Category Archives: Food

Too much meat? The 3-2-2 Principle.

When I was a kid my parents took us to a relatively smart restaurant. Well, it was a change from the Spur. Snails in garlic was on the menu. I was fascinated. Snails? You can eat them? How awesome!

“I want snails!” I said. My mother admonished me, “No, you won’t like them.” She had a point – how many 9 year olds will eat broccoli, nevermind snails? After promising to finish them no matter what, I got my snails. I’ve subsequently had far better ones, but those first squishy little buggers made me realise the world offers a myriad of flavours and textures.

"Eat me"

I adore everything about food. I love selecting it, preparing it, cooking it, serving it. I will try anything. I want to taste everything. I am a particularly omnivorous omnivore. If I don’t like something, I try it again a few years later to see if my tastebuds have changed their mind (it happens).

When the husband and I first started out, it was a particularly hellish time for the economy and the price of chicken and red meat went up dramatically. My mother bought me a vegetarian recipe book for Christmas, Pick of the Bunch by Lynn Bedford Hall, and we used it every night for six months. We’d occasionally have meat when we went to visit the parental units, but most of the time we were semi-vegetarians.

I learnt to cook hearty and delicious veggie food. I discovered the versatility of chickpeas and lentils, aromatic combinations of spices, a wide variety of mushrooms, and how filling brinjals can be. Even when we could afford meat more regularly, we still made plenty of vegetarian meals.

Veggie heaven

But a few weeks ago I noticed I was cooking meat virtually every night, usually chicken or pork, sometimes mince. I’d fallen into the “dinner isn’t a meal without meat” mindset.

Of course, it’s easier to just roast some potatoes and chicken and slap a salad together. Tasty and healthy vegetarian meals don’t necessarily take longer, they just require more thought. But that thought is what makes us omnivores.

Someone figured out a prickly artichoke is actually edible (not to mention the snails) precisely because there was a shortage of other foods. We also neglect fish, preferring to get a tuna sushi fix rather than prepare a piece of readily available hake at home. Add this to the environmental destruction wrought by industrial production of meat, and the planet is not thanking us.

"Ooh, yummy"

It’s just not natural to eat meat every night. It’s become too convenient and ubiquitous, it’s made us lazy. So I’ve decided to institute what I call “The 3-2-2 Principle”. I divide up the 7 nights of the week like this – 3 nights vegetarian, 2 nights meat, 2 nights fish. Eating well should be simple and sensible, not a restrictive or excessive minefield. Having a rough guideline makes that easier.

Of course there will be those late nights where a Woolworths lasagne is the only option, but then I add some steamed broccoli to it. There are always ways to get the balance right, if we just use our omnivorous brains.

I still dream of Mozambique – Part 1: Maputo, prawns and Pina Coladas

Two weeks after moving to the cold, lip-cracking dryness of a Joburg winter, I was lucky enough to go on a road trip to Mozambique, taking in Maputo for one night and Milibangala for three.

Chris, Hannah, Aaron and I set out at 5:30am and made it to Maputo quite easily, except for the confusing border post. We were assisted by a “guide” with where to go, what to sign, etc. It introduced us to something we’d encounter frequently in Mozambique – lots of friendly locals asking you for money.

There is a bit of Maputo architecture that resembles Havana, and the Railway Station designed by Gustave Eiffel is magnificent, but there are far more crumbling buildings and mammoth utilitarian blocks. The roads into and around Maputo are fine, but in the South they’re non-existent.

This is what happens when you’re colonised by the third-world country of Europe and then have a civil war for 20 years.

We checked into the Holiday Inn and 20 minutes later I was lying by the beach in my bikini. Chris read my mind and ordered us Pina Coladas while we soaked up the last rays of the day. Perfect.

And then there were the prawns… Platters-full of ample, succulent crustaceans dosed with butter and a touch of garlic, washed down with ice-cold Laurentina beer. If you’re ever in Maputo, Costa do Sol is the only place to go for dinner. It was easily one of the best meals of my life.

Later in the hotel bar we ran into some American servicemen who were part of a peacekeeping mission. They gave Hannah and Aaron USA flag pins, which I think had a tracking device in case they got into trouble.

The next day we searched for booze and caught the ferry to Catembe. That’s when the real 4×4 “adventure” began… But I’ll write about that next week.

A passage to India

Alistair wrote this review of our splendid evening at Bombay Brasserie. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

When he said “Dining is and always was a great artistic opportunity” Frank Lloyd Wright was talking about more than just eating, he was talking about dining as a cultural experience.

And while he couldn’t have had an Indian restaurant at the tip of Africa in mind, his quote fits Bombay Brasserie as snugly as the elaborately brocaded gowns of the hostesses who greet you at its doors.

But the experience begins even before you reach the restaurant. Walking through the lobby of the newly opened Taj Cape Town, between fluted pink marble columns, you feel as though you have stepped into another time.

