Today is my goddaughter and namesake, Julia Kristin King’s 21st birthday. In honour of that auspicious occasion I wanted to post a commentary on how food is such a rich part of our memory banks. Traditions form part of that, with classic dishes at holiday time and family favourites forming a part of your young palate. As you grow and travel, more flavours are added, and the experiences you share around a table throughout your life become a very important part of who you are. If you’re like me and other gourmands, those memories become something you cherish and work to share as a passion. My trip to South Africa many years ago when I first met Julia and reunited with her mom, one of my first travel companions, is one of my favourite experiences for many reasons, food being a major one.
South Africa is a nation rich with food history, being a conglomerate of so many cultures. Its position as a central point in the Dutch spice trade in the 17th and 18th centuries enhanced its exotic nature, as ships brought all manner of foodstuffs to the settlers who had come with their own cultures. Europeans from the Netherlands, France, Belgium, and Germany came and contributed their food and wine cultures full of cream sauces, stews, roasted meat and more. Then there were the Malays with tastes reminiscent of India, full of aromatic spices and hot curries. The abundance of seafood combined with the range animals settlers encouraged provided a rich bounty and the cuisine flourished with all manner of flavours.
I tasted cured meat called biltong, a variation on our beef jerky that is wonderful. I had fish that I had never seen or heard of before, under a starry sky that contained constellations unfamiliar to me as well. Such is the thrill of eating in another hemisphere. I savoured Cape Brandy Pudding at the top of Table Mountain, and felt as though I had received a worthy prize for my efforts indeed. I also had the simple Milk Tart and could imagine the simple life of early Dutch farmers working the land.
Even picnics were incredible in a new country – I had pizza and local wine on the beach at Cape Town and dipped my toes into the South Atlantic Ocean for the first time. Food on a paper plate never tasted so good! We went wine touring as well, and had a picnic at Boschendal wine estate, on sprawling grounds with ponds, geese and beautiful shade trees.
Of course, anyone who has travelled and eaten a special meal knows of what I speak – the same food never tastes as magic as it does in the midst of that memory. But the thrill of new memories sends us out again, back to old haunts and in search of new ones.
I shall see my pal and my goddaughter again this spring, when I visit them in the U.K. for Julia’s 21st birthday party and her parents’ 25th wedding anniversary. Nearly 30 years of friendship across the planet will also be celebrated, and I’m sure I will have more recipes to add to this collection!