There are a million ways to get to know a city, but more often than not, my favorite is food. Digging into a city’s culinary scene is an instant way ‘inside’ and doing it with a passionate local who has hunted high and low to discover all that is unique and delicious is all the better.
I recently had the chance to eat my way through New Frontiers’ ‘Flavours of Cape Town’ – part of their Cape Town Experiences day tours. These are shorter, stand-alone experiences hand-selected by New Frontiers that can be booked in isolation and are operated by third-party providers. They start and end in set places, which requires either guests’ own transportation or transfers to be booked as extras. Only the experience itself is guided and there is no further curation of the day. In this era of AirBnB where some guests prefer more freedom – especially in approachable cities such as Cape Town – they are the perfect option for agents to quote a similar type of experience travelers might find online, but secure in the knowledge they’ve been curated and vetted by New Frontiers.
Rupesh guides the Flavours of Cape Town experience. He is a chef and food critic, and a native of Cape Town. His love for his city is evident straight away, as is his dedication to exploring its myriad culinary treats. He took us to both familiar and unfamiliar parts of Cape Town and had us sampling cuisine ranging from fynbos infused oils to zebra biltong. We had 9 stops in all, and I didn’t lose enthusiasm or my appetite for a moment – though I did have to skip dinner.
We had a global group, so some people recognized dishes like Pasteis de nata, a Portuguese custard tart which was totally new to me. Others were Cape Town die-hards, returning year after year to visit, familiar with many of its foods. They were thrilled for Rupesh to share a fantastic biltong shop with massive variety (we went on a ‘biltong safari!’) so they could bring exotic treats home to their friends.
I found myself lugging spices around most of the day from our stop in the colorful (and oft-Instagrammed) Cape Malay neighborhood of Bo Kaap. We spent time in the Atlas Trading Spice store tasting items like Mebos apricot preserve and I couldn’t help myself from going nuts buying exotic spices for ridiculously good prices. They were well worth carrying around as now I can conjure Cape Town in my own kitchen whenever I want to. That shop will be on my regular rotation every time I visit the city from now on.
The variety in our day was stunning. We enjoyed a local gin tasting and a tasting of various culinary uses for fynbos (vegetation that only occurs in the Cape Floral Kingdom – the world’s smallest and most diverse and contained entirely within South Africa). We tasted a variety of fynbos plants in different preparations including baked into a lovely pampoen cookie. Throughout the day we sampled a huge variety of Cape Town food and drink that illustrated the breadth and depth of South African food traditions, as well as where the country has let the world influence some of its wonderful cuisine. A snapshot of our day… (scroll below photos for more)
- Jason’s Bakery – Pasteis de nata
- Atlas Trading Spice store – Mebos apricot preserve
- Faeeza’s home kitchen-dhaltjie, samoosa, koeksisters
- Cape Town Gin Company–gin tasting (including pink gin and one infused with rooibos (a type of fynbos) – yum!)
- Coffee at the Vine – fynbos tasting, snoek pate, Cape Malay bredie with Mebos, pampoen cookie, along with chenin blanc and shiraz rose from Montpellier farm in Tulbach
- The hot skillet at the Youngblood Gallery: pap crisp and chakala, roosterkoek, vetkoek
- Biltong and Blade– safari of biltong (included beef, zebra, chicken, warthog, kudu, springbok, ostrich and more, more, more!)
- Zanne’s Fare- bobotie served with sambals
- Honest Chocolate – brownie and 70% naartjie-infused chocolate.
It was an absolutely unforgettable day, not only filled with delicious food and drink, but stories about the neighborhoods we were walking through, history tied into the dishes we were eating, background on ingredients and restaurants and insights into changes happening in the city. Rupesh was less a guide and more of a gift – his openness and ability to not only read a group but become part of it was an absolute delight. His willingness to share ‘his’ Cape Town made a city I feel I know well become an even more intimate friend. I can’t recommend this experience highly enough. I would do it again in a heartbeat, and my guess is it would be totally different next time (in a great way). Rupesh is constantly scouting for new places and has a lengthy roster of secret spots that he updates and rotates through.
New Frontiers recommends that your clients either walk or take a cab/Uber to the meeting point. I would concur as there’s no other real option as parking would be nearly impossible, though that is not the case for many of their other Cape Town Experiences – be sure to ask your consultant what’s best. I also would submit that a little extra exercise to and from this fabulous day wouldn’t hurt, as the focus is eating, drinking and eating some more. I don’t own a Fitbit but I did have my phone with me that day, and having walked to and from (and of course throughout), I clocked in at just under 20,000 steps. That said, I’m pretty sure I didn’t burn off anywhere near as many calories as I consumed. Oh well – a pleasurable hazard of the business!