Fifteen eateries, four hours, one stomach. If that isn’t a serious dilemma, I don’t know what is. Getting the full Taste of Cape Town experience takes some careful planning, so here are some tips to help make the most of it:
Step 1: Avoid stuffing your face at the first stop
To avoid this tragically oft-played scenario, it is advisable to take quick turn about the bustling grounds to orientate oneself. It may take extreme will power to ignore the screaming taste buds, and to not lose one’s senses to the delicious aromas that linger between each stand: the warm cheer of slow-cooked and deep-fried fare, the occasional kick of bright spices, the musky whiffs of wine and beer, and the syrupy sweetness that wafts over from the dessert stalls, but hang in there.
The visual displays are no less tantalizing. This year Falksalt’s flavoured salt flakes were displayed in neat multihued rows, and the Craft Beer Project tent exuded cosy barnyard charm complete with bales of hay, chalkboard signs, and artisan tables. In case the phrase “gourmet burger” didn’t suffice, Beefcakes Burger Bar drew in a crowd with a pink-feather-boa-ed drag queen who, awash with disco ball glitter, danced to “La Bamba” between photo ops.
Step 2: Use all your senses
Our first sampling was a rich jolt from Dalla Cia dark chocolate truffles. Hand-rolling them into perfect little balls, the friendly chocolatier explained that each morsel was infused with a shot of Dalla Cia’s Cabernet Sauvignon Grappa. With our taste buds tingling, we sought out the busiest booth in sight, De Grendel, where we enjoyed tender, savoury pieces of baby quail balanced against the crunch of a baby gem Caesar salad. Enthusiastic shouting drew us to the Brasserie, where we had to laugh as servers Kyle and Rudy clambered over each other to holler “Hustle the mussel!” into the kitchen.
Following a trail of mouth-watering scents, we wound up at Il Leone Mastrantonio where the flash-fried calamari was declared “absolutely divine”. Our noses also lured us to Jewel of India and The Pot Luck Club, lured in by the pungent spices. At times, we simply let the menus talk to us. How could we walk away from dishes such as ‘Duck Liver Cream, Pickled Red Apple, Lentil Leek Mignonette’, or ‘Salad of Grilled Prawns, Rice Vermicelli, Basil, Chilli, Lime & Cape Malay Curried Coconut Foam’? Poetry to read, poetry to eat. And as easy on the eye as on the tastebuds: the former arrived as a pretty sculpture of thin crostini and creamy paté, while the latter,with its fresh and striking flavour profile, proved to be our all-around favourite.
Step 3: Sit in the front row
Why? It means you get first dibs on the steaming West Coast mussels when Chef Stefan Marais completes his Chef Theatre demonstration. Sipping our complimentary bubbly, we watched him produce three different seafood dishes – mussels, squid, and santer – in a flash whilst doling out cooking tips and quips: “Onions are like ogres; they both have layers.” The main focus was food “that you can make from scratch at home” with sustainable seafood items. To this end, a SASSI (South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative) rep intermittently provided educational snippets on everything from fishing methods to consumer options.
Later on, we also got a taste of the winning dish at the cook-off between the chefs of Azure (Twelve Apostles Hotel) and Fyndraai (Solms-Delta Wine Estate). As we looked on, Chefs Schoeman and Pretorius transformed the contents of their mystery hampers into two complete dishes each while running back and forth between the pantry and stove, conceptualizing each dish aloud to the inquisitive host, and minding the time. Azure’s Chef Pretorius took home the honours with his hake ceviche with a leek and onion mignonette, and the pan-fried beef fillet served with butternut puree and blackberry sauce.
Step 4: Always leave room for dessert
By this time, the lively accordion notes of “Funiculì, Funiculà” from earlier had mellowed into a jazz band’s version of “U Got It Bad.” The crowd was still strong but everyone was walking slower, some all but waddling (and by some, I might mean me). Gino, the owner of Wicked Waffle, was still serving a long line of customers hankering after his “Extreme Wicked Waffle,” topped with alcoholic cream, no less. Having destroyed the waffle in four clean bites, we also stopped by the Creamery for toasted coconut ice cream, before using up our last remaining Taste of Cape Town currency on Lindt pralines.
So much to taste, so little space. Assuming you only have one stomach like me, the only sure thing you can do is to arrive hungry. And with a plan.
Taste of Cape Town runs 11 – 14 April 2013 at Greenpoint Cricket Club.
See our photos here.