Cape Town – A Gastronomic Tour
The best way to understand a culture is through its cuisine, and a city is best understood through its eateries.
WRITTEN BY RUSSEL WASSERFALL
IMAGES COURTESY PAM McONIE
Chef Sandile serves up traditional African food to commuters at the station, a fascinating side of Cape Town rarely seen by tourists.
For almost twenty years, Pam McOnie has been helping visitors to South Africa to experience the culture of this young nation by exploring the food of its ‘mother city’, Cape Town. Her small tour company, ‘Cape Fusion Tours’, was the very first to offer food tours and has created a special niche with visitors.
As the wine and food scene in the Western Cape Peninsula winelands began attract global attention, dedicated wine enthusiast Pam McOnie started offering highly specialised wine tasting tours in the region. Her love of restaurants and the people who run them was featured through the lunch stops on her various outings. People simply loved her approach and in-depth knowledge of one of the new world’s most celebrated wine regions.
“The reasons for using Pam are simple, her knowledge about each estate we visit is fantastic, she can arrange unique tastings which are not normally available to the public, she tailors each day to your personal taste and finally she is a lovely, fun person to spend the day with.”
Sarah M. – Tripadvisor – February 2020
Pam McOnie surveys the ‘Mother City’ from a perch on top of Table Mountain.
Cape Fusion tours began to branch into more food- and restaurant-focused adventures. As food tourism increasingly gripped the imagination of global travellers, so bookings for her tours changed the business. Where she was initially guiding small groups on niche wine tours, her
business is now weighted in faour of the food and world-class restaurants of Cape Town.
“We spent 3 days with Pam... We learnt so much about the history, the politics , the food and the people of this fantastic city. It was like having a very knowledgeable local friend who will show you things and take you places that you will not see otherwise!”
Trippa63 – Tripadvisor – August 2019
Cape Fusion’s wonderfully diverse ‘Cape Town City Food Tour’ is an immersive way for visitors to experience the culture of the city and everyday people. The tour changes constantly as new places are discovered by McOnie’s team and added for colour, flavour or historical interest. Her business, like the scope of its tours, has grown to employ people equally passionate about the culinary life of the city.
“We spent a wonderful day with a local, Katherine, who not only knew all kinds of interesting and varied places to try different cuisines, but seemed to know everyone on the street, their story, the history of every restaurant and shop. It was fascinating… Most of what we experienced was not something we would have ever found on our own... A real eye opener to a great city by people who know it super well.”
Nancyjanin – Tripadvisor – February 2020
From the original artisan bakery, Jason, that kicked off the hot foodie precinct of Bree Street in the inner city, to chef Sandile’s tiny booth at the train station serving traditional favourites to commuters, the tours are a rich document of the Cape Town life. Cape Fusion’s website and blogs about tours and new ‘foodie’ finds provided a contemporary history of the city through how it eats. All this experience is joyously and generously shared with visitors.
“This may seem like hyperbole, but honestly, Pam is one of the most generous and kind people we’ve met doing food tours. She quickly got a feel for what we are about and started suggesting restaurants, cafés and other places for us to go while we were in Cape Town.”
Jill Stafford – visa-vis.com travel blog – December 2018
Hot little local favourites like Jason Bakery feature on the Bree Street leg of the city Food Tours. And IWardia’s samoosas, crisp pastry parcels with a spicy filling, are a favourite from the Bo-Kaap tour.
The growth of the food scene in the city has meant different precincts have developed a culinary flavour with unique characteristics. Bree Street was the original precinct. Anchored by Jason Bakery at one end, a string of artisanal outlets like Culture Club Cheese and Bacon on Bree charcuterie opened. These were followed by hip eateries like Clarke’s Diner and Chef’s Warehouse and Canteen. It just kept growing and Cape Fusion kept introducing it to the world and getting to know every chef and supplier in town.
New precincts have started to open up. The East City area around Buitenkant street is one. Being at the edge of the business district, it is characterised by coffee roasters and ‘coffices’ for remote workers, as well as quick lunch solutions. As soon as the food biz and reputation is established, along come the more formal restaurants and the gentrification begins.
Woodstock, on the edge of the CBD is another of these precincts. Anchored around Karen Dudley’s eatery, The Kitchen, this area has a distinct bohemian flavour defined by the residents of the suburb. It is also home to the biggest concentration of advertising and creative agencies in the city. This has a bearing on the eateries that have sprung up there.
Through all the evolutions and revolution in the culinary life of the city, Pam McOnie is there. Taking notes and introducing herself to new traders, she continually documents, and introduces travellers to, the city she loves.
Durban bun chow at Sundoo is one of many dishes that makes South African food unique.
Her latest ‘find’ is Sea Point. This is a precinct she is particularly excited about because the character of the suburb is so cosmopolitan. Seapoint has always been home to people from all points of the compass and the restaurants gathered there reflect that. The many influences – African, European and Asian – that have moulded our national palate rub shoulders here.
It is home to the best Asian supermarket and some of the best ethnic Asian restaurants in Cape Town. The Jewish community of Cape Town is strongly represented here, both in restaurants and delis. A wander along the main road will take you past Lebanese, Greek, Indian, Korean, Chinese, Ethiopian, Portuguese, Malay, Mexican restaurants and more.
You can eat a Durban-style curry served in bread, a bunny chow, along Seapoint’s main road. A grilled chicken in the Mozambique style developed from Portuguese colonial influences is cooking just up the street. Traditional Malay samosas are served with a smile a little further along to make a quick snack before you visit Goldies Kosher Deli.
Typical of Cape Town and the melting pot of people and cuisines that have left a mark here, there are also wonderful restaurants that present the very best of both contemporary and traditional South African cooking. Weaving her way through all of them, with a smile and a story or anecdote about each, Pam McOnie provides an immersive experience of Cape Town culture for her guests.
A traditional spread of braai meat surrounded by elements such as boonslaai (bean salad), sout tert
(savoury tart), pampoenkoeki (pumpkin fritters) and deep-fried calamari make for a heavy lunch.