Cape Mart | Food & Drink Features | Creative Loafing Charlotte
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Cape Mart 

Market offers South African foods and more

Eating Monkey Gland sauce may sound like a challenge in Fear Factor. But this popular South African sauce is completely vegetarian, a fruity "bone suckin'" style barbecue sauce. This is not to say that South Africa does not have food components that lend to the scary. A dish known as Mashonzha has the Mopani caterpillar as a primary ingredient and is cooked with chili and peanuts. Even the folks in The South African Food Shop shuddered along with me on that one.Exotic ingredients are separated from everyday ingredients only by location. An ingredient that is difficult to buy in one place may be literally hanging from the trees in another. One of the hallmarks of large urban centers is the ability to find these exotic cooking ingredients or packaged goods easily. The shops that carry these items are of great importance to the expat community.

Jeremy Dreyer, owner of The South African Food Shop, opened his store a year ago in response to the needs of the growing number of South African families living in North Carolina. He has since started a national online mailing business from this location. But even if you are not an expat, exploring ethnic markets is instructive about the cuisine of a country.

What hits you in this shop is how multicultural South African cuisine is. The Khoisan, the first inhabitants of South Africa, were hunter-gatherers. The Bantu ate maize, sweet potatoes, and gem squash. Portuguese explorers brought chilies, while the Dutch made sausages and forced Malaysian slaves into the countryside. The Malaysians brought with them their knowledge of Asian spices. The last influences came from the British and Indian inhabitants.

This shop is a confluence of these African, European, and Asian influences. Bags of Samp for Bantu porridge sit near Snowflake cake flour used to make Melktert, a custard tart. On another shelf are large boxes of Ouma Rusks (Beskuits), the South African equivalent of biscotti to be dipped in coffee or tea. South African cuisine has been described as almost heroic in its unrestrained use of spices and aromatic flavorings. Here you can find an assortment of flavored Peri Peri, a chili based sauce, spices, and Mrs. Balls Chutney, a national passion. From the English come Crosse & Blackwell Mint Sauce, Branston Pickles, Lyles Golden Syrup, and frozen bangers. The South African potjie is a layered stew cooked over an open fire in a three-legged cast iron pot similar to what was used in the American West on the trail. These pots, both small and large, are available for sale in the shop.

My favorite product is the Afrikaner Boerewors, a beef and pork sausage in the freezer section. This flavorful sausage is perfect for grilling. Other sausage products worthy of note are Biltong, which is similar to beef jerky (a comparison which makes South Africans wince), and Droewors, which are larger dried sausages. The latter sausages are especially made for this shop by an Atlanta company, and they are then finished in a state-of-the-art stainless steel drying unit on the premises. The taste is similar to a good Hungarian or Italian dried sausage.

The shop also carries a good collection of South African wines. Most of the wine regions of South Africa are inland from the Cape of Good Hope, from the northwestern area around Vredendal to the southern city of Oudtshoorn. South Africa has been producing wines since the 1700s. Then, their Muscat-based dessert wines of Constantia, south of Cape Town, commanded enormous prices in Europe. In the 1980s the wine industry in South Africa began to take off although anti-apartheid sanctions excluded these wines from American and European markets. Of the varietals, Chenin Blanc, also known as Steen, has been the dominant grape variety, although since the 1980s more Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Cape Riesling have been planted. Of the reds, Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut, is increasingly popular. Acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Shiraz have also proliferated during the past 20 years. Of the wine regions, Paarl contains the headquarters for the South African wine industry. The largest wine producer for this region is Nederburg and the shop has many of their labels.

The best way to explore an ethic market is to make a popular dish. Below is a recipe for Bobotie, one of the national dishes of South Africa. Bobotie is thought to have been created by the Malaysian slaves the Dutch settlers brought to South Africa 300 years ago. Today, the recipes for this dish are as numerous and varied as meatloaf recipes are in the States.

Do you have a restaurant tip, compliment, complaint? Do you know of a restaurant which has opened, closed, or should be reviewed? Does your restaurant or shop have news, menu changes, new additions to staff or building, upcoming cuisine or wine events? Fax this information, at least 12 days in advance of event date, to Tidbits: 704-944-3605, or leave voice mail: 704-522-8334, ext. 136.

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