SEA, SAND & STRUDEL

For a coun­try al­most en­tirely cov­ered in sand and rock, Namibia has an un­ex­pect­edly de­li­cious side. So make 2019 the year you fi­nally take that road trip and gorge your­self on af­ford­able oys­ters, lo­cal game, Ger­man pas­tries and great lo­cal beer

Woolworths TASTE - - Contents - PHO­TO­GRAPHS MELANIE VAN ZYL AND GETTY IM­AGES TEXT MELANIE VAN ZYL

Hit the long road to Namibia and fill up on sur­pris­ingly af­ford­able food and drink, from oys­ters at just R11 a pop to the ap­ple pie you’re go­ing to want as pad­kos.

It’s easy to for­get

you’re in the desert when you’re de­vour­ing plat­ters

of oys­ters with a good South African

Chardon­nay”

NAMIBIA

has al­ways been de­fined by the Namib, which trans­lates as “vast place”, a name given to this coastal desert by the in­dige­nous Nama peo­ple. It has also been called the Land God Made in Anger and a “sh*thole coun­try” by a cer­tain US pres­i­dent.

It’s never been ranked high as a food des­ti­na­tion though, which is strange when you know what I know about the culi­nary de­lights on of­fer.

Let’s start in the coastal town of Lüderitz. A white Hol­ly­wood-style sign on the hill­side wel­comes me to this odd lit­tle out­post, which I’ve cho­sen for two rea­sons. Num­ber one is the de­serted, much pho­tographed, di­a­mond-min­ing town of Kol­man­skop. Stand­ing here at dawn, early rays sparkling off the sand, it’s easy to see how Namibia earned its name. What used to be a bustling, wealthy town has been re­claimed by the desert. I wan­der the sandy ru­ins and won­der how a ghost town comes to be – what made ev­ery­one dis­ap­pear?

The Ghost Town Tour only starts at 9.30 am so I or­der a cup of cof­fee topped with a sweet foam spray of cream, and a freshly baked lemon meringue pie in what used to be Kol­man­skop’s Cham­pagne Bar. This is break­fast, ghost-town style.

Later, on the tour, I learn that the first di­a­mond was dis­cov­ered here in 1908 and ex­ploita­tion of these glit­ter­ing dunes started im­me­di­ately. The first min­ers built the im­pres­sive vil­lage, sand­wiched be­tween the sea and the sand, repli­cat­ing the ar­chi­tec­tural style of a tra­di­tional Ger­man town. There was a ball­room, school, bowl­ing al­ley, casino and even an ice fac­tory. Back then, in the mid­dle of the desert, you could find the south­ern hemi­sphere’s first X-ray sta­tion, ice and Cham­pagne. And the last two go per­fectly with the sec­ond rea­son for vis­it­ing.

From ghosts to gourmet … mod­ern­day Lüderitz is the place to get your fix of Namibia’s non-in­dige­nous but de­lec­ta­ble oys­ters. Oys­ter farm­ing started in the town al­most 30 years ago and the mol­luscs are now one of Namibia’s big­gest ex­ports. Luck­ily, not all of them leave the coun­try. You can also en­joy them di­rect from the source (a.k.a. the lo­cal Seaflower fac­tory) at the hum­ble Diaz Cof­fee Shop. Here, in a small back room lined with a wall of wine bot­tles, chairs fash­ioned from old or­ange buoys and ta­bles made from dis­used kreef traps, you can in­dulge your oys­ter fan­tasies at an af­ford­able R11 a pop. Each shell holds a per­fect morsel along with a lit­tle clear liquor, the of­fi­cial name for oys­ter juice. I eas­ily swal­low 10, sea­soned with just a dash of Tabasco.

The menu also of­fers a va­ri­ety of cooked oys­ters, loaded with but­ter and gar­lic or chilli, plus some in­cred­i­ble cala­mari. A plate of ten­der, per­fectly grilled rings sea­soned with lemon and black pep­per and served with chips will set you back a mere R25.

It’s easy to for­get you’re in the desert when you’re de­vour­ing plat­ters of oys­ters with a good South African Chardon­nay, but back on the road to­wards Aus the harsh land­scape quickly re­stores re­al­ity. White sand blows across the tar and in the dis­tance I can see a small herd of the Namib Desert horses that call this se­vere wilder­ness home. Like the Ger­man ex­pats of Kol­man­skop once did, they have some­how carved out a home in the desert, sur­viv­ing on next to noth­ing.

Next up is the iconic Sos­susvlei.

First, I take a drive to Dune 45, so named be­cause it is

45 km and 45 min­utes from the gate that marks the en­trance to the NamibNauk­luft Na­tional Park. Un­like the road to Lüderitz, the sand that shapes the enor­mous dunes here is grape­fruit-skin or­ange, chang­ing tone as the sun sets to bet­ter re­sem­ble the flesh of the fruit. I trudge up the spine of a dune where

I’m re­warded with a jaw-drop­ping panorama of the world’s old­est desert.

Camp­ing in the Na­tional Park at Ses­riem is ba­sic and the food menu of­fers typ­i­cal toasties and other unimag­i­na­tive pub grub, but the town’s only fuel sta­tion serves up a sur­prise. After fix­ing a slow punc­ture (these gravel roads ap­pear tame, but of­ten strike a leak into even the hardi­est 4x4 tyres) I gaze through the glass at the dis­play counter, set­tling on a spring­bok sausage roll. The pas­try is

fluffy and the con­tents per­fectly spiced. This is no fac­tory pie.

