Travel lightly (or how to do it with an onion and a tomato)
In the mid-nineties, I was living and working in Cape Town with my son and his father, Herman, a stay-at-home dad, writer and food critic - and all round Renaissance Man.
We had a ’weekenditsa’ at Yzerfontein, a couple of hours drive up the West Coast. This A-frame wooden house had minimal facilities: no electricity, a gas-powered cooker, a geezer for hot water, and basic furniture, but it was a good place to get away for the weekends. Set in the fynbos, a short walk from the beach, the house nestled in an environment that nurtured the soul.
One Friday after work, Herman said, ‘Let’s go to Yzerfontein.’
‘What! Now? But we don’t have any supplies! No food.’
‘Don’t worry,’ he responded. ‘I’ve got an onion and a tomato. We’ll be fine.’
That was Herman; a man who improvised: he turned nothing into plenty. We packed baby and bags into the car and drove into the country.
The next morning, Herman waded into the water on Yzerfontein beach, digging his heels into the shallows, searching the sand for clams. A dozen of these white shells added to frozen chicken pieces bought at the local cafe, a fresh fish landed by local fishermen, a packet of Tastic rice, the onion and tomato finely chopped - and copious glasses of white wine - were all transformed by Herman into a fragrant paella. He sauteed the ingredients over an open fire, stirring them in a shallow pan that he’d made himself. The pan was the bottom of a copper boiler onto which he’d fixed an old broom handle: an ideal frying pan for Herman’s outdoor feast.
Herman valued authentic cuisine - and how much more authentic than his Yzerfontein paella could one get?
This spontaneous travel, making do with local ingredients and minimal planning resonated with me - although it was years before I could follow Herman’s example; I still had a lot to learn.