Revered food scribe Tony Jackman describes the enchanting flavours of the Karoo as “robust, hearty, genuine and unpretentious”.
The convener of the inaugural Potjie Master competition at the SPAR Karoo Food Festival believes the local cuisine is “virtually indefinable” to outsiders “but, if you live in the Karoo, you know what it is”.
While the Eastern Cape region’s gastronomic tradition will always retain an air of mystery, visitors to the 10th edition of the festival in Cradock from April 27 to 30 will have every opportunity to unlock what makes it such fabled fare.
Getting right into heart of the matter on the Thursday evening, meat lovers can experience a braai with a difference at the sit-down Karoo op die Kole event.
Festival co-organiser Lisa Ker said although the region was renowned for being “meaty”, that vegetarians and those with a sweet tooth would also have plenty of local delicacies to sample at the Karoo Street Party on the Friday.
She said one of the star attractions would be foodie Barbara Weitz from the Ibis Lounge in Nieu-Bethesda, who “does a lot of foraging and makes the most beautiful food”.
On her part, Weitz promised to whet the appetites of her fellow foodies by offering “a little bit of everything”.
“There will be something savoury, something sweet and something that ticks all the boxes.”
She explained that she incorporated the medicinal plants of the area into her dishes to make them “super fun”.
These plants provide the different flavour profiles instead of the usual herbs like rosemary or parsley. Expect a pinch of Wilde-als, Kankerbos or wild mint.
Being part of the Karoo’s slow food community was very important to Weitz as it allowed them to get back to their roots by growing and preparing their own food.
Adrienne Southey from the Rabbit Hole Karoo Venue is another who is set to entice adventurous taste buds with vegetables from her own garden, while Rockdale Abattoir will offer lamb chops and tails as well as its famous skilpadjies.
Festivalgoers can expect the sizzling of sausages and the aromas of potjies and spitbraais floating about the main street throughout. Also on the menu is a host of chicken curries.
Ker said the “incredible samoosas” by one of the town’s street hawkers were an experience not to be missed.
Sweets include locally-made macaroons, candy floss and koeksisters.
Of course, no food festival is complete without tasting the grape.
Ronelle Wright, owner of Le Barrique wines, said festivalgoers would experience something “very different” in terms of her selection.
“It’s not wine you can get in liquor stores yet, but they are really affordable. I have from Wellington, Worcester, Franschhoek, Paarl, Stellenbosch and even an imported Prosecco.
“We have negotiated special prices so we can come to Cradock and give people value for money.”
Wines as well as flavoured vodka and gin will be available at the street party. Gin and wine tastings will also be held throughout the weekend, including a pairing evening on the Friday.
“On Saturday we are hosting a high tea with a difference,” said Wright. “It will be all about bubbles, with a real MCC and Prosecco. I will also do the sabrage, where you slice off the cork with a sword.”
Jackman referred to the inaugural potjie competition at Jenkins Creek on the Sunday as “a bit of tension along with the fun”.
“There’s will be a kitchen with a selection of SPAR products; meat and vegetables and perhaps a few other things,” he explained.
“We are going to make it quite tough but in an entertaining way. Team members will be taken into the kitchen early on to choose their ingredients.
“Although they might have done some pre-planning, they will be bound by what’s available.”
There won’t be an abundance of each ingredient, which means not everyone will cook the same thing and Jackman believed this would give the competition “a bit of an edge”.
Entries close on Wednesday, April 26, but aspirant potjie masters have until the Friday to pay their deposit.