Food, Faith and Festivals
One of the best ways to get to really get a feel for a place is by understanding and experiencing the culture and history of a place. And some of the best ways of doing this is to mingle with the locals wherever possible. Attend their festivals, ceremonies and celebrations, sample their food and interest yourself in their beliefs.
Trying the food is a great way to explore and experience a place, and a fun way to do this is to take a ‘Food Safari’. The Midlands Meander is a good starting point. Stop off at various farms, restaurants and other venues to taste artisan cheeses, breads, meats, preserves, ice-creams, wines and other delicious foodie fare. Locals also love their markets, so you can also enjoy many of these items at one of the numerous Farmers or Food Markets generally held on weekends at various venues around KZN.
Considering the diversity of people and cultures in KZN, the attractive variety of food is unsurprising. The province has many outstanding and some award winning fine dining restaurants representing all cultures, but perhaps more interesting are the even more prolific, but no less excellent small, informal Indian restaurants and take-aways.
Perhaps because of the warm climate, people in KZN often favour casual, outdoor eating and food such as the famous KZN Bunny Chow, a curry served in a half load of bread that you can eat on the beach is not to be missed. People like meat, so a Braai or Shisa Nyama, (both referring to a barbeque, meat cooked over a fire), is practically an institution.
On the seriously casual side, “Slap chips” pronounced “slupp chups”, otherwise known as French fries, served in a paper bag are a firm favourite. Slap is a lovely descriptive Afrikaans term for ‘soft’ or maybe in this case ‘bendy, not firm’, and any kind of take-out fried chicken is popular across the board. In fact, if all else fails, there is seldom a small town in the province without one or another fast-food chicken franchise.Craft Beer has become popular and you can visit many of the small brewers dotted about the province. And while we are not as well-known as the Cape for our wines, we do have some excellent locally produced wine, for instance from the Abingdon Wine Estate, which also has an outstanding restaurant. You should also try some of the locally produced traditional alcohol such as umqombothi (traditional sorghum or maize beer), ubusulu or njemane (ilala palm wine), ubunganu (amarula beer) and ngwabulani or a type of rum made from sugar cane.
Two other beverages we are good at is tea – tea from our local Ntingwe tea estate is sold in Harrods, London – and coffee. Not many people know we have our own indigenous coffee which is one of the only, if not the only, naturally decaffeinated coffees in the world and which, as far as we can ascertain, is only grown ‘commercially’ in two regions in the world, Ibo Island off Mozambique and in KwaZulu-Natal! We also have a very active coffee culture and many outstanding coffee shops - especially in the bigger centres like Durban.
Have Faith and celebrate
In KwaZulu-Natal Hindu devotees and Jewish mamas, Muslim scholars and Christian worshippers, African traditionalists and Buddhists; this friendly, fascinating and rich diversity of people happily co-exist side-by-side making the province the vibrant, interesting and somewhat complex region it is. Throughout KZN are beautiful temples, mosques, churches and shrines you can visit and any number of colourful and fascinating festivals of both faith and food at which visitors are always welcome.
- You can take an amazingly interesting tour of the many mission stations dotted about the province, most being off-shoots from the lovely Trappist Mariannhill Monastery outside Durban.
- Visit the Holocaust Centre at the Durban Jewish Club and pop in for an excellent cup of coffee at the adjacent Garden of Remembrance.
- Attend Hindu Diwali celebrations during this Festival of Lights or the colourful Holi, Festival of Colours celebrating the arrival of Spring.
- On the first Sunday of New Year, you can follow the Shembe pilgrimage up the Holy Mountain of Nhlangakazi
- At any time you can take a quiet moment at the Buddhist Retreat Centre near Ixopo,
- Tour the lovely Jummah Mosque where you can learn something about the Islamic faith and fascinating architecture.
- In Zululand there is the annual Snake Ceremony still held at the home of one of the country’s most famous African traditional healers, even though he is now deceased.