Wednesday, September 7, 2011

First Thing's First: Food

The most important thing I do when I'm in a new country is sample the foodstuffs. Most of what I ate in South Africa was similar to what I would eat in the US - a lot of pizza, hamburgers, chicken burgers, pasta, and other commonly eaten comestibles here. However, South Africa actually has a true mix of foods from all over the world.

Britain: The food is very heavily influenced by the fact that it is a former British colony. As such, fish and chips (what we would call french fries) is a common dish in restaurants. One of the tastiest things sold on campus* was called "chips chili," which was french fries covered in seasoned salt and then drenched in a delicious chili sauce. The closest thing I've had to the chili sauce stateside is Taco Bell hot sauce. Other British food staples, like Weetabix, Cadbury's chocolate, and savory pies (like Shepherd's pie) were sold in stores everywhere. If that weren't enough, the best way to tell that the country was once ruled by the British was the fact that the financially-strapped NGO where I worked always had tea in the cafeteria, if not electricity.

India: Relatedly, Indian food is also very common. Indian people were brought over by the British as indentured laborers or as migrants, I can only assume for the food. The most frequented restaurant at the campus food court was an Indian restaurant (though this might have something to do with the fact that nothing sold there was over $1). The best samosas (called "samoosas") I've ever eaten were sold at the World of Samoosas in Jo-burg.

Dutch: The Dutch and British fought two horrific wars dubbed the "Anglo-Boer wars" ("boer" means "farmer" in Dutch). Though the British won the wars, and the colony, it was the Dutch who eventually took over the country. Dubbing themselves "Afrikaaners" it was this government, and the language they called "Afrikaans," that is affiliated with the system of apartheid. Despite this less-than-savory reputation, the food of the Afrikaaners remains popular among all South Africans. A "braai," or barbecue, is a South African summer must-do and usually features boerwors (or "farmer sausage"). They also eat biltong ("rump tongue" mmmm), or what we would call jerky. Biltong is often used as a garnish in salads and on bread.

Does this flag look similar to anyone?**

Indonesia: The Dutch, who at some point ruled both South Africa and Indonesia, brought Indonesian slaves to the country. The mixing that occurred created the term "Cape Malay." Most Cape Malay people today live in the Western Cape, where Cape Town is located. As all great immigrant groups do, they created a delicious style of food. The quintessential Cape Malay dish is mutton curry.

South Africa/Africa: Of course, there are also foods native to the area. Two staple foods are samp, a corn-based food served with beans, and pap, a corn-based porridgey food. When I ate at a restaurant in Soweto,*** I had samp with my mutton curry. Another SA food, and possibly the most awesomely fun food item to pronounce is chakalaka, a sort of spicy tomato pickle eaten with samp, curries, and even as a condiment on boerwors.

*I worked on-campus at a large university.
**See Monaco.
***Lots more on Soweto later. For now, it was the largest township in South Africa during apartheid.

Chicago --> London --> Johannesburg

So I know I said that I was going to do this thematically rather than chronologically, but I changed my mind, at least for this first post. Sorry.

The morning of June 15, I finished moving out of my old apartment and put all of my worldly possessions in my new apartment a few blocks north. My new roommate helped me stash my stuff and then I rushed off to the airport.* I bought a few souvenirs for the family at the airport and met up with one of the two classmates going with me to South Africa.

10 hours later, at around 6AM, we arrived in London. Since our connecting flight was not until 7PM, I was planning to hang out in the city for a bit. However, the Director of the Intern Programme at my work happened to be in London at the same time and wanted to meet up with us that morning. My aunt drove to pick us up and unexpectedly picked up two parking tickets while waiting for us in what turned out to be the taxi lane. We headed straight to the Institute of Directors, where our new boss was awaiting us for tea.

The Institute of Directors, from
After a 30-minute-turned-3-hour-long meeting, I quickly met with my extended family and then hurried back to the airport.

My extended family was happy to see me.

A rather luxurious South African Airways flight later and I arrived in Jo-burg. We didn't technically have anywhere to live until July 1, so we'd booked a hotel for the first few days. Unfortunately, we also had a writing assignment to finish so I could not relax just yet.

*Well, "rushed off" might be a bit euphemistic. Originally, I had booked a shuttle to the airport, but when it was 30 minutes late I checked my ticket and saw that I'd booked it for the wrong day. I ended up shelling out $60 for a taxi instead.