Saturday Kitchen’s Matt Tebbutt is the first to admit he knew next to nothing about South Africa before travelling its length and breadth recently to film a new series for the Good Food channel.
“When I was growing up in the 80s, there was a lot of press about South Africa,” he says, “so you start out with a few preconceptions, but I absolutely loved it. It’s an incredible place with everything going for it: the scenery’s gorgeous, the people are lovely, the food is amazing, the animals are big!”
His culinary tour begins with the Midlands Meander, an 80km road trip that wends through the green belly of KwaZulu-Natal. “The most surprising thing for me was the fact it looked so much like Britain: rolling hills, beautiful countryside and lovely weather… Britain on a good day!”
The region is famous for its craft; the tranquil villages are home to painters, weavers, potters, woodcrafters, metalworkers and leather-workers. “So there are lots of craft shops, galleries and arty bars, restaurants and B&Bs where you can break the journey. You watch the landscape change as you get down to the Durban coast and it gets very tropical and very humid. Suddenly you’ll be driving along with monkeys appearing in the trees.”
Durban is South Africa’s third biggest city and Tebbutt was surprised to find lots of curry on the menu. In the late 1800s, the British colonial authorities transported around 150,000 Indians as indentured labourers who worked on sugarcane plantations, railways and in mines. “They had a huge influence so there’s all kinds of spices and great curries. The most famous dish is bunny chow – bread hollowed out and filled with curry. There’s lots of different stories about how it came about: one is that the Indians used a loaf to carry curry to the plantations.”
Further down the coast in Cape Town, the cuisine is influenced by the Cape Malay community, descended from the Malaysian and Indonesian slaves brought over by the Dutch in the 17th and 18th centuries. “The Cape Malay put a lot of fruit in their food and still use the spices that the slaves brought over. I’d recommend trying bobotie, which is like a shepherd’s pie with a sweet chutney in it that sets off the spices – delicious.
“Cape Town is totally different to the rest of South Africa. It feels very European but it’s also a melting pot of so many different people and cultures. There are amazing restaurants and eating out is a third of the price of what it costs in London.”
It wasn’t just the food that impressed Tebbutt: it was the sheer variety of things to do and see within one country. “It’s diverse because of the history and where the people originate from, but it’s also diverse because it’s so big. It’s a huge country. The Kruger National Park is the size of Wales and that’s just a tiny portion of the north.
I went on the most amazing safari up there, at the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. I got very excited when I saw an impala for the first time and then suddenly you realise they’re everywhere. Then elephants, lions and rhinos turn up – and all these animals are right next to you.”
An elephant in Sabi Sand Game Reserve
As soon as he got home, Tebbutt booked a holiday to South Africa; at the end of June he flew back there and retraced his steps with his family. One of the unexpected highlights was a Rorke’s Drift battlefield tour.
“My son loves history and we live in Wales, so we were interested to learn that the South Wales Borderers were stationed there. We had a superb guide who talked us through the battles with the Zulus. My kids loved the fact that there was something new around every corner in South Africa.”
Matt Tebbutt’s South Africa begins on Monday 14 August, the Good Food channel, 9pm
Radio Times Travel
South Africa, 16-day escorted tour from £2,099pp. South Africa covers an area equivalent to five times the size of Britain, with a climate ranging from temperate, Mediterranean and sub-tropical to desert, it offers spectacular scenery with arguably the finest wildlife on earth and has no less than 11 official languages. What’s included:
- Return scheduled flights from the UK froma selection of regional airports at no additional supplement
- Internal flight to the stunning ‘Garden Route’
- Guided full-day safari in the Kruger National Park, one of the world’s premier game reserves
- Tour of the legendary Zulu War battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift, immortalised in the classic film ‘Zulu!’
- Stay in charming hand-picked three and four-star hotels
- Go whale watching for Southern Right Whales
- Stay in the heart of the fabulously beautiful Western Cape’s Winelands, experiencing a cellar tour and tasting at a 300-year old wine estate
- Visits to the Cape of Good Hope and the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
- Visit Johannesburg’s new Apartheid Museum, a real ‘must’ in understanding present-day South Africa
- Stay three nights in cosmopolitan Cape Town – one of the world’s most naturally beautiful cities, dominated by the instantly recognisable Table Mountain
- Visit the awe-inspiring Blyde River Canyon, the third largest in the world
- Visit the scenically beautiful country of Swaziland
- Daily breakfast and five meals included
- Option to stay a night in a tented safari camp and experience a sunrise bushwalk with an experienced ranger
- Escorted by our experienced tour manager
- Click here for more details and to book
Browse more South Africa tours at travel.radiotimes.com