A mid-winter break beside the seaside is always a treat. Savouring the multicultural delights of Durban is another. So for a few days this week I ate my way about and enjoyed the big city filled with small surprises. There are gardens everywhere – tucked behind buildings, hidden on roofs, crammed into corners and expanding across pavements. I enjoyed, as always, the wonderful efforts the Ethekwini municipality make planting road verges, nowadays with indigenous water wise plants.
As soon as I arrived, my American friend Ann and I headed to Florida Road for some creative shopping. Laden with beadwork, wire brooches, wood carvings, and cards we chanced upon Buddha Belly Café in a lovely old Berea house. The all vegetarian menu was a treat in itself, but the bright ‘Buddha’ inspired décor, delicately painted tables and airy verandah were a real delight. The bruschetta we ordered was a delicious surprise with chilli and dhania and fresh tomatoes. We had great girlie-fun trying on and buying pre-owned clothing from a little shop tucked in the back of the building.
We set off to Glenwood next to visit an old favourite –the NSA Gallery – and then stopped for tea at Earth Mother, just along the road. This charming café is hidden in a shady garden behind the shop filled with all things organic and local fresh produce including big green onions, tree tomatoes, kumquats and brinjals. We simply couldn’t resist the chocolate brownies and carrot cake made with organic sugar, plenty of nuts and lots of love to accompany our organic tea. The interesting and delicious sounding menu declared: “We believe that if Living Organic was seen as wonderful, flavourful and indulgent of the good things in life, more people would adopt this way of being.”
Early the next morning we headed off to the Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve. This is real treasure of original natural vegetation in the heart of suburbia with a cement factory on one side and aeroplanes flying overhead. We were surprised by the Yellowwood trees growing next to strelizias, the forest of Milettia grandis (umzimbeet) and the aloes flowering in the grassland. As we walked, the leaf litter changed underfoot according to the type of trees in the canopy. We spotted purple crested-loeries, woodpeckers and robins and sudden, unexpected harbour views. It was wonderful.
Hungry from our walk in the ‘wilderness’ we decided to head to Brighton Beach to find a snack. We were in need of a quick coke to keep us going though, and Ann kept a look out for anywhere likely. We pulled into a service station in Sea View right in front of a huge sign declaring ‘Bunny Chow winner 2010/2011’. How could we resist? Especially when owner Devan Moodley and his family were all across the counter and assured us that they would be adding 2012 to the sign soon! We picnicked beneath the towering dunes which line the seaside of the Bluff, with fishermen and their families for company. I think that The India Café probably won the best ‘mutton bunny’ category – not the vegetarian one, but the experience was fun and appropriately Durban.
On Monday, to beat the morning traffic after dropping Ann at work (!), I went down to the beachfront at 6am to watch the sun rise. It really is a special place and I was enthralled at the dune rehabilitation taking place along the edge. Such a sensible idea which will be beautiful, encourage wildlife, stop the sand blowing inland and also assist a little in dissipating the very high tides, I assume.
Tucked under a grassy embankment, right on the edge of the pedestrian promenade is Circus Circus Café where I watched the early beachside action with a glass of freshly squeezed juice, some mushrooms on toast and my crochet in seaside colours. Very pleasant.
Next destination was my friend Sue’s airy beachfront flat where she made tea in beautiful teacups and took me onto the roof to explore her garden. With views of the harbour and city, this was a real surprise. Astonishingly, veggies thrive here, despite the fierce sun and salt-laden wind. The rocket was rampant, her tomato crop abundant, she’d even grown lettuce in a shady spot. All very impressive, and along with the solar panels which provide hot water to the residents, a couple of water tanks and the wind turbine they are planning to install, this community is building real resilience in the most densely populated part of the city. Sue is getting excited about seed collecting and growing seedlings now, and processing her harvest into pesto and cordial which she sells to her neighbours in the foyer. She is already eyeing the roof top of the next block of flats…
We had lunch at the Corner Café where they “do the green thing” with wind turbines and solar cookers, re-used furniture, free range eggs and a pavement garden of carbon sinking spekboom. A simple dish of gnocchi in fresh tomato sauce hit the spot. We then spent a couple of fascinating hours exploring the cultural artefacts at the Phansi Museum. Milk pails, serving platters and wooden spoons intricately carved, alongside beaded aprons, medicine gourds and fertility dolls.
Back at the beach, we waited until the sun and traffic had subsided, drinking beer and sharing a mezze platter of hummus, haloumi and tsatsiki.
I couldn’t resist a trip back to the beachside the next morning to walk from North Beach to South Beach and back, with the locals. This time, I decided on brunch at the stylish Café Jiran on the Snell Parade.
A large poster declared “Not all journeys start with a step. Some start with a sip”. Obviously, many of the patrons pop in most mornings for their daily ‘Cuban’, ‘Ethiopian’ or other exotic sounding cuppas – I listened in to snippets of conversation. Luckily for me, besides the coffee which they serve with great pride, they also had a selection of fabulous teas. I chose Chinese flower tea – which arrived in a delicate glass pot with tiny tea cups and Japanese snacks. The tea ‘blossomed’ in the pot as it steeped. The french toast laden with mushrooms and pesto (and rocket – absolutely EVERYTHING in Durban seemed to come with rocket!) was scrummy too. On the way to the loo, I discovered another secret garden beside the stairwell. All the herbs and some veggies for the restaurant must be grown here.
At Artisan on the Berea, which is my very favourite gallery, I bought a gorgeous Clementina van der Walt bowl, to add to my collection and which I cannot wait to fill with lightly steamed greens. Eating out all the time is fun for a few days, but distressingly, greens always seem to be only the garnish.
The water in Durban tasted quite ghastly. Fortunately, I discovered Dew Water. This is an innovative idea (ideas abound in Durban) of harvesting water from the atmosphere with a ‘dew catcher’. It was delicious.
Before heading back to the Midlands, I stopped at Earth Mother again for a Zinger – freshly squeezed beetroot, apple, ginger juice to quench my thirst. It was jolly hot, compared to home, so shady secret gardens tucked in backyards were always a treat.