You may think Karoo food is all about meat, and yes, you’re right to a certain extent. But these days there are pomegranates, artisanal cheeses and a growing number of intriguing eating places.
1. If you’re driving along the N1, you’ll be going through Beaufort West. Look out for lime-green little restaurant called Karushi. Try out the real or Karoo sushi, a pizza with stoneground flour and other tasty meals. Also, if you’re looking for a solar panel, you’re in the right place.
2. Ronnie’s Sex Shop between Calitzdorp and Barrydale on the R62 has the feel of a Karoo Baghdad Cafe, but with far more dangling lingerie. Take a break and have a beer and a toasted sandwich.
3. Matjiesfontein, just off the N1, is also a good place to have a bar lunch in a place with an intriguing history. Share a joke with Johnny Theunissen, aka Johnny the Entertainer.
4. Stop at a padstal (farmstall) and try out the local produce. You might find homemade ginger beer, biltong, preserves, pies and roosterkoek (griddle-baked bread) – not to be confused with roosterbrood (which is a toasted sandwich). Note that Daggaboer Farmstall along the N10 (just south of Cradock) has a sign saying they sold out of dagga at 6am. Get prickly pear syrup instead.
5. Seek out some true Karoo lamb. This has such a special taste that it has a geographic indicator all its own, like Parma ham. See Karoo Meat of Origin’s website for details.
6. If someone offers you skilpadjies, fear not that these are literally tiny tortoises. In fact, it they are pieces of liver wrapped in kidney fat and rendered crispy on an open fire. Delicious if you like this kind of thing. A puffadder, similarly, is not necessarily an actual snake….
7. Realise that chicken is considered a vegetable in the Karoo. But for vegetarians, there is a growing source of interesting Karoo foods like sheep’s milk cheese (Beaconsfield near Middelburg and Ova Angelica near Smithfield), artisanal cheese from Simply Natural near Bedford, pomegranates in March, fresh figs in summer, pecans in winter and olives all year round.
8. To really enjoy Karoo food, attend a festival. At the end of every August, there is the meat-rich Hantam Vleisfees in Calvinia. Mid-July sees the Biltong Festival in Somerset-East. Cradock’s Karoo Food Festival is held near the end of March, and Bedford has one at the end of April and another at the end of July.
9. If you’re passing through Jansenville, seek out Elna van den Berg’s Gourmet Goat salami. Delicious.
10. At the whimsical Williston Mall in the western Karoo town of the same name, order up a milkshake and ask about Langbaken Cheese. They usually stock it.
11. It’s sometimes difficult to find an open restaurant on a Sunday in the Karoo. Exceptions include Hobson’s Choice in Somerset East or Braemore Farm outside Cradock, where you’ll eat delicious food made with local ingredients.
12. Gordon’s Restaurant at Andries Stockenstrom Guesthouse in Graaff-Reinet is a singular, slow food experience. Chef Gordon Wright mostly hunts or fishes what he serves you, or knows exactly where it came from. He has just written a book called From Veld to Fork.
13. Nieu-Bethesda has some intriguing food experiences. The Karoo Lamb opposite the Owl House offers great vegetarian dishes (some featuring sheep’s cheese haloumi) as well as more traditional options. They also sell local produce. Try out the Karoo ale and goat’s cheese at Sneeuberg Brewery across the river.
14. Seek out African Relish in Prince Albert. They have a great restaurant serving innovative Karoo food, run a cooking school and also sell some of the specialties of the region, including Adam’s figs from Weltevreden farm, great olive oil and wines.