* This article first appeared here in Getaway Magazine, Feb 2021
Cape Town Fynbos Experience
Since the Cape Floristic Kingdom is the most diverse flowering region in the world, our tour of three botanical experiences starts on the foothills of Table Mountain. Thanks to the fynbos – the true hero of Cape Floristic Kingdom –the area has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004. Covering only 0.5% of the area of Africa, astonishingly it is home to nearly 20% of the continent’s flora.
Giselle Courtney is the effusive champion behind the Cape Town Fynbos Experience, and beams as she greets us. She’s clearly excited to share these uniquely South African tastes with us. Having spent the greater part of her childhood on the slopes of Table Mountain, and her student years working as a tour guide on the fynbos-frosted slopes, her love for the local flora hasn’t stopped growing.
The Fynbos Tasting is a two-hour journey into the Cape Floristic Region where Giselle intertwines the flow of botanical and traditional information with tactile and tasty encounters. It’s sophisticated, detailed, and a highly-engaging sensorial experience. The Korean and American guests who joined me on this bright Saturday morning were as enthralled as I was… all eager to taste our way through this revered biome.
Giselle couldn’t be more at home hosting the experiences: “I love watching the reaction of guests to the multiple Fynbos scents and floral displays. This usually results in a flurry of social media postings and sighs of delight. Tasting turns to fascination in this immersion into the world of Fynbos.”
Her aim is not just to educate, she also inspires visitors to reintroduce the flavours of our natural heritage into our daily life through tea infusions, culinary salts, cordials, vinaigrettes and digestives. Guests leave the experience with samples of the products, and I’m still enjoying blending my own herbal teas from the range weeks later.
This experience is traditionally hosted in the former Garden Director’s home in the Company’s Garden, ideal as a corporate team builder, tourist or local leisure activity. A a select Fynbos Tasting Menu is now also available at several other premier locations.
“My intention is to craft experiences that honour both the significant status of our Fynbos, and match Cape Town’s reputation for creativity and innovation” Giselle remarks proudly. What she has achieved certainly lives up to that.
Visit www.capetownfynbosexperience.com or email Giselle at email@example.com for further information or to purchase some the fynbos-infused products.
Bush Gourmet and Foraging above Victoria Falls
Annabel Hughes Aston is very much a daughter of Africa; born in Kenya, educated in Zimbabwe, and now living on a farm in Zambia, just upstream from Victoria Falls. Annabel – or Savannabel as affectionately nicknamed on her blog – has piqued interest in food circles for her ‘bush gourmet’ cuisine.
She’s passionate about fresh seasonal ingredients and forages for the wild edibles and indigenous foods that now grace her dishes. Flavors that for the most part, are seldom tasted outside Africa. This style of cuisine is a vast departure from the classical cooking styles impressed upon her in her UK-based culinary training. Annabel recounts both the story and philosophy behind her journey:
‘It was the concept of ‘sufficiency’ that led me to foraging and including wild edibles in my dishes. Sufficiency is an act of generating, distinguishing, making known to ourselves the power and presence of our existing resources. Flavour-wise, wild food is inimitable and interesting.’
Annabel takes ample advantage of her tropical climate where nearly everything grows. It’s also a rather unique situation where Annabel is not the only forager. The flora she searches out are an equal treat to the fauna – sharing harvesting with elephants is not your usual gardeners tale.
Edible flowers and botanicals play an undeniable part in Annabel’s bush gourmet cuisine. Annabel adds that ‘they not only add colour and texture to a dish, they also add flavour and scent. They can transform the plating of both sweet and savoury dishes; they flavour hot and cold drinks; they jazz up ice cubes. Edible flowers also add a distinctive je ne sais quoi to vinegars, dressings, baked goods, and preserves.’
Apparently, it’s not only the plate and palate that benefits, but also the garden itself. “They are also essential in any organic kitchen garden as companion plants, particularly hardy self-seeders like borage, nasturtium, fennel, and coriander which attract pollinators and predator insects.”
For equally enthusiastic gardeners ready to beautify their food, Annabel gives valuable tips on what to grow: ‘Borage, echinacea, cosmos, and salvia because they are bee magnets. Galangal and coriander for attracting predator insects that eat the larvae of the bad bugs. Strong smelling herbs like rosemary and sage. Artemisia annua, commonly known as Sweet Annie, for its potent smell that repels pests. And definitely nasturtiums because they are one of the most giving and hard-working plants in a garden. “
If I trip to Zambia is not quite yet on the cards to witness Annabel’s cuisine in person, head to her website for other food inspiration, and enjoy several recipes on her blog. annabelhughesaston.com
Lastly, it’s off to Kwa-Zulu Natal’s sunshine coast, where Andrew Rall offers a range of botanically-inspired spirits at Distillery 031. More than just a distiller, Andrew is a gate-keeper for his city. He frequently laces the word Durbanism into our conversation; a term he uses to describe a “truly African city with an incredible combination of different cultures.”
It’s a celebration of these cultures that leads to his various spirits. From the
Ancestors Absinthe that originated in Switzerland as an Elixir but is now made on the shores of Africa with a unique heritage twist, to Africa’s first Cachaça made from the local cane, and then D’Urban Scarlet Gin – the world’s first gin made with cascara (coffee cherries).
Andrew explains his process of botanical alchemy: “Since there is a rich local tradition of using plants for healing, I was able to engage with traditional healers and visit muthi markets to find interesting botanicals. Once I had collected a nice pallet of botanicals extracts I could begin combining them to create a balanced flavour experience. I guess you could compare it to an artist using different colour paints to translate something from their imagination onto canvas.”
Distillery 031 provides various tours and tastings, and you can order your tipple of choice online to add some Durbanism to your drink collection. distillery031.com