Cape Town: Dinner at Mama Africa
By Irfan Ahmad
The bed sheets felt fresh and crisp. The duvet was inviting. The heavenly bed seemed heavenly. After a 10 hour flight to Cape Town, sleep was what I craved. But a hungry stomach had other designs on my time. I went down to the Westin’s restaurant and ordered Tom Yom soup and a veggie pizza. The strange combination reflected the state I was in.
The Westin Grand Cape Town is located close to the waterfront on Long Street and is adjacent to the glass and steel modern Cape Town Convention Centre. Walking away from the waterfront towards upper Long Street you go past some highrise office blocks and then enter an area which seems to be one of the most happening places in Cape Town. Restaurants and bars are interspersed with internet cafes and shops selling antiques and beads. Bookshops and clothing stores compete with the Pan African Market for tourist dollars.
But it was almost 7 pm and most of the shops we walked past were shuttered. The sun’s last rays were disappearing and traffic on Long Road was sparse.
A mere ten minutes walk from the swanky Westin Grand were a string of budget hostels. Long Street Backpackers, Two Ocean Backpackers and Backpackers on Castle were settling in for the evening with their catch of travelers on a shoestring. I wonder how many tourists Backpackers on Castle managed to attract with its billboard claiming that they offered hot showers, towels and fresh beddings. Towels and fresh beddings? Are there some establishments which offer beds with the slept in feel: smell the sweat of previous customers and use this towel that is eco-friendly and has never been washed! Alhamdolillah we were staying in a decent hotel!
Mama Africa is located on Long Street next to Nyoni’s Kraal restaurant and opposite Nando’s – the famous South African grilled, peri-peri chicken chain.
The zebra striped jacket wearing doorman at Mama Africa gives you a toothy welcome smile and ushers you in to candlelit interiors.The lacquered wooden dining tables have an earthy look in contrast to the yellow, purple, green and blue painted wooden chairs which we sat on. A quick look at the menu and we know that we are in Africa - starters include Crocodile Mama Africa and wild game kebabs. And the main course has their famous Wild Game mixed grill of kudu, ostrich, crocodile and springbok. While others try to decide between ostrich filets and Mama’s crocodile kebabs, I look at the seafood and vegetarian section of the menu and settle in for Mama’s catch – grilled fish with vegetables and rice with Schweppes lemonade.
I envy the succulent looking Wild Game mixed grill when it arrives and look at my colleagues wash it down with their Windbock lager. And as the odds usually have it in such get togethers, it had to be somebody’s birthday. No cake. Just binge drinking – with one enthusiastic dude who tries to impress everyone by downing nine shots in a row. Thankfully no puke followed!
We had all heard stories about how unsafe Cape Town’s streets are at night so we asked our local South African hosts if we should take a taxi back to the hotel or just leg it. A non-committal, “It is safe but do not blame us for suggesting that you walk,” was what we got from them. Perhaps because most everyone was inebriated and had a false sense of security in numbers, a dozen of us decided to walk.
The taxis outside the restaurant were ignored and the Public Safety guard’s presence reassured us that everything would be fine. It was – until we crossed the road and walked for a couple of minutes. Long Street was eerily quiet. There were no more bars and restaurants. Just rows of shuttered shops. A beggar appeared with a bowl in his hand and pushed it in front of my face. I ignored him. He walked with us. We were walking three in a row. He came between us. Instinctively, we all tried to feel our pockets for our wallets and mobile phones. His request for food and money sounded like a threat. We walked faster.
Suddenly a group of three people came towards us. They stared at the camera in my hand. My strides became longer. The hotel was still far away. Why didn’t we take the taxi? They walked past us and then turned back and followed us. I clenched my fists and prepared myself for the inevitable fight that was to follow. I noticed that my colleagues were not keeping pace with the four of us who were leading the way. We stopped for the others to join us. There was strength in numbers. Three muggers would not take on a dozen people. And they did not.
We were getting closer to the hotel and had the urge to run. Another beggar came out of the shadows and broke thru our ranks. We again felt our pockets. The reassuring bulge of the wallet inside was replaced with the thought that I had just inadvertently pointed out to the beggar where my wallet was. My hand stayed by my side while we ignored the pedestrian warning lights and crossed the road. There were no cars and we figured the chances of being hit by a speeding car were lower than that of standing and getting mugged.
We finally reached the hotel. That was the longest ten minutes walk I had ever taken.
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