Food From Afar
Words by Georgia Schumann
Images by Matthew Ibbotson
A group of foreigners bringing their tastes and cultures to the mother city through unique restaurants.
German de la Melena’s love for food extends back to his childhood in Peru. Weekends were spent watching his father make peanut butter from scratch, or fig preserve from the fig tree in the garden. Three years ago, after travelling the world as a model, he decided to settle in Cape Town and turn his passion for cuisine into a restaurant. Keenwa (the phonetic spelling of quinoa – a staple food in Peru) serves a smorgasbord of authentic, home-style Peruvian dishes such as Ceviche (fresh, raw fish marinated in lime) and Aji de Gallina (spicy creamed chicken).
“Modern Peruvian cuisine is a fusion of the various regions,” he explains, “At Keenwa we remain true to the original recipes by making no changes to the ingredients.” Except, that is, for reducing the original spiciness of the dishes to suit the less robust South African palate. “When Peruvians come to my restaurant they often request more chilli,” he laughs, “In Peru, the chillies are so hot you cry when you eat them.”
German’s passion for food extends to South African cuisine. “South Africa has the best meat in the world,” he says, marvelling at our ability to braai the perfect filet.
Keenwa also serves as a meeting place for local Latin Americans, whom German describes as genuinely open-armed and sincere. Every second Friday is Latin night at his bar upstairs: “You can always spot the Latino’s,” he smiles, “They can’t help but dance through the door and all the way up the stairs.”
50 Waterkant St, Cape Town
Tel: 021 419 2633
This unique, little gem is run by Patricia Garcia Aispuro and her two sons, Arturo and Ricardo. Ricardo studied and worked as a chef in Mexico before moving to South Africa with his family in 2010. He now heads up the kitchen of Cape Town’s first truly authentic Mexican restaurant. “Ricardo was a food critic from 5 years old,” laughs his mother, reminiscing about his vociferous critiques of her refried beans.
San Julian is an extraordinary establishment – not only because of the obvious passion with which this trio runs their business, but also because of the remarkable amount of care, time and respect for tradition that goes into making their food. The corn flour or ‘nixtamal’ which forms the basis of so many of their dishes is made from scratch on the premises, using the arduous 7000 year old process of the ancient Mayans. Their chorizo is handmade using their great aunt’s recipe, limes are freshly squeezed daily to recreate their grandfather’s famous margaritas and their exquisitely refreshing Jamaica (Mexican iced tea) is lovingly concocted from fresh fruit and hibiscus flowers.
Ricardo and Arturo are vocal about their distaste for preservatives and fast foods. Their philosophy is to respect and support local produce and to stick to organic, preservative-free ingredients. The menu focuses on simple, classic Mexican dishes and they urge their guests to eat the Mexican way –with unashamed gusto and joy.
“Cooking is about connecting and communicating,” says Ricardo. “I cook slowly, respectfully. I cook with love.”
3 Rose St
Tel: 021 419 4233
Yeshi Mekonnen is a remarkable woman. When she moved to Cape Town ten years ago to study, she was met with great interest in both her country and her culture. This led her to believe that there was a market for introducing foreigners to the exotic allure of her national cuisine. And so – three years ago – she made the brave decision to stay in South Africa and to open her own Ethiopian restaurant.
Little Ethiopia stands true to its name – the restaurant, hailed by Mail & Guardian as ‘one of the best finds in Cape Town’, is a tiny room bordered by a handful of small tables. Ethiopian music blares out of the TV and traditional paraphernalia lines the walls. The food is spicy, wholesome and unpretentious, served without cutlery. Rare spices are brought in from Ethiopia, as well as the coffee that is their national pride. The intimacy of the space gives you the feeling that you are visiting Yeshi at her home, and she treats each guest accordingly. From lunch until dinner, this cosy room is a bustling hive of regulars, tourists and local Ethiopians looking for some home-cooked fare.
Hospitality and food are central to Yehsi’s culture and upbringing. She speaks fondly of her mother as an outstanding cook and hostess. “The value my family placed on hospitality is how I learnt my trade,” she says, “I make food from the bottom of my heart. Seeing my customers enjoying themselves is my greatest happiness.”
Little Ethiopia Restaurant
76 Shortmarket Street, Cape Town
Tel: 021 424 8254