It was in 2014 when Hlumela Matika, co-founder of Third Culture Experiment, which was then only a few weeks old, suggested that we head to a new festival that was hitting the Mother City’s streets. With Cape Town crowds primed for #GoodFood the turnout was impressive, which wasn’t surprising seeing as it was the SA Street Food Festival’s debut.
It was the responsibility of Hannerie Visser – the director of the festival and the mitochondrion bringing life to Studio H, a multidisciplinary design studio based in the city – to look after the more than 2 000 festival-goers, who arrived in high spirits and with empty stomachs, as well as the more than 40 food vendors who would satiate that hunger.
The location has been consistent since the festival was founded – Side Street Studios in Woodstock. The suburb has been undergoing urban renewal over a number of years, attracting the city’s hipsters but, on the flipside, leaving some of the residents feeling alienated.
The festival has been getting bigger each year, attracting a notable amount of foot traffic. Bodies are everywhere; sitting, standing, walking, drinking, laughing and connecting. A good sign. It may be time to look for an even bigger space.
In its first year, festival-goers could sign up for a day-long conference for people interested in pursuing the various offshoots of the food industry. It was an opportunity to hear from, and interact with, food experts, restaurateurs and those in the know. Topics ranged from “building your brand and naming” to “marketing and social media”. Guidance, top tips and related advice were shared by entrepreneurs already making a successful living working with food.
In its second year, the festival introduced a Jo’burg leg at the Maboneng Precinct. Its offering included a market with the appearance of food trucks as a highlight; a conference with industry names such as Abigail Donnelly, food editor at Taste and editor at Eat Out, as well as Karen Dudley, caterer, chef and cookbook writer, offering their insights; and an exclusive pre-booked meal where one could enjoy African cuisine.
Some of the notable culinary options included Ghanaian plantain milkshakes, Nigerian bitterleaf soup (ofe onugbu), grilled tilapia with nsima (ground maize) from Malawi, mopani worms from Zimbabwe and kid-meat stew from Somalia.
This year the dinner incorporated tales from India and the food offered a sensory element to the faraway land being explored. The spread was dhal makhani (buttery lentil), biryani, vindaloo sours, kulfi (very rich ice cream), pani puri puffs, chai masala and sugarcane juice.
This was prepared by Jade de Waal, who is behind Food Jams and is a past MasterChef SA contestant. The meal was accompanied by Darling Brew, Fairview Wine and other treats.
Bertus Basson, a chef at one of South Africa’s most lauded restaurants, Overture at Hidden Valley, made something a little extra special that could be pre-ordered before the festival: slow-roasted pigs’ heads served with trimmings.
In year one, I attended the fest. In year two I sat in on the conference. It was time to up the ante. Having met Visser in an attempt to get Third Culture Experiment, the food club I host, involved in trading at this year’s event, we spoke about comfort food and food nostalgia. About the things that take one back to the taste of home, the equivalent of wanting to curl up in foetal position or have a rocking chair lullaby one to sleep.
With flashbacks of growing up eMdantsane and visiting my father’s homestead in the rurals of Alice being an integral part of my growing up and adult life, the menu slowly started formulating. I served tripe with steamed bread and ginger beer.
Just weeks ago, some friends and I had packed snacks and drinks and taken to the beach at one of the four Cliftons. We were celebrating. It was after work by the time we got everything together so we arrived to a crisp night and frosty sand, in full view of the moon and the couples who’d thought this out better than we had – with lit candles and Chinese lanterns to accompany them. We had the moon and a few strategically placed camping lights as our source of illumination.
We were celebrating spring in all its clichéd symbolism. We were giving thanks to our many new starts. Between us we had new work, new travel, new school, new home, new money and new opportunities, which included a debut at the Street Food Fest.
Newness that would mean a month of being stretched thin. Of acclimatising to less sleep just to manage one’s plate because good time management on its own simply did not seem like a viable enough option. The sea water, having travelled the world over and touched all that land, was a medium we used to commune with our ancestors in gratitude.
Prep for the festival came in a week filled with: evening classes and the requisite homework; an important dinner; reconciling the move from working on a couch with the sun on my back to commuting to an office; a site visit for research; interviewing, transcribing and producing an article; catering a dinner; and then, finally, with only the day before to spare, preparing for the festival.
It was manic. I slept at an ungodly hour and woke at an unseemly one, mad at my alarm for its audacity. Set-up started at 6am, at which point I was stepping into the shower with steamed bread still cooking on the stove.
With the help of a friend who’d been willing to get her hands dirty I managed to pack and unpack the car and set up in time. We had to be ready by 9am and the festival-goers were due an hour later.
Of course, as Murphy would have it, the green viscous fuel we poured into the chafing dish’s fuel holders simply would not comply. It would stay lit for minutes on end only to self-extinguish. Tripe, like my mother’s tea, can only be served scalding or else the fat coagulates.
Fortunately the women at one of the cafés came to the rescue with a portable stove. I had a pot handy because one never knows when you’re going to need an extra pot at a food festival. The day was saved.
Looks from passers-by as they noted the words penned on a board just under our stall’s name, “Tripe & ginger beer”, ranged from glee and curiosity to unadulterated horror at the thought. They were entertaining to watch. Fortunately the glee won and that portion of the meal sold out.