The feast is about to begin — of soccer, of music — and if there’s a party and it’s happening in South Africa, you can be sure that the beer is chilled, the charcoal is lit for the braai (think barbecue — it’s the South African equivalent), the spices are ready for the curries, and a menu of specialties reflecting the melting pot of South African cultures is waiting to tempt fans who are foodies with a sense of culinary adventure.
On the music front:
South Africa is alive right now with discordant trumpeting sounds, not of herds of raging elephants, but of a gazillion plastic horns that you can blow until the cows come home and hear sweet silence, until someone shows you how.
“Make your lips like you’re going to kiss someone and put them inside the mouth of the vuvuzela,” says KwaZulu-Natal tourism guide Mawande Bantwini, puckering up to show me how. “And blow from the stomach,” he adds, robustly patting his.
I try, and try again. And then it comes. A haunting foghorn sound; not quite ear-splitting yet. That takes practice. But it’s a start, and essential knowledge if you’re one of the anticipated 350,000 or so overseas fans expected in South Africa for World Cup 2010.
I’ve learned that the vuvuzela is South Africa’s secret weapon, a fact now revealed to Cuisine Noir readers. The South African national soccer team, Bafana Bafana, is used to playing to the ear-splitting cacophony of several thousand of these, all blown at once.
Some competing teams, claiming the noise impairs their game, have asked for the vuvuzela to be banned. (The request was declined.) “Practice, practice,” I’ve heard South African fans say in response. Versions of the origins of this blowing horn vary, depending on who you ask. The one that seems to have stuck is the African folklore story that “A baboon is killed by a lot of noise.” So, during the last quarter of a match, supporters frantically blow vuvuzelas in an attempt to kill off their opponents.
From the disharmony of the vuvuzela to harmony — and flash: The World Cup Kick-Off Celebration Concert, planned as a spectacular extravaganza, takes place June 10 in Soweto. The star line-up includes Alicia Keys, Black Eyed Peas, John Legend, Shakira, Tinariwen, Vieux Farka Toure and legendary jazz musician Hugh Masekela — to mention some US favorites. “We wanted an eclectic, international mix of music genres to appeal to as many people as possible around the world, whilst at the same time, showcasing the immense home-grown talent of the host country,” said FIFA’s Nicolas Ericson.
On the soccer front:
You might know that the World Cup, held every four years and kicking off in South Africa on June 11 (it ends July 11), is the most widely viewed sporting event in the world. Bigger than the Olympic Games. And after South Africa, the most tickets have been bought by folks in the United States who are jetting — literally to the other side of the world — to cheer on Team USA, who play England on June 12 in the first round.
Watch their progress on the official FIFA World Cup news site. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, here is a heads-up. There are plans afoot to show games on a huge screen outside City Hall. In Germany, they set up fan parks. If you’re city isn’t making plans for you, have your own soccer party with friends.
I am in South Africa for the World Cup — Africa’s first. It is an exciting time. You know how, when guests are coming to stay, you plan a good time for them and do spring-cleaning? You plan the menu. You set the mood. You line up the entertainment. The entire country is in this mode, multiplied many thousand times and to the tune of more than $3.7 billion invested in improvements, including a new airport for Durban (the King Shaka International); a high-speed train between the Johannesburg airport and downtown; five new stadiums built and five more totally refurbished; and loads more. If you’re not coming for the tournament, come for your own after-party soon.
On the food front:
South Africans love their food and the restaurants, given their variety, can boggle the mind — and make the mouth water.
If you want to be really adventurous and you find yourself in the province of Gauteng, scan the menu for the mopane worm. It is a large edible caterpillar, a traditional food, and eating it has become quite fashionable. I won’t go into details about how its innards are squeezed out after it is hand-picked and before it is dried, but I know people who find them delicious once they’ve been rehydrated and fried until crunchy, or cooked with onion, tomatoes and spices and served with sadza (think grits).
If you have a favorite cuisine, you’re sure to find it in South Africa. All the big cities are cosmopolitan and expect to find European and Middle Eastern fare at its best — plus, what I would think of as the more uniquely South African.
Ostrich used to be a specialty. Now it is commonplace on menus. I had an ostrich burger yesterday at a Durban beachfront restaurant called Moyo. My eating companion had a bunny chow. Not Flopsy bunny, but a Durban tradition (Durban boasts the biggest Indian population of any city outside India and the curries are supreme) where, in this case lamb curry, was served in a half-loaf of bread that had been hollowed out. Bunny chow originated as a food for laborers (easy to serve); now you find it in the best restaurants.
While in Cape Town, look for Cape Malay flavors if you want to go traditional. In Cape Town and also in Durban — and anywhere on the coast — think of seafood. South Africans love their seafood. And since South Africans discovered sushi a few years ago, sushi restaurants have proliferated.
I’d say when in South Africa, try to get invited somewhere for a braai (the barbecue equivalent), which is cross-culturally popular. If you’re in Durban, you absolutely have to eat Portuguese peri-peri chicken. Look for potjies, which name comes from the three-legged pots in which potjiekos, uniquely South African casseroles, are prepared traditionally over a fire. And don’t forget the fruits and veggies. You will never find an avocado in the United States to replicate the Durban butter avo.
Right now, my stomach is grumbling. It’s telling me I better stop writing about food and go eat.
Photos courtesy Wanda Hennig
Some useful websites:
Visit the official FIFA World Cup 2010 site for news and updates. Plus, the World Cup, including the opening concert, will be televised. Check for times. Turn on and tune in.