Saturday, November 24, 2007

Durban, Diwali, and South African spring weather

5 November 2007

One of the reasons we chose to holiday in Durban this year is that our wedding anniversary and Diwali fell at the same time. Since we always make a getaway out of our anniversary, we thought this would be a good way to celebrate both at the same time.

We spent most of Sunday with Hubby’s family. Sadly, the bulk of the Diwali public celebration took place Saturday night, while we were hurtling down the Escarpment in driving rain and blinding fog, and our sojourn to the beachfront found us wandering through a tent city of half-empty booths, the tens of thousands of revellers of the night before doubtless still sleeping off the painful, lingering results of their earlier revels. After a delicious dinner of lamb chop curry, courtesy my dear mother-in-law, we set off back to the air conditioned comfort of our B&B to sleep away the lingering fatigue from our journey.

This morning dawned overcast and humid.typical for Durban at this time of the year. We had breakfast on the verandah, Hubby seated to have a view of the sea, my vista the dense, jungly foliage of the garden. Our morning consisted of a few minor errands then lunch at Govender’s House of Curries, a takeaway place notable for having won a competition for the best bunny chow in Durban. Hubby ordered a mutton bunny and I asked for a boneless chicken roti roll. (For the uninitiated, a "bunny" is a part of a loaf of unsliced bread, the center white scooped out and then filled with curry. The center piece of bread is then placed on top. A bunny in finger food. A roti roll is like a burrito, a filling of curry wrapped up in a roti, which is similar to a tortilla.) Now, I am not a person who quails at the prospect of hot chilli crossing my tongue. In fact, I regularly enjoy hotter curries than my husband; he grew up eating curry, but I grew up eating Mexican food, which is noted for its heat. What I don’t like is when the heat overwhelms the flavour…when that happens, why not just eat a bucket of chillies and be done with it?

Hubby concurs that his bunny was the best one he had ever eaten. I wish I could say the same for my roti roll. First of all, we paid extra for boneless and I picked at least half a dozen chicken vertebra out of the meat. Second, the chicken was so hot that it had no flavour. It wasn’t hot enough to make my nose run or make me break a sweat, but there was no taste other than the chilli powder. A gross waste of money.

After a bit of shopping in the antique shops of Windermere Road, we went back to the room where, still stuffed with his mutton curry, Hubby took his customary afternoon nap. When it was time for dinner we headed out for Florida Road, determined to drop in on one of the trendy eateries. Hubby was hungry for steak so we selected the Butcher Boys and, as luck would have it, were able to get a table after only about half an hour’s wait.

None of the starters appealed to me and, knowing the upcoming meal would be heavy with meat and potato, I ordered a salad for my starter…a Greek salad, to be exact, one that, according to the menu, consisted of greens, onion, tomato, cucumber, black olives, and dressing. ‘Yum!’ I thought to myself. ‘Black olives, not kalamatas!” I tend to shy away from green salads I have not already seen served up due to an unfortunate propensity of many restaurants for chopping up green peppers into little invisible chunks and scattering them generously over the salad as if they were rose petals for a bride to tread upon. But green peppers were not on the list of ingredients, so I ordered with confidence.

I do not understand why people who prepare food for others so often do not recognize that the quantity of a particularly strongly-flavoured ingredient must be balanced against the quantity of milder ingredients. If you were to make a single-serving salad that included a full teaspoon of chopped garlic, the other ingredients would be rather superfluous, wouldn’t they? After all, what would you be able to taste, other than the garlic? Well, for me, green peppers are like that. I can be happily munching along on a wad of sumptuously dressed lettuce and the moment my teeth crush that little fragment of green pepper, that’s all I can taste.

So, my Greek salad came and the olives were kalamata, which instantly found their way to Hubby’s plate, and the top of the salad was strewn with long strips of red and yellow peppers, kissing cousins to the offensive green. Fortunately they were brightly coloured and did not blend in with the lettuce, so I was able to spot them and get them out of the salad before they contaminated the remaining ingredients with their pungent oils. But pepper strips on a Greek salad?? Since when?

I wasn’t so lucky with dinner. If you were to ask me to list my least favourite vegetables in the world, at the top of the list would be boiled, steamed or creamed spinach and any kind of yellow squash prepared in any manner except as a pumpkin custard pie. I loathe and detest creamed vegetables of any kind, preferring my veg steamed until barely done, then served plain or with just a hint of sweet butter. And the smell of cooked yellow squash makes my stomach…well, let’s just say that the smell has so much power to turn my tummy inside out, I couldn’t even stand the smell of it in the little jars of baby food…none of my kids ever had that nasty yellow stuff shoved in their unwilling little rosebud mouths!

Unfortunately, creamed spinach and puréed butternut squash seem to be the national veg dishes of South Africa, so when we go out to eat, I never leave the veg to chance…whenever possible I order an alternative, even if it is just a salad. So I was pleased to note on the menu that roasted fresh vegetables were available and placed an order, figuring that if roasted chunks of butternut showed up in the mix, I’d just shove them to the side…it’s nigh unto impossible to roast creamed spinach!

And so dinner finally arrived. I found myself again a bit disappointed: I should have ordered the baked potato, as the chips were not fresh (made from frozen potatoes and mealy-grainy textured inside), and my ribs, while tasty, had to be cut apart with a knife and then gnawed roughly off the bone…none of that delicious, decadent, falling-off-the-bone tenderness that I associate with really good ribs. But the jewel in the crown of disappointment was the roasted veg I ordered: carrots, broccoli, slices of courgettes, and pieces of onion shared a bowl with huge chunks of roasted red and yellow pepper! Hubby quickly scooped the offending peppers out of the bowl and onto his plate, but the damage was done. Everything in the bowl tasted like peppers, even the broccoli, a strongly-flavoured vegetable in its own right.

The baked blueberry cheesecake was tasty, although the portions were no more than half the size as those served by Dulcé in Cape Town. But it did make a lovely end to the meal and our stroll back to Bertha is the balmy night air was pleasant.

So now we are back at the B&B, comfortably ensconced in the bed, Hubby reading while I sit here clickety clicking away on the keyboard. Tomorrow, if the sun comes out (we are having extended periods of overcast here), we’ll take the camera and go to the Botanical Gardens, a place I’ve wanted to visit since before my first trip to SA. If it stays overcast, we’ll head for the Victoria Street market for some spice shopping. Mum tells me that Jayshrees is having a sale, and I’d love to make a run at the shoe shops in The Pavilion. We’ll just have to see what tomorrow’s weather brings…

1 comment:

  1. Hi! I like your picture of the hotel balcony and was wondering which hotel you were staying at. It looks a bit like Quarters on Florida Road, but I don't think you can see the sea from there.

    I also went to Butcher Boys while I was in Durban and in all fairness I should say that the steak and jacket potato were top class - I didn't try the french fries and the salad left no impression either way.

    My favourite was the prawn curry at Simply Fish . . .


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