Foraging for Food on the West Coast & Lunch at Oep Ve Koep
With Slow Food Mother City
A few Sundays ago, on the 28th of August, we headed off to Paternoster, a sleepy fishing village on the Cape West Coast just under two hours outside Cape Town to join Slow Food Mother City on a food forage in the local nature reserve in TietiesBaai (yes, you read the name correctly.)
What is Food Foraging?
Searching for wild plants, indigenous to an area for consumption, is as old as mankind. In the last decade, there has been a conscious reactivation of interest in foraging from dedicated foargers, freegans, chefs and curious individuals (like myself).
The closest I’ve come to foraging (apart from hopping from one stall holder to the next at some of the world’s loveliest farmer’s markets) is picking herbs and chilies from our garden. Though there were the times we picked mulberries and unripe guavas (worst tummy ache known to man) along the roadside walking home from school.
Why the shift from supermarket/market/online shopping convenience you may ask?
A combination of factors, from the move to explore the long forgotten edibles of our forebears, to wanting to taste fresh, new produce untainted by chemicals and picked at the optimal moment, to eating in harmony with the earth. You may have heard of freegans too, who adopt an anti-consumerist lifestyle and will forage in dumpsters for foods that are still edible, grow plants for consumption and medicine amongst the other elements that make up the lifestyle.
Chefs from the world’s most prestigious restaurants have for years used foraged leaves, mushrooms and nuts making their dishes unusual and highly coveted. The next logical step is for the foraging hipsters with dosh to want in on the game and to want to make it conveniently “niche” and in local Cape Town terms this translates to mainstream. If you read this blog, you will know that I find very little more off putting than hipster culture, though I try to exist side by side in harmony (Paul McCartney’s Ebony and Ivory tinkling softly somewhere in my mind).
One wonders, with the interest in foraging for foods reaching a frenzy how many of these indigenous plants are in danger of being wiped out? The other important factor to bear in mind is that foraging can be dangerous and even fatal, if you are not an experienced forager or botanist. (Natural selection perhaps? Sorry, I couldn’t resist)
Cape Columbine Nature Reserve
Rupert, a botanist and friend of Kobus van der Merwe (Chef at Oep ve Koep, a family run business) guided us, a group of 20 through a small section of the Cape Columbine Nature Reserve, mere minutes out of the village. The reserve is unusual in that it is flanked by coastline, dotted with coves and covered in fynbos, succulents and wild flowers in season. Accompanying Rupert was Pia and popular foodster Dax, both from Slow Food Mother City. We discovered soutslaai (salty salad or leaves), veldkool (field cabbage, which unlike it’s literal translation resembles an asparagus) and noted the difference in flora on the limestone and granite rocks. The differences were startling!
Rupert explained the dangers of over-foraging as has been the case with the very popular wild garlic and the local potatoes.
Oep ve Koep
I’ve eaten at Oep ve Koep previously. (Update: Jluy 2014: have eaten here a number of times since this article. Just gets more interesting. Book in advance) The feeling conjured is of a very laid-back back yard with elements of local kitch for fun. Kobus is well known in Cape Town for the beautiful food he creates and people commute to Paternoster in droves to sample his creations. I was most fortunate to meet Kobus (having missed him previously) that Sunday and attend a talk he held at Toffie Food Festival the following week. It’s quite evident that he draws inspiration from the landscape and is guided by well-known food historian Renata Coetzee.
Kobus looks much younger than I expected and runs through the menu in his gentle, soft spoken manner, his eyes beaming as he brings out plates of food starkly in contrast with the modest surroundings. We start with bokkum (salted, dried fish) butter and a pickled waterblommetjie followed by a calamari bobotie (egg custard savoury crustless pie) with soutslaai. The main of sandveld potato dumplings, dune spinach, veldkool, soy butter, porcini and nasturtium is my favourite dish of the lunch.
I’m not terribly enamored by the cleanser tea of pickled onion and wild sage , but you know…when in Paternoster.
The dessert is a clever play on the idiom, the land of milk and honey (strandveld milk and honey) which is a moist pudding with local honey and topped with a meringue and baby corn slices.
We enjoyed the walk immensely, and would have loved to be handed a leaflet with details on the plants and area, or to be more environmentally friendly, a few links with relevant information emailed to us.