I’m sat in a small, green painted restaurant that sits just opposite Table Mountain. The mountain slopes up towards the yellowing, pinky sky, and I’m thanking the owner in my head, who’s winding a handle on a long stick connected to the outside roof, to pull up the canopy umbrella back so that we can all get a better view. Everyone else is eating though, and it seems to be just me watching the Capetonian sunset unfold.
It’s my second week here and I’m on a mission to eat only African cuisine. In light of this, my internship co-ordinator has brought me to a restaurant, where I am currently opening up a huge, laminated menu filled with 100%, authentic and original Thai food. He promises me this will be like no other Thai food I’ve tasted, unless I’ve been to Thailand (which I have), but I can’t help but wonder why he’s brought me here. Authentic food is authentic food though, and I sit down, shut up and choose from the juicy list. We get spring rolls to start. They’re the freshest, crispiest and oiliest rolls I’ve ever had. I don’t even think I’ll need a mains course by the time I’ve finished with them. Succulent doesn’t even cover the grounds that these spring rolls took me to. All the while though, Table Mountain stands tall behind my friends, and its majestic presence seems to be goading me: “why I don’t just go to Thailand?” The owners of this fabulous restaurant are British and Thai, and so far the only thing authentically South African about this place is Luigi- my internship coordinator. (And the fact I’m in South Africa.)
The table next to us just gets their food. And it looks lovely. So I call over, “Hey, what’s that dish?”
“Hi, what’s that dish?”
“This one?” He points to a deep set blue and white bowl, filled with delicious, yellow noodles and shiny onions.
“Yes! What is it?”
I want those noodles. “I think I might get them. Are they nice?”
Before I can say anything to the contrary, this big, balding, South African man spoons up a healthy portion into a separate plate and waddles over to me, brandishing this dish, a monk with alms.
“Try some.” He proffers, with a big smile.
I’m torn. My British tinglings are telling me this is all wrong – no one willingly shares food with strangers before they’ve eaten themselves, from a separate table in a public space. But these tinglings are minor sensations on the periphery, and my eyes are glowing and I’m beaming as I take up the fork.
“I’ll spoon it onto my palm.” I insist. My British bones refuse to allow me to germify his fork.
And of course it’s nice, though of course I order something else anyway which is not actually as nice. But I sit back, happy, as the waitress comes round again to order my main course: Because I’ve experienced something South African. Their inimitably friendly culture.