I have consumed many meals in the course of 2017. Some were ghastly. A lot were perfectly pleasant but instantly forgettable. A few were so good that they are vividly burnt into my memory. It is of those taste experiences that I write.
And I mean the burn bit literally. At Solly’s Corner in Fordsburg, Johannesburg, the magnificent masala slaptjips are so fiery that even writing about them causes my mouth to instinctively draw into that “oh-oh-oh” shape. This culinary contortion is necessitated by a glorious confluence of oral pleasure and pain receptors as they meet hand-cut, chilli-festooned potato batons served hot enough to melt salt and drink up lashings of vinegar.
Searing gives way to soothing with Durban’s Eish Kream spaghetti soft-serve ice cream. This deliciously daft hipster repurpose of a classic junk food comes in cool flavours including caffè latte. Posher but no less perfect is the silken smooth lemon posset at Chefs Warehouse & Canteen in Cape Town. Chef Liam Tomlin’s slightly sweet, subtly zesty cream dessert has become my 2017 definition of epicurean elegance.
No one should go to funerals for the food but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the beautifully sour ting sorghum porridge and the meltingly tender tšhotlho (pulled beef) at a recent Rustenburg send off. Not all funerals have a coffin. In early April my travels took me to Durban where I had a late afternoon yen for bunny chow. So I headed for Victory Lounge on Yusuf Dadoo (formerly Grey) Street. Established in the last years of World War 2 and named in anticipation of the triumph to come, this 2nd floor dining room was once the heart and soul of Durban’s Indian community.
And yet, when I reached the top of the stairs, I found Billy Moodley, son of the founder, packing up the last of his possessions. He explained that the Indian community of Durban no longer lives and shops in the CBD. Those who have replaced them cannot afford and/or are unfamiliar with the mouth-searing joy of a Durban curry ladled into ‘government issue’ white loaf. As he wrapped plates and portraits of gurus in newspaper, Moodley told me that this had been his last trading day and that he was now permanently closed, but I begged and got the final delicious scrapings from the lamb curry bain-marie. He even found a few batons of tart, tangy carrot pickle to top it off. The Chatsworth satellite branch still operates but we are all poorer for the passing of the original offering.
And so to Soraya Essop and her Sunday morning Cape Town koeksisters. Cape Town is full of restaurants that misuse the term ‘Cape Malay’ but Essop is the real deal. She has been making and selling exquisite, oval, coconut-rolled, cardamom-infused confectionary from her Woodstock home for as long as anyone can remember. Only Sunday is koeksister day. The rest of the week she is a bookkeeper. Customers wait their turn on the sitting room sofa. When the sofa is full, Ismael, her traffic policeman husband, marshals them into queues – first in the corridor and then on the broekie lace-lined, red-polished stoep. Aged rastas stand alongside bespoke-suited politicians, self-defeating joggers and an assortment of kids clutching Tupperware. The children have been sent by neighbouring mummies who sensibly wait at home with coffee and Sunday newspapers. Arrive early because Soraya’s fans are legion and everything is always sold out by 9.30am. And don’t wait too long to do it.
Woodstock is gentrifying fast. The last time I visited, there was a photocopied flyer on the Essop’s coffee table. It had been slipped under the door the previous day. The leaflet came from yuppies who had included a creepy photograph of themselves looking like swingers with a Labrador. The message under the photograph read, “We think your house would make our perfect starter home. If you have any interest in selling this property, please contact ***.”
The Essops say that such notices regularly arrive with their post and that they have no intention of moving but, if the Victory Lounge teaches us anything, it is to enjoy perfect tastes now. For tomorrow they may be gone.
What have been your most delicious eats this year? We would love to know. SHARE them in the comments section below or email us!