There is no easy way to describe the food of a country with a history as complicated as South Africa’s. Take a stroll around the City Bowl in the heart of Cape Town and you can begin to get a sense of the incredible convergence of cultures and economic forces that influence the menu of the day: Cape Malay restaurants serving up the spice-inflected staples brought across the Indian Ocean during the days of slavery; tiny takeout stands dishing up starchy staples like pap and samp and beans for a few rands a plate; hipster burger joints flipping patties made from kudu, ostrich and grass-fed beef destined to be washed down with designer cocktails.
It might feel like a culinary identity crisis, until you consider that this enormous diversity, all there to be consumed within a few short city blocks, is what makes this country what it is.
We may not have sampled the whole of the Cape cornucopia, but we certainly put a good dent in it. We ate abalone wraps from a roadside stand run by an unemployed woman looking for a new path in life. We feasted on great mountains of grilled proteins (called braai in these parts) from a township institution with smoke and fire in its soul. We staggered through an awe-inspiring homemade feast with a Muslim family generous enough to invite two complete strangers into their home during a very special religious celebreation.
In this slideshow you’ll find 42 of the most interesting dishes we came across during out time in South Africa. And yet even after two weeks of prodigious consumption, no clear definition for South African food comes to mind. But that’s exactly what makes this country so damn beautiful.
Foodporn:Smørrebrod in Denmark
If there is such a thing as a northern European food craving, for me it’s this: an open-faced sandwich topped with herring or lox, or, in a pinch, a coldcut or cheese. The Germans call these belegtes brötchen—laid-on bread. The Danes, just up the coast, call it smørrebrød.
I don’t speak Danish, so I can’t really tell you how to pronounce smørrebrød, but I think if you let out a flat American “er” (like at the end of “butter”) while flapping your lips slowly, you’ll get close.
I also can’t say exactly why the northerners have taken to this dish, but I do know that the closer toward the Baltic Sea you travel, the quicker the wind and the more lateral the sunlight, the more and more you’ll see these open-faced sandwiches. And when you finally reach the water’s edge, whether in Mecklenburg in Germany or Zeeland in Denmark, where we’ve been this week, this plate is everywhere.
There will be plenty of time to say the many things I want to say to Istanbul. But for now, let me just say that the city has a way of making you feel at home, at once. Not in the sense that one should rent a flat in Tophane and have all the mail forwarded. That may be a pleasant enough move, but what I am talking about is how Istanbul gives aid and comfort to the traveler.
Foodporn: Hot Dogs in Denmark
When you’re in the tootsie roll center of the gastronomic world, where do you bite down first? Do you warm up slow, ease into the situation at a low-key café or deli? Or do you go straight for the kill, stuffing your stomach and emptying your wallet at the finest establishment that will have you? Maybe you take the Goldilocks path and find someplace that offers a modest, affordable introduction into the culinary wonders that await you?
When we emerged onto the streets surrounding Copenhagen’s Central Station, with fists full of luggage and faces painted with the midday sun, there suddenly seemed only one logical way to wade into the sacred waters of New Nordic Cuisine: with a hot dog. For an area of the world better known for pickled fish than for emulsified meatstuffs, it warms the heart to see the love of a good tubesteak alive and well in the Kingdom of Denmark.
1. Bread. The foundation upon which the whole deal is built. Pick up a bubble-gum baguette or a ghostly loaf of additive-addled sliced bread and you may as well round out your feast with a stack of Kraft Singles and a pair of Slim Jims. You want bread with a bronze, caramelized carapace and a moist crumb shot through with irregular air bubbles. It should creak like an old wooden floor when you squeeze the center and exhale a warm, yeasty breath when you breach the crust. Baguettes are ideal if you’re buying from a first-class bakery, but it’s easier to make a bad baguette than it is to make a bad ciabatta, so if you’re buying from an average baker, I’d opt for ciabatta. The baguette pictured here, from Eric Kayser (a mini-chain of exceptional boulangeries in Paris), is one of the greatest pieces of bread I’ve ever broken.
A great picnic is about more than just eating well outdoors, about inhaling swaths of creamy blue sky and devouring clouds like white elephants. It’s about proving your mettle as a navigator of exotic spaces, one who can combine instinct and research in equal measures to wrest from a town the finest provisions it has on offer. It’s a scavenger hunt for adults, played against the backdrop of the world’s greatest urban expanses. Done right, nothing is more transformative than a picnic: it doesn’t just take you to a different time and place, it takes you to a time and place where time and place feel entirely irrelevant.
In the wake of last night’s 50 Best Restaurants announcement, we offer you a taste from the “second best restaurant in the world.”
Foodporn for Peace: Chicken Liver Salad, Jack Fry’s, Louisville, KY
On the weekend, I went to Louisville for the Christian wedding of one US Army intelligence officer to another US Army intelligence officer. The night before the ceremony, I had gone nearly straight from the airport to an American bistro called Jack Fry’s in the Highlands, and at Jack Fry’s I went straight for an Old Fashioned and for this dish, sauteed chicken livers with poached egg, brioche croutons in a vinaigrette of red wine, bacon and shallot.
Liver is not usually my first call. The last time I faced a plate of chicken liver, it was a year ago in the Pankisi Gorge in eastern Georgia at a Chechen roadside restaurant. Pankisi is pacified now, but not that long ago it was one of the rougher places on earth, a hideout for the Muslim insurgents fighting the Russians on the other side of the mountains in Chechnya, a den of gangsters and heroin cookers and arms dealers.
And yet then as now, in a roadside restaurant serving Chechen food, you get a food that I had always known as the particular domain of the Jews: chicken liver. My father makes a ridiculously good and simple chopped liver in his home in San Francisco, just onion, hard-boiled egg, chicken liver, pepper. Making that dish is perhaps the most Jewish thing he does, and eating it is certainly the most Jewish thing I do.
And no, my father’s version doesn’t include a bacon vinaigrette, nor does the sauteed onion, pepper and liver combination of the Muslims in Pankisi. But forget the accessories: it’s worth celebrating the fact that we all share this food—California half-Jews, Muslim insurgents, bourbon-loving Kentucky Christians—like we share Abraham. We are People of the Book. We eat chicken liver.
What is the world’s most popular food?
I’ve given this question an embarrassing amount of thought over the years, as I’ve downed avocado-enriched hot dogs in Patagonia, eaten crisp-edged griddle burgers on a Thai island, and devoured cracker-thin slices of chorizo pizza in a Guatemalan village (all, admittedly, acts of a desperate American many months removed from the culinary comforts of his homeland). After a decade of reflection, the answer is suddenly very clear to me: roast chicken.
Hearts have history in Peru, you know. They say that when Pizarro and his malnourished band of 168 midnight marauders landed on the Pacific shore in the early 16th century, famished from a long journey down from Panama, the Incas floated out on balsawood rafts and greeted them with the finest foods from the empire: heaping mountains of exotic fruit, jugs of a boozy purple potion called chicha, and a mixed grill of skewered llama parts—rosy loin, stringy leg, and, of course, chewy planks cut from that great big box of love.