Something on the side on the wide Karoo stoep

Something on the side on the wide Karoo stoep
Karoo stoep. (Photo: Juanita Swart on Unsplash)

No matter how fine the main event at a Karoo braai or supper, what goes on the side table always has you going back for more.

Cars pull up and people traipse into the old Karoo homestead, and within minutes a table for 12 on a wide old stoep is filled with happy locals mingling their English and Arfrikaans like you do in the Karoo.

Often a Karoo stoep is broad enough to house a 12-seater or even bigger, with plenty of room for the braai itself and side tables too. The host puts out cold salads of pasta or rice studded with vegetables and nuts; beetroot pickle; carrot and orange, and the inevitable coleslaw. And the coleslaw bowl is always empty at the end of it.

Elbows rub or knock into each other as spoons dig in, with attendant small talk and compliments to whoever brought this or that, because you never arrive empty-handed.

Always, when you’re first invited, the next thing spoken is: “What can I bring?” And there’s a discernible air of disappointment if you say: “No, nothing, everything’s taken care of.” It feels impolite in the small towns of the great plains to decline such an offer. You offer because you want to play a role in what goes on the tables, and you should be allowed to bring something. But even if you say no, something will be brought along, most likely a jar of a relish or pickle.

As you walk into the lounge or onto the stoep or braai werf, your eye takes in who else is there. Almost inevitably, everyone knows at least two or three people at the table even though you were all invited separately without a clue as to who else might be there.

Often you feel you’ve stepped back in time. I remember one gathering where the old-school Big Gun cold side dishes arrived one by one as every person invited brought something. It was a very special occasion and we all knew our host had gone to a lot of trouble with the main event. The feast of treats brought along included jellied terrines straight out of the Seventies, chilled moulds of beetroot or tuna, slaphakskeentjies, Peppermint Crisp and Cremora tarts, blancmanges, malva puddings and much more besides.

The other night we were at Neville and Carl’s and everyone had brought something. You weren’t sure what to take because Carl was making chicken akhni, which is why you were drooling even in the car on your way over because it is one of your favourite Cape Town dishes and Carl, being from Cape Town once upon a distant time, knew exactly how to make this splendid Cape speciality. In the end you decided on a chilli chutney you ran up that morning. But nothing was going to be a match for that akhni, which turned out even more spectacular than you could have hoped for.

But for the rest it was all about what went on the side. The sambals and chutneys, the pickles and salads. That’s always the thing at a Karoo supper or braai of the convivial kind, when people pull in, conversation always turns ribald and gossipy, and ears burn elsewhere in town and on the farms around. Did you hear / you won’t believe / you lie!

But this was a rare occasion when, quite frankly, any old thing could have been put out, so fine was Carl’s curry, and for a considerable time there was not a single drop of gossip to be savoured as everyone chowed down. 

For another gathering not too long ago I decided to make coleslaw, because there’s hardly anything with which it will not go. Even a curry, although for Carl’s akhni evening I had made a chilli chutney. But I wanted to make this coleslaw special, to make it stand out from the ubiquitous shredded cabbage and carrot with shop-bought mayo stirred in.

There’s nothing wrong with that, and all of the above did in fact go in, but there was more, and that’s where I hoped the wow factor would reside.

The chilli chutney was inspired by a gift of 20 bishop’s hat chillies, plucked from a big bush at our local plant nursery. Here’s what I did with those. Find my Karoo Koleslaw recipe here. DM/TGIFood


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  • David Bristow says:

    Just FYI, I use your intro about the piano in the passageway (was it at the Hofmeyr hotel), where you went for lamb chops, as my example in my writing retreats on how to start a good short story – plan to detail kind of thing.

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