In South Africa, many roads lead to boerekos. We chose the N7, the tar artery connecting Cape Town and Namibia. After winter rains, the barren land along the way – known as Namaqualand – bursts into spectacular, botanical hotspot bloom. The floral diversity here is unique.
Also unique is the local food.
Boerekos, or “farmers’ food,” is eaten where Afrikaans is spoken. Its epitome is considered the bord kos, a plate of food, which implies vleis, rys, aartappels en pampoen. That’s meat (usually lamb), rice, potatoes and pumpkin. At its deft best it speaks of the region. At its worst it is overcooked and uniformly sweet.
We sampled many bords of kos (some of which shall remain nameless) on our 1,200-mile flower trip, and we discovered other regional specialties along the way. In spring, the Namaqualand and Hantam regions come out of hibernation and into life, while visitors stream in to see the blommetjies. They must be fed, and boerekos booms.
Hopefield Wild Flower Show
In the wheatfields of the Swartland, a region of flatlands and gentle hills in the Western Cape, Hopefield holds a wildflower show every August. In a sports club hall, a team of women behind a steam table serves plates (R70) of skaapskenkelpastei – lamb shank pie, spiced with cloves – with waterblommetjie bredie, a rich lamb stew of the Western Cape, where pools of winter rainwater host this aquatic plant (Aponogeton distachyos); the tart flowers are eaten. For dessert, pannekoek (R6), or crêpes, are made to order: blonde or brown, crunchy with cinnamon and sugar.
In a field of flowers, the Skilpad Padstal feeds Namaqualand National Park visitors. Roosterkoek (bread rolls baked over coals but occasionally in an oven) arrive with dark moskonfyt, jam made from hanepoot (Muscat) and grated cheddar cheese. The combination (R11) is divine. The roosterkoek’s white stripes and pale sides give away its oven provenance.
Near the Skilpad entrance to Namaqualand National Park, the tiny Pannekoek Paleis is run by mother and daughter-in-law team Rachel van den Heever and Oulene van Wyk, who farm 10km away. The Paleis is open until the flowers fade and the bergwind begins to blow. After pannekoek (R6), Oulene tempts us with vetkoek (R15). The doughnut-like roll is cut and stuffed with a curry of hand-ground lamb. Have we tasted the local lamb yet? she asks. We have not. It is exceptional, she says, in Afrikaans. We eat the tender vetkoek an hour later, speeding back south on the N7 towards Vanrhysndorp. Why did we buy only two?
Hantam Huis, Calvinia
Calvinia’s historic Hantam Huis serves waterblommetjie bredie, mutton pie, offal curry and skilpadjies (“tortoises” – but not: actually, lamb’s liver wrapped in caul fat). We order half-moons of springbok pie with salad (R65). The venison is fine and soft and sweet with cloves. The salads are the boerekos version (where no fresh leaf dare show its face): sweet and sour beets and onions, grated carrot and potato with curry. The gift shop supplies us with more rusks and locally farmed rooibos tea.
In Vanrhynsdorp, on the edge of the Knersvlakte, Die Skoorsteentjie promises tuisnywerhede – homemade goods. Inside we find boerebeskuit, mosbeskuit (rusks), melktert (milktart), koeksisters (braided dough, deep-fried and soaked in syrup), hanepoot raisins and skuinskoek, or sideways cake; these are made from mosbolletjie (a caraway-flavored soft bread) dough and deep-fried. Marie Coetzee, who co-owns the shop with her daughter, Annelien, says that all the products here are made in home kitchens in the region. We share a koeksister, whose golden-dry crust holds back a dam of syrup and bursts when you bite.
Visitors to a waterfall outside Nieuwoudtville, on the R357, are fed by local entrepreneurs. Elsie Claassen prepares roosterkoek (R8) and boerewors (R15) over a fire. As she turns the black-striped bread (the coal-cooked iteration is sometimes called a streepmuis, “striped mouse”), she dictates her own recipe for skuinskoek (R25 for a bag) to two customers. We return another day for the boerewors, and again for Elsie’s smokily delicious rolls to take on the long drive back to Cape Town, stopping to eat them with farm butter and grated biltong.
Inside Lekkerbek, a wooden hut on the main street of Nieuwoudtville, André Groenewald apologizes for a power outage. Mr. Groenewald speaks with the brei of Namaqualand, a French rolled “r,” and tells me he wakes at four every morning to bake the cakes, loaves and pies that line his shelves. In the semi-dark to which South Africans are becoming accustomed (Eskom, the national power provider, is limping), we pounce on jars of boeremeisies (“Boer girls”) and Kaapsejongens (“Cape gentlemen”), apricots and hanepoots preserved in witblits (“white lightning”) syrup, both R60. The now-familiar skuinskoek (R30) are the best we have tried – tender, light, not too sweet, the anise singing.
(Pannekoek Paleis photo by Vincent Mounier, all other photos by Marie Viljoen)