Food, Travel

Escaping NYC: Culture, Community and Cuisine in Cape Town

I’m still processing my trip to South Africa. The first feeling: WOW! I can’t believe I traveled all that way and back. The second feeling: WOW! I had the coolest experience and met some great people.

Our group stayed at the wondrously beautiful Alphen Boutique Hotel located in the Constantia neighborhood in Cape Town. This has got to be one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever stayed in… next to the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in Abu Dhabi. Being that the Alphen is a boutique hotel, the experience was much more intimate. The rooms were beautifully decorated and featured two bathrooms (the one with the shower had a heated floor) and towel warmers. Service was impeccable with the staff willing to go above and beyond. And the food… my goodness, the food. I really miss having freshly juiced apple juice in the morning and delicious eggs benedict.

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There were so many sights, flavors, and feelings that I experienced.

Aside from experiencing a new city with new people in a way that I never would’ve imagined, the highlights of my trip were visiting Langa Township, cooking with my crew and just seeing for myself that Cape Town is probably the most beautiful city I’ve ever visited.

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Panorama taken at Table Mountain (with my iPhone!)

The visit to Langa Township was an eye-opening experience for me. I remembered that during the ride from the airport to the hotel, we passed neighborhoods that had nicely built up houses, and right next to them or right across the highway would be rows of shacks. I learned that these types of houses and shacks can co-exist within a township, but it was really interesting to really see wealth and class rankings played into that. During out visit through the township, we got a chance to learn more about some of the cultural customs as well as interact with the residents.

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One of our activity days had a heavy emphasis on cooking in which we had to cook both lunch and dinner for ourselves. We started this particular day off the day in Bo-Kaap, formerly known as the Malay Quarter. Bo-Kaap features colorful houses and a rich Cape Malay culture. We participated in the Bo-Kaap Cooking Tour (led by Zainie and her daughter-in-law Zoelfa) and made delicious traditional Cape Malay meal of curry chicken and appetizers for lunch. This was a bit intimidating for me because I can count on one hand the number of times I cooked an intricate meal from scratch… but I also felt that this was a new experience for the rest of the people in my group as well, so we struggled and learned together.

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The second part of the day was spent at Food Jams. From the Food Jams website: “Food Jams are social gatherings in which eating food is only half the fun. Participants are paired up, preferably with strangers, and each team is given a portion of the meal to prepare and invited to follow the recipe, although participants are usually encouraged to improvise.” That’s exactly what happened. I was paired with another person in our group and our assignment was to make tacos… but with a twist. We ended up not following the recipe to a T, and there were moments where each of us had to step up to the plate and take ownership over certain parts of the recipe, but we ended up making and sharing a delicious meal with the rest of the group. I’ll be honest, sometimes cooking frustrates me, especially with so many people working in a kitchen AT THE SAME TIME, but this was a great lesson in patience and teamwork.

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It is said that the best way to learn about someone is to cook or to travel with them. Well, I killed two birds with one stone. I ended up learning valuable lessons about culture, community, and cooperation. My time in Cape Town is definitely, hands down, one of the most life-altering trips I’ve ever taken and will always hold a special place in my heart.

The experience of having a group of 14 semi-strangers come together and build strong bonds is amazing. We laughed. We cried. We didn’t argue. The week was packed full of activities and very strenuous, but all of that brought us closer and made us family… and for that, I am very grateful.

Cape Town Shawties

Cape Town Shawties

The trip was booked through TN Experiences and paid for by myself. All opinions expressed in this post are my own. Photographs of the Alphen Hotel taken by myself. All other experience photos by Kibuuka Mukisa Oscar.

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