Wolf-wrestling is bad for your health. But not for the reasons you’d imagine.

 

Like the pyramids. Not a waste.

I once saw an insert on one of those awful travelogue-type programs that typically feature some ruggedly handsome, but still somehow inescapably smarmy, type person swanning around in Gondolas and musing endlessly about ‘faded glamour’ or some other crap. My usual reaction to these shows is to immediately attempt a recreation of the time my somewhat addled granddad beat the shit out of his TV with an 8-iron because he didn’t like the newsreader’s face (which, come to think about it, is probably the sanest reaction to the news I’ve heard in a while). The only problem being that this time I was actually intrigued enough to pause with the golf-club in hand because for once, the guy-with-a-face-like-a-cartoon-fish was actually saying something interesting. Balls.

It turns out that in the Czech republic, one of the more typical bar-snacks is called ‘beer cheese’. What happens is that a lump of cheese is brought to the bar in a saucer with some hunks of bread, beer is poured into the saucer and then the cheese is mashed up into it with a fork to make kind of a cheese/beer paste, which is then spread on the bread. No sucky old peanuts for these hardened Czech men. And then they drink the night away and sing songs of the old country where men were men and wrestled wolves naked by moonlight.

I couldn’t help it. I too wanted to be a man and wrestle, if not wolves, then at the very least an angry cat. And probably not naked either. Subsequently I never forgot the idea of ‘beer cheese’, and remembered those Czech men fondly. Which prompted, on a recent trip to Capetown where a couple of friends and I decided to take the afternoon off at the excellent Brewers & Union where there is both beer and cheese in abundance, the idea that it was time to try it.

Big. Fucking. Mistake. I wasted some good cheese, half my expensive lager and ended up with something that tasted like being sick on some bread, just about everyone laughed, and no-one went out to Tokai forest for a friendly wrestle. Plus, Colin Moss was there. Which just made the whole experience a miserable fail on just about every level.

Clearly, those Czech men are fucked in the head and someone needs to show them a pretzel, because all that wolf-grappling has obviously done lasting damage.

However, not all not-peanut Euro bar snacks are a heinous mess that taste like the floor of a bar after a 48-hour vomiting festival. And we have the Spanish to thank for it.  Having recently become obsessed with Tapas – I’ve been introduced to the ultimate bar snack/dinner-in-a-hurry/simple meal accompaniment – Patatas Bravas, which thankfully knocks beer cheese into a cocked hat.

Now this is totally one of those meals that, on the surface, doesn’t look like anything special. If you’re a cynical, joyless, glass-half-empty type (like the beer-cheese men, clearly) – then yes, it’s just roast potato with tomatoes. But by the same token, the Great Pyramid of Giza is just an annoying pile of rubble blocking up an otherwise perfectly serviceable desert, so those people can just bugger off.

However, sometimes a thing is more than just the sum of its parts – and this is one of those moments. The smoked paprika, aioli, crispy potatoes, tomato and chives all somehow just come out right, and left an impression lasting enough for me to want to put it up here. And so, having cast around for a decent recipe and adapting something I found on the website for the Guardian (strangely enough) – I wound up up with:

Patatas Bravas (for 4) – or, spicy tomato relish with potatoes and garlic aioli.

Ingredients

500g potatoes
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp smoked paprika (this is the key to the whole thing really, don’t use normal or sweet paprika – it won’t be the same)
2 tbsp malt vinegar

for the aioli
1 egg

300ml olive oil

1 clove garlic, crushed

a dash of lemon juice
Chives, to serve

What to do

Get your oven to 200C while you get some other poor sucker to peel all the potatoes, because that bit is a real pain in the ass.  Once they’re peeled, cut them into smallish cubes about an inch across or so. Bung a roasting tray with a healthy splash of olive oil into your hot oven and leave it to heat through. This should take about five minutes, or there and thereabouts. Take it out, toss the potatoes in the hot oil, sprinkle with a bit of salt and bake for about 45 minutes until crisp and golden.

While that’s on the go, it’s time for the sauces. Put two tablespoons of oil into a largish pan on a medium heat, and start frying the chopped red onion. After about about seven minutes when they’ve just started to crisp around the edges, put in the chilli, and cook for another few minutes, then adding the tomatoes, sugar, salt and smoked paprika.  Stir it up like a champ, bring it to a boil, and then turn down the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes until rich and darker in colour. Take off the heat, add a tablespoon of the malt vinegar, and sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper if needed.

To make the aioli, put the egg in a bowl along with the garlic and the other tablespoon of malt vinegar. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and either with a hand-beater or a blending stick, whizz until incorporated. Then, this is the bit where you’ve got to be careful –  start  adding in the rest of the olive oil while beating all the time until you’ve got a creamy mayonnaise-style sauce. Like everything, taste it!  Then you can add salt accordingly, and finally finish it off with a good dash of lemon juice .