Sadly, after spend­ing the morn­ing at Dead­vlei and climb­ing the wall of sand that sur­rounds Sos­susvlei, I find that

I don’t have time for my planned de­tour to the nearby desert win­ery, Neuras Wine Es­tate. Dis­ap­pointed to be miss­ing out on an un­usual wine tast­ing – they are known for their Shi­raz and a Mer­lot, Shi­raz and Petit Ver­dot blend – I con­sole my­self with an­other sausage roll to go. As you do.

Luck­ily, there’s a sen­sa­tional star suite await­ing me at the Dune Star Camp to ease my dis­tress. This eco-friendly, off-the-grid ex­pe­ri­ence comes at a great rate for South Africans, and each of the nine units at the in­ti­mate satel­lite camp fea­tures a dou­ble bed on wheels, so you can roll it out onto the deck for a night un­der the stars.

But first things first. Din­ner. As is the case in any Namib­ian lodge worth its salt, oryx steak is on the menu. Ten­der and pink in the mid­dle, it re­minds me of os­trich and is de­li­cious with the lo­cal brew, a cold glass of Tafel lager – a meal that re­minds me a lot of home.

Cof­fee is brought to my suite early the next morn­ing so that I can ex­pe­ri­ence the lux­ury of watch­ing the dawn from be­neath the cov­ers, the ris­ing sun grad­u­ally spread­ing its rays across the sands. In this sprawl­ing land­scape, it re­ally does feel as if time has slowed down.

But my jour­ney con­tin­ues to the set­tle­ment of Soli­taire, where I find Namibia’s busiest bak­ery. Fra­grant with the smell of home-baked goods made fresh ev­ery day, Mc­Gre­gor’s Bak­ery is lo­cated be­side an old trad­ing store and fuel sta­tion, lit­tered with rusted clas­sic cars, decades of char­ac­ter and, more of­ten than not, a park­ing lot full of 4x4 ve­hi­cles. The draw­card? Moose’s ap­ple pie. A Scot­tish ad­ven­turer who found his

As is the case in any Namib­ian lodge worth its salt, oryx steak is on the menu. Ten­der and pink, it is de­li­cious with

the lo­cal brew”

way to Namibia, Percy Cross Mc­Gre­gor (known as Moose), baked this treat for trav­ellers for over 20 years. Although he’s no longer with us, Moose’s fa­mous ap­ple pie recipe lives on and con­tin­ues to pull crowds. Now there’s also berry pie, an ar­ray of sweet pas­tries and wood-fired pizza (if you’ve got time to spare).

Mc­Gre­gor’s Bak­ery is the half­way point on my road trip and the sin­gle heavenly slice of apfel­strudel re­minds me what I’ve learnt so far. Namibia was colonised by Ger­many after 1884 and de­spite the rel­a­tively short pe­riod of oc­cu­pa­tion, 30 years was all it took to leave a last­ing im­pres­sion – beer and strudel are just the begin­ning.

In Swakop­mund, it’s easy to see

the Bavar­ian in­flu­ence.

The streets are lined with half-tim­bered Ger­man ar­chi­tec­ture and Lonely Planet likens this sea­side oa­sis to hol­i­day towns along Ger­many’s North Sea and Baltic coasts. It’s un­de­ni­ably quaint and de­light­fully pedes­trian friendly after hav­ing spent so much time in the car.

I walk to Slow­town Cof­fee Roast­ers at the bot­tom of Daniel Tjon­garero Av­enue, which op­er­ates with a 100% Namib­ian team. Chic and trendy, there’s iced cof­fee, pasteis de nata, cheese­cake and more on the chalk­board menu, plus won­der­ful views of the light­house.

From the prom­e­nade, Swakop­mund feels like a beachside par­adise, but the sur­round­ing sands of the Namib-Nauk­luft Na­tional Park mean it’s still un­de­ni­ably a desert des­ti­na­tion.

For din­ner, it’s an easy stroll to one of the rep­utable eater­ies over­look­ing the sea. There are three res­tau­rants from which to choose (seafood, pub-style grub and whole­some farm deli), but I opt for The Fish Deli after read­ing about it in in­ter­na­tional travel mag­a­zine AFAR.

Feel­ing a lit­tle oys­tered out, I choose some­thing more un­usual from the menu – a red curry cala­mari stir-fry.

Gen­er­ously por­tioned and beau­ti­fully pre­sented, my plate is the per­fect rep­re­sen­ta­tion of what this restau­rant is all about: ev­ery­thing is lo­cally sourced, with bright and ap­peal­ing colours and flavours that are re­fresh­ingly in­ter­na­tional yet still un­mis­take­ably Namib­ian.

My last meal also proves there are many un­ex­pected pock­ets of de­li­cious­ness to be found in this coun­try, even “in the mid­dle of nowhere”.

36 TASTE JAN/FEB 2019

TASTE JAN/FEB 2019 107

Slow­town Cof­fee Roast­ersroasts green cof­fee beans toper­fec­tion in Swakop­mund.

Sun­rise views over the edge of the Namib Desert from theDune Star Camp.

Clock­wise from top left: Fish­ing nets and fresh seafood can be found at Diaz Cof­fee Shop; gen­er­ous dol­lops of lemon curd topped with ghostly meringue at the Ghost Town Tav­ern; bright seat­ing at Swakop­mund’s Fish Deli; Slow­townCof­fee Roast­ers looks out over Swakop­mund's iconic light­house; pair your cof­fee with Slow­town's fresh pas­tries.

Soak up the stars from the com­fort of your bed at the Dune Star Camp.

Clock­wise from top left: Spend sun­set ad­mir­ing boats in the quiet Lüderitz water­front; don't let the poly­styrene fool you, this is Namibia’s best ap­ple pie; a cheer­ful break­fastnook at Swakop­mund’s bright ho­tel, The De­light; red curry cala­mari stir-fry at the Fish Deli; when the desert over­whelms, or­der iced cof­fee in­stead of a flat white.

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