FROM OUR ARCHIVES | SA cuisine baffled Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain may have bitten off more than he could chew when he tried to clearly define traditional South Africa cuisine on a visit to Joburg in 2013

08 June 2018 - 15:03 By ANDILE NDLOVU
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Anthony Bourdain attends a film premiere on July 17 2017 in New York City.
Anthony Bourdain attends a film premiere on July 17 2017 in New York City.
Image: Roy Rochlin/FilmMagic

US celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, host of CNN’s food-and-travel-focused 'Parts Unknown' television series, has died at the age of 61

In this article from our archives, which was originally published in The Times in 2013, we look back at the time he visited South Africa to film an episode of his show.

We're a big confusing potjie of cultures in this country — so much so that US chef and author Anthony Bourdain  admitted to being left “spectacularly ignorant” about us after  visiting the country in 2013.

Bourdain was in Johannesburg to film an episode for his Emmy Award-winning travel and food show Parts Unknown.

The result is an amusing, hour-long episode which leaves one feeling a strange kind of pride as Bourdain battles with the idiosyncrasies of Johannesburg life.

At the time he shot the episode, Nelson Mandela’s ill health was dominating international headlines and Bourdain was keen to see whether the country was continuing to “make Mandela’s dream a reality”.

He discusses racism, democracy, xenophobia, the ruling ANC, born-frees and even hipsters with local rock band BLK JKS.

He also watches a game between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs at a tavern, savours a sheep’s head, shoots and eats an impala, takes a taxi ride in Soweto and samples food and drink at Braamfontein’s Neighbourgoods Market.

But if he was looking for food that is uniquely ours, à la sushi to Japan or fajitas to Texas/Mexico, he was left somewhat wanting.

He commented: “South Africa, depending on who I talk to, is a completely different construct. To some people, it is whoever comes to South Africa and brings good food along with them.

“To other people it’s all the good stuff from Malaysia, East Indies, the Dutch, the English influence.

“What in this table is originally African and does that even have any meaning?”

Johannesburg chef Andrea Burgener, who is featured on the episode, tried to explain that our food was a “mish-mash”, thanks to the many colonialists.

She said it was difficult it was to convey to  Bourdain what our food was about.

“It was like trying to get a snapshot of something you can’t get a snapshot of,” she said.

“We tried to explain to him that, even in the apartheid days, black and white people ate pap and braaied meat. And our food is such a melting pot [that] it’s bloody impossible to give someone a clear picture.”


“Smileys … fire-roasted sheep’s head … chopped into tasty bits and eaten with cold beers? Yes, of course, yes … just needs a little salt and pepper.”

•“You should probably know that the word ‘taxi’ in Soweto means something different to New York. Johannesburg has a system of hand signals indicating desired routes of travel.”

•“Now there is a definite cachet to living in Soweto. A real pride of having been at the centre of things, when it was hard and dangerous to have an opinion. Look at the streets here and you see what that kind of pride does. It may not be a rich area, but it’s immaculate. Squared away; an emerging middle class coming up.”

•“The Boers, as they were known, came in the 1600s, and if nothing else can be said about them; they were a tough bunch of bastards.”

•“But look … meat! You want to see an expat South African weep, wave some of this under their nose … biltong.”

•“This is my ancestral homeland?” — on the Cradle of Humankind.

•“Meat on the plate, blood on my pants, life is good.”

•“I came to this country spectacularly ignorant; I will leave here spectacularly ignorant.”

•“I like it ... I’m comfortable here [South Africa]. I like a country where people have a sense of humour.”

•“What did I know about South Africa before I came here? Exactly nothing, as it turns out. But I think based on what I’ve seen is that if they can get it right here, a country with a past like South Africa’s, if they can figure out how to make it work here for everybody, absorb all the people flooding in from Africa, continue to make Mandela’s dream a reality, maybe there is hope for the rest of us.”

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