Take the potatoes out of the oven, spread the tomato sauce on to the plates, put the potatoes on top, then add a dollop of aioli and a sprinkle of chives, turn on the rugby and serve immediately with a cold beer or some strong red wine.

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This little piggy went to market.

Triptychs are cool. Especially if they are of things you can stuff in your face.

Intense pride, based purely on the city you happen to live in is something that happens everywhere. Except maybe for Uitenhage. That place just sucks and I think everyone who lives there knows it. That’s why they all wear Ed Hardy tracksuit pants.  In the day.  It’s the first sign of having given up on life.

Okay…carrying on. This, ‘home town pride’ thing happens everywhere, right? The bloody Parisians are just rotten with smugness with how their ‘city of lights’ is the cultural center of the known universe. New York has all that legendary rudeness that they seem to be so happy about, London has all those skinny boys with floppy hair that live on the dole until…you know, the band takes off. Melbourne seems to like coffee a lot, and Rio has all the beaches with hot people on them.  Whatever it is – there’s a thing that binds humans who live in a particular place together as being from that place and damn proud of it: an architectural, social or creative pole around which to build an intense feeling of shared identity.

Oh, hello Johannesburg, what were you doing over there? Oh I see, someone’s left their car in this parking lot? Of course, you were just making sure it was safe. I totally understand. Oh what? The safest place for it is in your garage? Um…okay, I guess so, just don’t break the…window. What? Oh, yes I just bought these shoes yesterday, nice hey? Oh…really? But, then I wont have any nice shoes and that would make me sad. Oh well, I guess I can’t argue with that large knife and your gold tooth. Wow, this pavement isn’t fun to walk on at all.

You see… in dear, amazing Jozi it’s something different.  Because let’s face it – Joburg is not pretty, it doesn’t work very well as a city (too big and too much Midrand), and although money doesn’t grow on trees just yet (despite the best efforts of some idiot gang who were so bad at faking R200 notes that absolutely no-one accepts them anymore and they might as well just be uncomfortably-shaped pieces of orange paper that you can’t even wipe your bum with because they chafe…), money is the root of just about everything that happens here – which does mean that people’s priorities are quite fundamentally skewed a lot of the time.  But you know what?  We’re extraordinarily proud that we are able to call a place that’s doing it’s damnedest to kill us, ‘home’.  And what’s more, we’re kinda cool with that – in fact it defines us to some extent. And don’t you dare say anything bad about it – because we’ll hijack your car and steal your watch. And then also possibly try and sleep with your sister just to prove a point.  At the end of the day; the more that the traffic lights don’t work, the more the roads look like a cheese that is more hole than cheese, the more we hear that rising acid mine water is going to sweep us away out of our own bathtubs, the more we accept that the best view we’re likely to get while eating at a restaurant is of a parking lot (where usually some people are trying to rob some other people), the more intensely we love this this place. And that’s what makes us us.

But why? Goddammit, why? Well… (and please set your cliche sensitivity setting right down to ‘punch me in the face I like it’) it’s because there’s a ridiculous energy to this town. It’s just so fucking there you feel it’s going to slap you in the face, or at the very least try and grab your ass.  Johannesburg bounces with an irrepressible ‘can do’ stubbornness and gusto that delights in creating something where previously there was perhaps just a nothing with some some drunk people trying to make a fire out of it.  People here positively crackle with a vigor and a whole-heartedness that is, I would like to think, unique in all the world (and if you disagree with me…those are some nice shoes you have).   We want to do something.  We want to make something, and we want other people to come along for the ride – and it’s crazily, utterly infectious.

I sometimes think it’s got a lot do with the fact that anyone who arrives here, actually likes it (usually after someone’s tried to run them over in a Hummer with customized number plates that say Sori4u GP) and decides to stay, is going to make damn sure that something positive is comes out of the experience.

That’s the scene. Consider it set.

So, about two years ago I pounded out a bit of a rant about how our dear city had fundamentally missed the boat on creating a vibrant market experience that was more than just someone selling jam out the boot of their car. Capetown was mocking us with the riotous success of the Biscuit Mill and the best we could do was say, “Oh….well, you know what? Your mountain sucks. And your mom’s ugly,” and then sulk off home to count our money and plan our next customized number plate.

It was distressing. Joburgers don’t like being beaten at stuff. And it might take us a while to get around to, but eventually we’ll stop being all materialistic and self-involved for just long enough to start figuring out just how best to go about beating your ass. And so, after about 18 months of false hopes with little market-type things popping up here and there, it seems a bunch of people might just have done it.

Finger’s crossed. The first Market on Main happened this Sunday at Arts on Main, and considering that it was the first one – it seemed that I wasn’t the only person who’s been desperate for a real market to come along – because everyone came along to see what was what.

