Jailhouse cod with a dash of hijacking

Pollsmoor prison inmates in Cape Town. (David Harrison, The Union)

Pollsmoor prison inmates in Cape Town. (David Harrison, The Union)


  As office-bearers of the Fab Foodie Foundation, we felt it was incumbent upon us to check out the new eaterie at Pollsmoor prison, now open to anyone who feels a little nostalgie de la boue and would like to be served by convicts. This is an opportunity to interact with prisoners and to sample the results of their cooking skills.

We found the bouillabaisse a good opener, but it has to be said that it was a little murky. Diner One, who has a sharp eye for these things, thought he found a slight trace of recidivism beneath the surface.

The alternative for a starter, the avocado ritz, we felt was also a good choice but prawn size must always be monitored.
Some of these were no bigger than a fingertip!

See: Dining in Pollsmoor: The ethics of a prison restaurant

The avocado itself, of course, has to be paid the most careful attention. It must be fleshy yet firm, fully ripe yet not overripe. You might say it should be on the cusp of overripeness, without having quite gone there. No brown bits, in layman’s terms.

Attention must be paid not only to the physical or material properties of the avocado. It is also, as a great Serbian gourmet said, a “sublime object of ideology”. Nowadays we are all sensitised to such things, so it’s worth checking that those sublime avocados don’t come from Israel. You wouldn’t want to be eating any avocados with blood on their hands.

You certainly wouldn’t want BDS protesting outside Pollsmoor. That’s a joke, by the way. Diner Two made that joke in the presence of our waiters, just as they were serving the avocado ritz, and they all laughed.

Speaking of which, the interactions with the convicts were a highlight of the occasion. They seemed to be in very high spirits themselves. Perhaps having some casually but expensively well-dressed upper Capetonians around was just the thing they needed to give their day a little lift?

“What are you in for?” Diner Three asked a waiter brightly.

“Murder, ma’am, hijacking, armed robbery. And a little drucks.”

“Ooh!” she said. “How nice. I love drucks!” (She turned to Diner Two: “That’s a kind of water fowl, isn’t it?” Diner Two said he thought not.)

“And you?” I, Diner Four, asked my waiter, thinking to keep the ball rolling.

“Child abuse,” he said, smiling broadly but toothlessly.

“Ah,” I said, “and did you have anything to do with the preparation of the food itself?”

  “Jus’ the sauce tomate concassée,” he said.

I thought perhaps we’d better stop there, and anyway the main course was arriving – cod in said sauce for Diners Two and Four, the steak with a balsamic reduction for One and Three. It was a bit tough, the steak, but that’s prison for you.

There was no dessert.

Shaun de Waal

Shaun de Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week. Read more from Shaun de Waal

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