The building is indeed from another age. Built in 1932 to house the SA Reserve Bank, the building was apparently inspired by Florence’s Palazzo Pitti.

Bombay Brasserie itself nestles in another historic building adjoining the lobby – The Temple Chambers – a sunken, wood panelled lounge built at the turn of the century to accommodate the denizens of the nearby Supreme Court. Stepping down into its cosy interior you can imagine the whiskered barristers of old enjoying brandies and cigars.

The Brasserie experience is one of total immersion: from the moment you step through the doors and descend into the cosy lounge you are cosseted, fussed over, plied with delicious (if very sweet) cocktails and amuse-bouche and waited upon by no less than three separate staff.

In a wonderfully old fashioned touch, all the food is plated for you by either your waiter or the maître d’ who also recommends food and wine pairings with a refreshing candour and passion.

But the food itself remains the main event. Rather than blasting your palette with heat, the menu is redolent with subtler more aromatic spices.

Amanda and I shared Porchai Year (spicy grilled prawns) and Galouti Kebab (butter-soft minced lamb patties) to start, followed by Sunerhi Nalli (lamb shank in saffron curry) and Allepey (prawn coconut curry). We finished off with Masala Chai Custard (a delightful play on traditional crème brulee) and Malai Kulfi (cardamom ice cream).

All the dishes were delicious and immaculately presented, but the two prawn dishes were definitely the highlight of my evening. Amanda was tickled by the Galouti Kebab which was originally made for “the nobles that don’t chew”.

The portions are fairly generous, and the prices not unduly eye-watering. You’re unlikely to leave feeling either hungry or ripped off.

That said, Bombay Brasserie isn’t an everyday eating kind of place. With its carefully orchestrated pomp and ceremony and rich dishes, it’s not somewhere you can take the kids. This isn’t eating after all – this is dining.

Full disclosure: The kind fellows at the Taj picked up the tab. That doesn’t change how excellent the evening was, or the fact that I’ll be returning as a paying customer in the very near future.

No food please, I’m a woman!

A friend recently told me that 90% of the women she knows have “food issues”. “Food issues.” It’s such an all-encompassing term. When someone says, “Oh, she has serious food issues,” it could mean:

  • She was / is anorexic.
  • She was / is bulimic.
  • She won’t eat anything with sugar in it.
  • She won’t eat anything with fat in it.
  • She knows the pharmaceutical names for appetite suppressants.
  • She measures her thighs and hips every week.
  • She moans about her body.
  • She says she’s not really that thin.
  • She says she’s happy to be fat.
  • She only orders salad.
  • She only orders cheeseburgers.
  • She knows how many calories are in 50g of cheddar.
  • She’s tried more diets than Liz Taylor.

I know plenty of beautifully proportioned women who never truly enjoy a slice of chocolate cake. They berate themselves and plan torturous gym sessions to atone for every calorific bite. It’s like those “waiting for marriage” girls who lose their virginity on a drunken one-night stand. Oh the guilt! The shame! Did I really put that in my mouth last night?

And that’s where the problem lies — food is pleasure and puritanical nations have taught people that pleasure is sinful.

“Ja, well, it’s easy for you.” Huh?

Michael Pollan’s book In Defense Of Food brilliantly explores how this has led to obsessively weird ideas about eating (fish oil-enriched bread anyone?) His advice: “Eat food. Not too much, mostly plants.” And by food he means real food, not meal replacement shakes or frozen diet “country-style” lasagne.

Obviously I am not too big or too thin. I’m healthy. But if I had a fat-free yoghurt for every time a woman commented on how lucky I was, I could stock the dairy aisle at Woolworths.

And I am lucky, not because I have some magical Usain Bolt metabolism, but because my mother taught me “everything in moderation”. She also said “go play with the traffic”, which obviously lead to a love of the outdoors.

You are not an air-conditioner or a washing machine.

It’s also a question of listening to your body. Many women regard themselves externally, like engine units that need an instruction manual to refuel. Do not attempt to repair, move or reinstall this body on your own. Consult the latest health fad or diet book for detailed meal plans. Warning: Do not eat carbohydrates after 7pm.

They never just sit still and think, “What do I actually feel like?” For all the talk about “women’s intuition”, we seem very technically minded when it comes to the instinctive act of eating.

Sometimes I feel like having a slab of Lindt chocolate. Sometimes I feel like going for a long walk. Sometimes I feel like having roast chicken. But I never feel like eating a protein bar.

Be kind. Unwind.

After overcoming so much to get where we are today, why are we still so hard on ourselves and our bodies? It’s tragic that women can lead nations and corporations, but they still can’t have pasta Alfredo for dinner (or they eat everyone else’s pasta Alfredo for dinner).

It’s time to throw away the user manual approach to eating. Be sensible, not gluttonous. Enjoy your food, eat a little butter instead of lots of margarine. Most importantly, be kind to yourself — you deserve the pleasure.

*This post originally appeared on Mail & Guardian Thought Leader.