Eating Authors: Lauren Beukes

No Comments » Written on July 25th, 2011 by
Categories: Plugs

Welcome to the fourth visit with this year’s Campbell Award Nominees as we learn about their favorite meals. All of which should be putting you in mind of some good restaurant-hopping when you get to the World Science Fiction Convention in Reno, NV.

Today, we visit with Lauren Beukes. Lauren is a journalist, a TV scriptwriter, and the fiction editor of Chew the Magazine. She’s also the author of two novels, Zoo City, and Moxyland, as well as the nonfiction book Maverick – Extraordinary Women from South Africa’s Past.

BookTitle Lauren Beukes BookTitle BookTitle

LMS: So tell me, what’s your best, most memorable meal?

JM: ‘Best ever’ questions always throw me. It’s hard to quantify experiences absolutely. The five course meal we had in a trattoria just after we got married, having eloped to a 15th century open-air town hall in a Tuscan village perched on a cliff was amazing, as much for the horror music soundtrack drifting down from the art exhibition of remixed fairytales upstairs as the remarkable food and celebratory proscecco.

But how to rank that against the rugby ball-shaped jackfruit I haggled over in the market of Stone Town, that lasted us six days’ worth of breakfasts in our ramshackle guesthouse in the heart of the city, serenaded by the call to prayer and the thrum of streetlife as we cut into the fruit that tastes like melony banana.

Or the insane goodness of the emergency chocolate crepe near the Pompidou Centre when I was pregnant and my daughter growing inside me made me hysterically ravenous at strange times.

Or the simple cheese roll I had after a day abseiling into caves squeaky with bats in Kalk Bay on assignment for a magazine story on spelunking that tasted like the best thing ever.

It’s impossible to choose just one. So I’m going to write about the most recent best food experience I’ve had, in Grey Street in Durban.

I was in the city for the Time of the Writer festival and my journalist friend, Nechama Brodie, absolutely insisted that I had to meet an architect she’d just interviewed, Richard Stretton and his wife, Angela Shaw. It was a blind date. They came along to a reading I was doing and we went for a drink afterwards and hit it off to the extent that I saw them every day for the duration of the festival.

Most of the time, we were eating; finger snacks at a boutique art hotel, pasta at the hip new Italian restaurant in town, stew at an impromptu dinner party at their home, but the best meal was the Saturday, when Angela took us to the area known as the Casbah, where most nice middle class locals don’t venture, let alone tourists. Boy, are they missing out.

Grey Street Tryp 01

I’d spent time in Joburg’s inner city and the pariah suburb of Hillbrow, researching my novel, Zoo City, so I had some idea what to expect. That the inner city defies easy categorisation and lazy preconceptions. It’s bustling, occasionally hustling and it could be dangerous if you went blundering into dodgy areas at night, but it’s not a hotbed of crime and human scum; it’s a place where ordinary people live and work and do their shopping.

We bought kids’ dresses in bright shesheshwe patterns from street vendors with temporary stalls set up next to Zulu women braaing mealies* on DIY stoves on the pavement, we wandered through sprawling markets and open-air cobbled arcades packed with Internet cafés, stores selling ornate saris, Indian merchants selling blankets and coats and other goods for lobola** and ancient tailors working ancient sewing machines in shops that were 100 years old.

Grey Street Tryp 02

And finally we stopped for lunch. Richard and Angela hunted in vain for the restaurant they used to come to and we decided to take a chance on a dubious-looking hole-in-the-wall on the main drag of Queen street, whose name none of us can now remember. It had plastic-coated seating and curtains round the booths and a star motif and one wimpy desk fan churning in vain against the Durban humidity.

Richard took charge and ordered half the menu – all North Indian dishes – from dhal curry to lamb korma, lamb kebabs and palak paneer, served with naan flat bread and cokes. Our drinks took ages to come. The food took even longer. Probably an hour and I don’t think I’m exaggerating. Finally, it arrived, tossed on to the table unceremoniously by the surly teenage waiter doing his time in the family business.

Grey Street Tryp 03

My husband’s favourite restaurant in Cape Town is Bukhara. We’ve eaten there many times, including on our wedding anniversary. It’s highly reviewed. It’s appropriately expensive. It’s very, very good. Their food can’t touch the fare we had in this pokey little corner café.

It’s impossible to describe how good it was. So impossible, in fact, I now suspect that the restaurant is not real – and that’s why the name escapes us. Because we slipped into another dimension, some kind of Kashmiri Faerie perhaps, where they served us flavours beyond mortal imaginings that would ruin our palates forever. It probably all comes at some terrible yet-to-be-established price.

Whatever that price turns out to be, it was worth it.

* barbequeing corn on the cob
** bride price, a reverse dowry, that’s widely practiced in South Africa.

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Wow, talk about your instant immersion, with pictures no less (courtesy of Angela Shaw)! Thanks, Lauren. I’ll be dreaming about wandering that market and hoping I can find the restaurant.

Next Friday: A special ooops-there-are-five-Campbell-nominees-and-only-four-Mondays-in-July-this-year edition, as we squeeze in our remaining nominee (and meal) just before the voting deadline. Don’t miss it!


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