Friday, December 18, 2009

Week #16 South African

South Africa. Now here's a place with some amazing culinary influences: various African tribes, numerous waves of European settlers including the English, Portuguese, French, German and Dutch contingents, and a healthy representation of Indian, Malaysian, Filipino and others from around Southeast Asia. As for the terrain, this country is capable of producing most anything you'd care to eat or drink. The land sustains a veritable smorgasbord.

Himself and I trekked to Springbok, a combo restaurant and sports bar in the Sepulveda Basin area. We were a little concerned about making one of our culinary expeditions into what we feared would be just another sports bar with generic pub grub. Not to worry, though--this place is owned and run by four Afrikaners who miss the vibe, the sports and the food of their home turf.
Chicken Livers in Peri-Peri Sauce
We started with an appetizer of chicken livers in peri-peri sauce. This sauce is made of tiny birdseye chile peppers. It's hot enough to get your attention but not so hot that it detracts from the flavor of the dish. Aside from tasting great, the sauce lightened the density of the livers--no mean feat. While liver isn't my favorite thing to eat, I do find myself craving chicken livers (no other type!) about once a year. This was a good opportunity to satisfy the annual craving while having livers that hadn't been breaded and deep fried. I like this combination a lot, and I'd certainly order it again.

Boerewors Roll with "Train Smash"
 I had the Boerewors roll for my entrée. It's a traditional South African sausage ("boerewors" means "farmer sausage" in Afrikaans) served on a homemade bun. With its dry texture and rather un-tame flavor (although I wouldn't exactly call it "gamey"), I assumed this sausage was made of some sort of wild game. It was a tremendous surprise to discover that Boerewors is actually made of beef in a beef casing. I guess so much sausage is made of swine that I'm accustomed to the fattiness and more luxurious mouth feel. (Boer, of course, has nothing in common with pork, but rather is a person of Dutch descent in South Africa, also known as an Afrikaner. I knew this, but when I heard of a sausage with what sounded like "boar" in the name...).

The Boerewors was served with what they amusingly call "train smash," a stew of sautéed onions in a tomato sauce with some peppers added in. Perhaps more peri-peri? I think I was supposed to pour it onto the Boerewors, but I dipped in a few of the fries and ate the rest with my fork. Instead I poured peach chutney onto the sausage.

Durban Lamb Curry: I love the way they rolled the pappadum and used it for garnish.
Himself had the Durban lamb curry over rice with sambals and pappadum whirled into a nice little garnish. The curry was pretty mild, but good, and the lamb, delicate. The sambals, shredded coconut, chopped tomato and grated carrot with cilantro added sweetness, freshness and variety to the curry. Durban is in southeastern South Africa, along the Indian Ocean coastline. Indian curries are prevalent here, hence the name.

While Springbok (named for the South African rugby team, which named itself for the antelope) typically carries beers and ales they import from home, the taps were dry when we were there, an aberration, we were assured. I hope so. We both want to return, and it will be good to try the local brew with the local food. As they say, if it grows together, it goes together.

When Aid Africa held its fundraiser a few weeks ago, I won the raffle for the basket of goodies assembled from all over the continent. Three of the items are from South Africa and were perfect for my breakfast the morning after our South African dinner.

 Rooibos tea with oatmeal & fig jam
 Himself watched in a combination of amusement and disbelief as I ripped open the packet of instant oatmeal, poured it into a bowl, added hot water, stirred it and then took a picture.

"It's instant oatmeal. What are you going to say about it?"

"Not much, I don't imagine," I replied. The most interesting feature is that the oatmeal is "Jungle" brand and has a tiger on the package. That amuses me. To sweeten it I stirred in a generous spoonful of South African fig jam, and it turned out to be the best fig jam I've ever had. The occasional length of citrus peel added a nice texture and contrasting flavor. It turns out that figs grown in the Cape area are some of the world's most delicate and flavorful. I hope to find that out someday by actually traveling there, but for now, I'd have to say they make a pretty fine jam.

Speaking of amusing brands, the name of the jam was "Something." As in, "I brought you Something from my trip to South Africa." Something turns out to be a company that scopes out those foods it thinks most adequately represent the flavors of South Africa and imports them into the U.S., things like spice rubs, marinades, teas and the like. Turns out the peach chutney I had on the Boerewors roll came from these guys.

As for the Rooibos tea, dang, it's red! And mildly flavored, more floral than herbal. Delicately sweet, so I didn't feel the need to add sugar or honey. Rooibos (Afrikaans for "red bush") is a tea grown in the Cedarberg Mountains in the central part of South Africa, just north of the Cape of Good Hope. It produces a tea that is a deep mahogany color. Rooibos has no caffeine, since it is an herb and not a tea, so I enjoyed a cup of it before putting on a pot of coffee. A little quick Internet research tells me that rooibos has a rather iconic place in the South African heart and is something that Afrikaners often carry with them when they leave home. That's certainly easier--and more legal--than developing an attachment to the ham or cheese you miss from home.

We enjoyed our foray to Springbok enough to return (just not on karaoke night). There were several other menu items I'd like to try, like the braai, the South African take on barbecue. Coming from barbecue country myself, I'm interested in seeing what they do with it.

No comments: