Did you know?
Saffron, one of the world’s costliest spices, is being cultivated at Vredendal in the Northern Cape.
As you seek to understand the food terroir of the Northern Cape, you’ll come to the delicious realisation that in this province, nothing is as it seems.
The Northern Cape is predominantly arid, and what arable land there is, is used to farm cattle and sheep, and to stock game for safaris or hunting. The red sands of the Kalahari appear empty, but for those who care to look, Northern Cape food terroir offers a plethora of ancient and absolutely unique tastes.
In the north-western reaches of the province, adventurers can discover the ancient culinary culture of the Khoi-Khoin. Descended from the earliest San hunter-gatherers, Khoi-Khoin cooks use indigenous edible flowers, plants and bulbs, known as veldkos, to create delicacies like num-num preserve, agurkie jam, and kukumakranka liqueur.
The essence of Northern Cape food can be eaten in the Karoo. The word Karoo is a Khoi-Khoi term meaning thirsty land, but the apparently arid plains are filled with liquid-retaining indigenous edible plants. The diets of Karoo goats and lambs, which are so good to eat, are rich in these plants, including wild mint, wild garlic, buchu and purslane.
Those wishing to sample regionally specific cuisine should stop off at the Hantam Huis in Calvinia, where kambro preserves are served alongside wild rosemary-infused venison, and roasted sheep’s head. Tswalu Kalahari Reserve and the Rooipan Guesthouse outside Upington offer n’abbas, the desert truffle that’s unique to the Kalahari.
It’s not all ancient cultures and indigenous roots, however. Gourmet glamour also has a place Northern Cape food terroir.
Kimberley, the centre of South Africa’s diamond industry in the 19th century, saw fortunes made and lost, and, while the role of mining in the city has considerably diminished, retro-chic gourmet is still on the menu at the venerable Kimberley Hotel and the Star of the West bar.
The Green Kalahari Region of the Northern Cape contrasts rust-red soil with the green vines of the Orange River Wine Route. Delicious dried fruit is to be found in Kakamas, and in Upington chilly evenings draw hungry diners to the fireside for roosterkoek, venison potjies, roasted legs of lamb, and slow-cooked pens-en-pootjies (tripe and trotters) stew.