I have another food-related blog post. I know I write about food a lot, but I’m totally fascinated by food here – what’s different, what’s missing. It’s one of the first things I ask when friends come back from foreign lands; “But what’d you eat?”
I heard that PCV’s like these posts, so this one goes out to them. Today, let’s start with breakfast.
There is a conspicuous lack of breakfast cereals here. You can get Cheerios, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Bran Flakes, Rice, Coco and Strawberry Krispies at most grocery stores. There is a flake cereal (not sure if it’s bran or corn) called MILO, which is named after/flavored with a chocolate malt-flavored drink mix called MILO (which appears to be the South African version of Ovaltine.) I haven’t tried it yet. It seems to me like sugary breakfast cereals (corn pops, CORN POPS) would probably do really well here; people don’t really try to avoid sugar. The only reasons I suspect they don’t is because no one here manufactures them (more on this later) and that for impoverished families they don’t go very far in terms of value for money. But if those were the only reasons, then why would Coco Krispies be in most Shoprites? It’s a mystery that I must investigate further.
Breakfast in restaurants and hotels is quite different than in the states. Every breakfast I’ve ever eaten out has included a fried slice of tomato. Beans are frequently on the breakfast menu, and a sausage is included; all together it would appear to be a variation on the ‘traditional English breakfast’. In my experience the sausage has been either some sort of squishy, finely-ground white pork/poultry sausage (weisswurst? gross) or a mini-cheesy bratwurst (delicious.) I have not encountered ‘American’ breakfast sausage (characterized by maple, sage, fennel, pepper) anywhere. Pancakes you see on menus are actually crepes. Another frequent component of the breakfast plate is a fried fish cake; essentially a poor man’s crab cake. The ingredients are a mystery. In my opinion, they are excellent, if a little too smooth textured for my comfort. It all goes down with ketchup (tamatie sous.)
Eating out in general is a different experience. For one thing, it is (usually) comparatively cheaper. For example, at a nicer restaurant you can get an excellent, excellent 16oz t-bone and fries for R90, which is about $12. At Roman’s (the only decent pizza chain in SA, IMHO) you can get two medium sized ‘Fetaroni’ pizzas for R66, which is about $9. Furthermore, drinks are sometimes mind-bogglingly cheap. Again, at Roman’s during happy hour, you can get 2 for 1 cocktails for R25, which ends up being about $1.50 for a drink. And they don’t skimp on the booze either (at Roman’s anyway.) At bars they charge seperately for mixers and liquor, and I’ve had several occasions where the mixer cost more than the alcohol. It seems like when they measure liquor, they use the smaller end of the jigger, and every drink has a measured, controlled pour due to devices attached to the bottles.
A quick side note about pepperoni: as far as I can tell, it simply doesn’t exist here. The occasional ‘pepperoni’ we see on pizza menus in actuality seems to be a bland variety of sliced sausage. The most prevalent pizza chain, Debonair’s, doesn’t even have it on the menu and their pizza sauce tastes like barbecue sauce. We don’t eat there much.
Other eating out differences: you have to ask for water (specify tapwater or you may get bottled or sparkling), you have to ask for the check, standard tip is 10%, a surprising amount of restaurants have snails as an appetizer (calamari also shows up in dubious places,) and everything we order seems to come with a greek salad.
Every sandwich I’ve ordered here has alarming quantities of mayonaise on it. South African mayo is wierd: sugar is usually the fourth of fifth ingredient, and as far as I know, Best Foods mayo doesn’t have sugar at all. As a result, a normally acceptable savory sandwich ends up being nearly unpalatable. Salads (chicken, egg, tater,noodle etc) end up smelling and tasting sweet as well. We found Hellman’s at Spar, but it’s R30 for a pretty small jar. We buy it anyway.
We want to clarify that many volunteers eat for much cheaper than we do, and in fact there’s two or three I have in mind that probably choked on their bogobe when they read we’ve paid R30 for a jar of mayonaise but food is something we love. It recharges us – not just eating, but also the process of preparing, of seeking good ingredients and familiar foods. It is one of the things we splurge on here and like to share with other volunteers. It’s the same way at home in the states.