Arts on Main is a venue that I think has had it’s heart firmly in the right place but has just struggled a little bit to really nail down its purpose. So yeah, William Kentridge has a studio there, and Black Coffee has an outlet there, and there’s a decent restaurant – but it always felt like it just didn’t have that….thing. Like meeting a beautiful and beguiling woman who oozes confidence and who has shiny hair and glamorous ankles and stuff, but then you realise she’s actually not a girl at all, it’s Mikhael Gorbachev.  And you don’t quite know why you spent the last three hours buying Mikhael Gorbachev all those vodka martinis – because you’re sure as hell you’re not going to let him stick his tongue down your throat, no matter how many languages he can say ‘you have pretty eyes’ in.

Okay – so that was, whatever…but hopefully you know what I mean. So, Arts on Main, now with it being the venue for a proper realive live grown up sunday food/clothes/wine/beer/fresh produce/live music/general fun-morning-out-market – has maybe just found that thing to help it really hit its stride.

And…there was food! And cheese! And wine! And trees to sit under! Clothes! Music! Beer! Girls in short skirts!  And … people having fun: wandering around in this sort of daze, with expressions that positively reeked of ‘I didn’t know we were capable of making something this…nice.’ It worked, and you could just feel that this is something that could potentially grow up to have a real identity and presence in the gastro/entertainment/whatever landscape of this city. Of course it wasn’t perfect, but that you can definitely chalk up to ‘learning curve’, but here’s hoping that this might be the real deal. Because I for one think that there’s more to be proud of about living in Joburg than “I am still alive” – and this sort of thing, is it.

Besides, how else am I supposed to wander around in public with a glass of wine before 12am on a Sunday?

Getting Drunk in a Tent

The Johannesburg Summer Food and Wine Festival

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The Big Top was up, the monkeys were ready to perform.

People who live in Joburg are often accused of being shallow. You know… the sort of crassness that means if that it were dressed up in a nice low-cut top and came with a fancy gold-leaf invitation, we’d probably go to the opening of a door.

I think this is unfair. I’d only go to the opening of a door if there were free drinks.

I honestly think that we in Gauteng are so starved of entertainment opportunities, that we’ve genuinely fallen into a weird schizophrenic state when people actually try and organize an event that doesn’t involve armed robbery.  We either a) totally ignore it, because we’re convinced that it’ll be crap anyway (as happened with the “Spring Day Festival” a little while back where approximately 30 people showed up. Yikes), or b) flock in droves to something that’s mostly rubbish, but we’re going to damn well go and simultaneously convince ourselves that it’s “just as good as if it was in Cape Town”.

The recent “Summer Food and Wine Festival” at Zoo Lake was somewhere in between. Two big tents (one for food and beer, the other for wine) around a jumping castle and bizarrely enough, a mobile fast-food van from Spur, which it has to be said set a fairly odd tone.

So, I’d been exposed to quite a bit of the advertising in the runup to the event itself and they all went something like this:

“Come to the Summer Food & Wine Festival. It’ll be great. There’ll be an oyster bar. Don’t forget fun for the kids and the oyster bar. Lot’s of wine and oyster bar. Oyster bar food oyster bar tent oyster bar stalls oyster bar oyster bar. Oyster. R80”

With that sort of introduction you’d expect the oyster bar to be lit up with trained performing elephants, naked imported dancing girls and Barack Obama dressed as an oyster reading excerpts from “I heart Oysters: an oyster-lover’s guide”.

Nope. In fact, the oyster bar was so low-key that I missed it completely. It may even have been mythical.

When you pack a huge tent with food, stalls and croc-wearing red-faced 40-somethings, it’s almost impossible not to get swept up in the excitement of it all. The guy next to me was excited enough to immediately get on the phone and have the following conversation: ‘Bru it’s lekker here, kif food, weather’s great and Chippie and I are about to get fokken leathered.’ I wanted to be his friend.

M-06060a
Gypsywurst and the Nottingham Road Brewer's excellent Pickled Pig (porter) with a Whistling Weasel (ale) lurking behind.

But, once you’d walked around for five minutes you realized that it was a small case of same-old same-old: suppliers I’ve seen just about everywhere and the usual assortment of cheese, mini-tarts and Polish salami that you can get at the Rosebank Market or Blubird on a Sunday. I guess it was a classic example of good intentions, but just not executed as well as you’d like. Don’t get me wrong – people were wolfing down cheese, wine and beer like tomorrow was tax day, but almost out of a sense of “oh well, we’re here, might as well make the most of it.”

The afternoon’s purchases went as follows:

1)    marsmallow fudge: so sweet you’d think bambi had thrown up in your mouth.

2)   Caramel coffee-dipped nuts (excellent).

3)   Cheap wine. Really…very cheap. I totally expect it was made in a bathtub, but it was delicious. Because it was R25.

4)   Beer. Lots of it.

5)    German sausage.

Without a doubt the saving grace of the day was that all of the prominent microbrewers had arrived and they’d brought enough beer for EVERYONE. Twice. So, armed with a gypsywurst with mustard and sauerkraut, there was only thing to do, and that was try and drink the Nottingham Road stand into closing early.  You know….get leathered, bru.