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Understanding a culture through food – devouring the continent in tasty titbits

Frankschhoek – meaning ‘French corner’ in Afrikaans is known as the ‘gourmet capital of South Africa’ and uncannily resembles the Provençale landscapes of its namesake. French refugees settled here in 1688, bringing their gastronomic culture with them and this charming winelands town is a veritable melange of cape Dutch architecture and French-style eateries. It’s was hard to believe we were in Africa at all.

Preparations for our anticipated and highly indulgent evening meal began in the morning. We had to work up an appetite. To the mountains with us! Winding and wending our way up the road, we were rewarded with delicious views spilling over a valley of regimented vineyards, a melange of fields, lakes, blue sky and shadowy low-lying clouds; a vista that would later be captured in a scenic salad later that evening using native flowers and leaves. We chose an overgrown footpath and kept our eyes down – this was puff adder country, a dangerously thrilling thought. Luckily, the only creatures to cross our path were a grass snake and several suspicious baboons. As the sun sank, we dressed and prepared our bellies for Le Quartier Français’ feast extravaganza.

On entering the restaurant, vibrant, stripey décor leapt out of the walls, evocative of the rugged mountain range guarding the town outside. Drinking in the unusual artwork, our eyes prepped our stomachs for the unpredictable cuisine ahead. Two goldfish bowl glasses of local bubbles were thrust into our hands and a plate of extraordinary canapés placed before us. Here was a chef blending culinary elements from one of the most complex, diverse populations in the world. Each bite set tastebuds alight; typically-French foie gras, slivers of chutney and edible wrapping styled into a mini ‘chocolate’ bar; sweet crispy ‘chakalaka’ cigar (a spicy relish originating from Johannesburg townships) that burst into tingling stewy mouthfuls, a crispy Indian poppadum with the fluffiest of cashew marshmallows.

Over three hours we were plied with elegant portions of subcontinental flavour fusion. Unique, sometimes entirely bizarre, all delivered with incredible attention to detail. A Zulu-esque corn bread recipe here, a curried Kingclip there, from Western Cape vines, to the Tsitsikamma mountains, through the semi-desert plains of the Klein Karoo, all the way to the wild East coast, we devoured the continent in tasty titbits, the food unifying all cultures in a way in which the country's turbulent history had often failed. Full and content, we ambled home under a starry canopy feeling like we had had a true taste of South Africa.

Profile photo of Angharad Paull

Angharad Paull lives in Bristol, former Editor of Alastair Sawday’s ‘French Special Places to stay’ guides, following a 4-month ‘Wandermoon’ traveling across Africa, she now shares her own adventures, photography and tips on quirky places to eat, stay and play around the globe for independent budget travellers.

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