The Western Cape is renowned, not only for its beautiful coastline and historic attractions, but increasingly, for its gastronomy footprint. In plain words, its food.
Travellers the world over are making their way to the Western Cape to experience its top-notch restaurants (which, in exchange rate terms, offer five-star cuisine at a fraction of the cost international visitors are used to), traditional dishes, and local flavours and ingredients.
“Visitors to the Western Cape are looking for authentic local experiences with regard to food. The days of fine dining at exorbitant prices are over, with people looking for more authenticity and simplicity in a food offering,” says Nicky Coenen, Marketing Manager of The Last Word.
This trend is driving food tourism in the Western Cape, with visitors seeking cuisine that is beyond the “usual offerings”; cuisine that speaks to the respective heritage of the melting pot of cultures that make up the region. “The wonderful thing about the region is that it is a melting pot of cultures, which is reflected in the cuisine,” says Eben Lassen, Director of The Fine Collection. “We find that more guests enquire about the cuisine of the region, and that influences their buying patterns.”
Township cuisine, in particular, is a growing fascination among international guests – an off-shoot of township tourism. “We know that the rest of the world [wants] authentic township cuisines and their stories,” says Sam Mokoena, who represents Abigail Mbalo of 4Roomed eKasi Culture – a lifestyle concept based on the four-roomed homes found in the oldest townships of South Africa, celebrating their food, décor and art, and lifestyle ideas. “Abigail’s restaurant, and the likes of Espinaca Innovations – both based in Khayelisha in the Western Cape – and the sought-after private chef, ‘Aya the CookDude’, are simply changing the game, and giving the world of tourism the best [of township cuisine],” says Mokoena. “We now we have serious traffic coming for local food, including SikisKoffie in Khayelitsha.”
How to find local restaurants?
The best way for tourists to experience the local Western Cape cuisine is to ask a local where the ‘hotspots’ are, says Lassen. “Ask a local, or ask your hotel to assist and recommend restaurants. Do research on the many food tour options that are available. There are even 'walking foodie tours' available. Hotel restaurants generally reflect the local cuisine and give guests a good idea of the local flavour. The Western Cape is known for its excellent restaurants on wine estates and its multicultural cuisine.”
Cape Town Tourism has suggested 50 restaurants in Cape Town that the locals love. If you’re in need of inspiration of restaurants that the locals recommend, you can find them here.
Flavours of the Cape
“An exciting new concept has been introduced at Peddlars Restaurant in the Constantia Wine Valley,” says Coenen, “which is an open-fire grill. The OnFire Grill uses specially made, height adjustable, stainless steel V-groove grills that allow a perfect combination of direct heat and wood smoke to influence the cooking, while some of the juices remain in the grooves adding more flavour. Grilled prawns, seared steaks and peri-peri chicken are just some of the items on the menu. Peddlars is an institution in the Constantia Wine Valley – it is where the locals go to experience good food, enjoy an array of craft gins, beers and valley wines in an authentically local environment – something that visitors are dying to do.”
In addition to an authentic local environment, sustainability is playing a growing role in food choices. “The Last Word Intimate Hotels is introducing more vegetarian options in our breakfast buffet, such as pots filled with chickpeas, cucumber, baby tomatoes and minted yoghurt or lentils, pesto, feta, toasted nuts and micro herbs. We are also including health boosters such a green juice and ginger shots,” adds Coenen.
The flavours that one can expect when visiting the Western Cape are many. “There are so many ranges of flavour available in the Western Cape,” says Lassen. “No trip is complete without experiencing a fragrant Cape Malay curry and bobotie; and menus are reflecting new tastes by bringing foraged plants into the menu. Also, the variety of fresh seafood available is incredible. Artisanal cheese, cured meat and traditional bread-making rounds off the picture. Whether you prefer local, trendy, artisanal, or food with an international flair, there is something for everyone.”
Raise a glass to the Western Cape
The Western Cape is known for its wines, leading to wine tourism booming in the region. Wesgro research showed “a year-on-year growth in wine tourism of 16% in 2017, thanks to the rising reputation of the Western Cape’s wines, the region’s increasingly innovative offerings, as well as its varied and exciting customised cellar door experiences”. But the region also has other beverages that visitors may not be entirely aware of. “Small craft beer breweries have become immensely popular, says Lassen. “Gin distilleries that focus on fynbos-infused gin bring a fresh twist to traditional gin, and reflect the fact that we can fuse our local plants into our food and beverage offerings.”
There is so much to experience in the Western Cape’s food offerings, “from traditional five-star restaurants, to foraging restaurants, to restaurants in rural/Karoo and townships where native dishes and cooking methods are based,” says Mokoena.
“Food tourism will always play a high role in any visitor experience. People love food, they love to taste and experience it, and then they love to talk about it,” says Coenen. This is echoed by Judy Lain, Chief Marketing Officer of Wesgro: “Tourism is about the ‘experience economy’, and food tourism has become the darling of thousands of tourists who are now planning their trips around the gastronomy experience, making this a great opportunity for the destination. In the Western Cape, from the City and across our five regions, each offers a unique and diverse food offering. From seafood along the Cape West Coast (Weskus), to the unique Karoo Lamb from the Cape Karoo, to the Cape Malay curries – we can delight all those seeking a diverse food offering. The Western Cape has seen an explosion in small breweries creating their own craft beers and artisan botanical gins. By linking food to tourism, local service providers can provide a platform to promote the rich cultural heritage of the destination with local food. There are many businesses offering bespoke food tours for tourists seeking local flavours.”