloin and boneless chicken breast. Consequently, much of an animal carcass is routinely thrown away or, at best, becomes dog food.

Eating everything but the squeak

And then along came British chef Fergus Henderson, who observed that “once you’ve knocked it on the head, it’s only common courtesy to eat it all”. In 1994 he began to pioneer a return to “eating everything but the squeak” at his, now Michelin-starred, London restaurant, St John. Henderson was at the forefront of a meat movement that has seen the UK sales of offal and other previously unloved cuts of meat rising significantly in recent years. Consumers are once again delighting in the sweet-sharp tang of kidneys, pâté-like pleasures of tongue and ready-made mousse of lightly poached brain. In England, that offal has become trendy is a win-win – not only does it taste great, but it allows consumers to feel good about themselves for saving society from waste.

Where London leads, certain sectors of Anglophone Cape Town follow – sometimes (often?) without considering context.

Cultural appreciation

La Tête is flooded with well-meaning foodie waste warriors who sincerely believe that every bite of pork cheek with chicory and apple is building a better tomorrow. Ja, well, no fine – the problem with this proposition is that ours is not a society where noses, tails or any of the organs in between need to be saved from the dustbin or the dog food factory.

The confit of duck gizzards and the ox heart with beetroot at La Tête are well worth eating in their own right, but they are in no danger of being discarded if they aren’t protected by hipster offal eaters. South Africa’s ecoepicurean model works differently. Ours is a society with a small Eurocentric elite who tend to shop, cook, eat and waste food much as Londoners do, and a larger, less affluent sector of society who have a deep cultural and economic appreciation of offal.

Our two-tier butchery market is apparent at the abattoir. Trucks packed with hindquarters are sent into suburbia (where they are processed into T-bone, sirloin and chateaubriand) and the tougher parts of forequarters plus internal organs go to less affluent areas. Legal requirements mean that heads travel separately but they too end up in kasi cuisine. Such a scenario almost always applies for both organic and intensively farmed animals – however a pig, cow or sheep lived its life, in death its head is sold into the township and inner city formal and informal food sectors.

Brain clouds over Cape Town today, come down to @la_tete_restaurant to see what it's all about! #food #itsaboutusingeverything #allday

A post shared by La Tête Restaurant ??Cape Town (@la_tete_restaurant) on



#greenpeas #cooking #delicous #foodie #instafood #capetown

A post shared by La Tête Restaurant ??Cape Town (@la_tete_restaurant) on


South African kind of fine dining

In South Africa, most people who eat offal do so because it’s cheap, but they also eat it because it’s delicious and because African identity is bound up in every bite. There are chicken mala (intestines) in the freezer section of every spaza shop – they are a pain to clean but, once done, slow cooking results in exquisite, yielding succulence. Walkie talkies (heads and feet) sell like hot cakes at every football match. Hillbrow street grillers sell piri-piri salt-sprinkled heart slices on kebab sticks. Caul wrapped kidneys (skilpadjies) are all over Pretoria West. The women selling onion-braised ox tripe on the corner of 15th and Ruth roads in Alexandra township do a roaring trade. As do the Mfuleni smiley sellers and the traders at the Victoria Street Market in Durban. Pedi funerals always serve the diphiri grave diggers a feast of cow head and feet accompanied by bjala marole beer. The Bo-Kaap is rich and redolent with tender, sweet, cardamom- and turmeric-spiced pens and pootjies. The fishermen selling snoek heads off the back of a bakkie in Mitchells Plain may not use the term “nose to tail”, but that’s what it is. Cape Flats customers think of their purchases as the ingredients for smoorsnoek, not a food philosophy.

Offal enthusiasm

Clearly, there is no need for the foodies to swoop in, save South Africa and remind us all to eat offal but, if the small subsection of the population who didn’t eat offal for half a century can rediscover it via CNN, then that is jolly nice for them. There’s a slight risk that their enthusiasm will raise prices – think oxtail – but basic maths suggests the nose to tail posh-nosh brigade is too small to have a significant impact on the meat market. Whether it’s eaten in Bree Street or at the inhloko stall at Soweto’s Chris Hani Baragwanath taxi rank is irrelevant. Slow-cooked beef cheek is a wonderful thing and as proudly South African as it gets.

For La Tête's contact details, click HERE

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