Escape from lockdown and something new under the Karoo sun

Escape from lockdown and something new under the Karoo sun
Camdeboo restaurant at the Drostdy Hotel in Graaff-Reinet. The indoor dining room is massive, and there's a terrace decked with French bistro chairs too. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Doodvreters, anybody? No? I didn’t know what they were either. I do now.

Graaff-Reinet again, after five months of lockdown and as many moons of scarcely leaving the front gate. And what do we find? Doodvreters. That’s what.

Now look, I’m not as young as I was (who is?), so I don’t expect to encounter new things all that often. Yet there they are, in the fridge at Merino, my favourite Graaffies butchery. Slim – bacon-thin – rashers of brisket, spiced and ready for the braai. Literally as skinny as a bacon rasher. And the lady with the overall and mask urges: “You must cook them on the braai, but very quickly sir, very quick.”

I google, and there is nothing. A worldwide dearth of gen about doodvreters. So I need to rely on you lot out there to enlighten us further please. Let me know at [email protected] and we’ll make doodvreters famous.

I also bought a lovely slab of brisket, so that is headed either for the new buffet casserole this weekend or the potjie (keep an eye on our daily Lockdown Recipes next week to find out which).

Our first respite from lockdown was the Drostdy, the smart hotel near the heart of “Karoo Stellenbosch”, as I sometimes call this lovely old dorp. We’d been invited back by manager Janus Schoeman, and we arrived to find a hotel community in mourning. André Kilian, who had been CEO of the SA College for Tourism in Graaff-Reinet, had died suddenly just days before, and Schoeman and his team were preparing for the wake to follow his funeral. This was clearly not merely a functionary duty for the personable Schoeman, who was very close to Kilian and was to deliver a speech during the event. 

The college is a splendid venture, and many of its students now work in the town’s hospitality ventures, including many of the staff of the hotel. The Peace Parks foundation website explains that it was the idea of Dr Anton Rupert for the college “to grant opportunities to learners from rural areas in member states of the Southern African Development Community – and so break the poverty cycle. Most students to the college are also from areas where Peace Parks Foundation works, and the hope is that they may return home to these areas and cater well for visitors to these transfrontier conservation areas”. That is as perfect an example of meaningful change as one could hope to find, an idea, put into practice, that changes lives at the foundation, creating skills, professions and work, for life.

The hotel staff plodded on, performing their duties, despite their grief at the loss of a man that everybody here loved and respected. We’re only there for one night, for dinner and to sleep over, and Janus has put us in a suite in the old house that was home to GT Ferreira, co-founder of FirstRand Bank and chairman of RMI Holdings. He’s 44 on the Forbes list and I ponder, wryly, that it’s the closest some of us will come to that kind of wealth. Not that I’d have a clue what to do with it.

While there I wanted to see what measures a hotel is putting in place for customers worried about safety during the pandemic, and the evidence of intensive and constant sanitisation is everywhere. Staffers go in and out of rooms, sanitising paraphernalia in hand, and I did not feel for a second that anything in the suite might be unsafe to touch. Even so, sprays are provided all over the place.

I was sceptical at first of having been handed a menu in the old way (I’d thought there might be a QR code to scan), but every table in their Camdeboo restaurant had a Charlotte Rhys hand sanitiser alongside the flower decoration, salt and pepper and whatnot, and the choice of a stylish product looked perfectly in place on a posh restaurant table.

A restaurant table setting of the Covid era. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Every time we touched a menu we could sanitise immediately, and I can’t say it’s not a fair solution. Sanitised cutlery arrived for each course wrapped in a sanitised damask napkin, staff wore masks properly at all times, and the layout of tables meant no other customers were within three or four metres of you. It’s a huge dining room, and tables were spaced well apart even before the pandemic.

Executive Chef Jason Fortuin and sous chef Carel Enslin’s mutton curry. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

There were two specials of the day at Camdeboo, a starter of an intensely delicious mushroom soup, and a main of mutton curry. This was made with local lamb and had been cooked slowly over much time with no water added at all, executive chef Jason Fortuin choosing rather to let the meat cook in its own juices. I’m fussy about my lamb and mutton curries, and I was a happy customer. With it were a pineapple relish, a tomato and onion sambal that had steeped overnight, and mint yoghurt.

The checking in and checking out procedures had been all about safety. Separate containers for pens (you take a sanitised pen out of one container and put it into another once used, the same for hotel card keys), much hand spraying and plenty of form filling before you were shown your room.

Merino butchery called me, as it always does, before we drove out of town. I went in on spec “just to see if they have anything interesting” and emerged 15 minutes later with a joint of prime rib of beef for roasting, oxtail, a lovely piece of brisket for a whole-day slow-roast, a slab of beef short rib, a pack of their delicious pork bangers, and the newly discovered doodvreters.

That night, back home, they went on the grid over super-hot coals for barely two minutes. I turned them and found that they’d cooked right through to the other side, so I left them on the second side for only as many seconds as it took for some of the fat to drip off. They’re fatty and carry a whack of flavour and were so, so tender that I wish now, the next morning, that I’d bought a load more to freeze and bring out for a summer of braais.

My mate in town says they’re actually slivers of short rib, even though the butchery maintained they were brisket. In truth, those are almost the same thing, the short rib being right alongside the slightly thicker brisket. Now to explain to my local butchers what they are and get them to cut some for me. I’ll design my own marinade and make them a braai-side snack. It’s never too late to discover something new under the Karoo sun. DM/TGIFood


Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted