EASTHAM – There is a delicious dining spot on the Cape, where a dictionary is delivered to your table so you can order meals like Papanchaka, Beef Bobotie and Monkey Ribs.
At Karoo Restaurant in Eastham, owner Sanette Groenewald helps customers pronounce and then devour authentic South African food, one dish at a time.
“We give the customers the Karoo dictionary so at least it’s not so scary the first time. They sound it out. They point it out. There’s a lot of different pronunciations that come out, but it’s all good.”
It’s all comfort food from her hometown in South Africa.
“Karoo’s the area where I grew up back home. When I came to America and opened up my first restaurant I just wanted a real place: no pretentious Mom food; like African soul food. So, that’s where Karoo came from.”
While you may have never been to a South African restaurant, some of the flavors will most certainly seem familiar.
“South African food is different, but it’s not that much different. It’s still familiar flavors,” Sanette explained. “You go, ‘Oh I had this in the Indian restaurant. I had this in the Middle Eastern restaurant.’ It’s the melting pot of everybody that has colonized South Africa.”
The space itself will make you feel like you’ve left Cape Cod for Cape Town.
“What I want you to feel, and what a lot of customers say they do feel, is they are walking into my dining room at home. They leave Cape Cod at the front door and step into South Africa.”
Once you’ve settled in, you’ll want to get that dictionary back out to order, because the names of these dishes can be quite confusing, like the Steak and Chips, which are actually just Steak and Fries; Peri Peri, which is a flavorful tomato-based sauce used on Karoo’s addictive wings and sautéed with shrimp; and the so-called Monkey Gland Ribs – just an unfortunate name for the unique spicy sauce.
“Growing up I never even thought ‘monkey gland.’ You just have monkey gland sauce,” Sanette said, “until the first customer went, ‘Ew!’ and I was like, (gasp) monkey gland! It’s a spicy sweet barbeque sauce. It’s like the A1 sauce of South Africa.”
No rabbits were harmed making The Durban Bunny Chow. In fact, bunny chow is just South African slang for a bread bowl, and at Karoo you can find one filled with spicy lamb and vegetables.
“The whole vessel is the most amazing meal, because all the juices and goodness is soaked into the bread. So you eat down to the last crumb.”
The Karoo Bunny Chow is a spin on the classic and looks more like a South African version of poutine – that classic Canadian hangover helper.
“The Karoo Bunny is excellent hangover food. It coats the stomach; the spices make you sweat – wakes you up and there’s enough carbs in that to get you going for the rest of the day.”
All of this flavorful fare is what Sanette refers to as ‘Mom food’ or comfort food as we call it in the states. And nothing makes her think of home more than Beef Bobotie and Malva Pudding.
“Going home to Bobotie and Malva pudding is for South Africans like going home to meatloaf and apple pie to Americans. It’s comfort food. It’s real. Bobotie is a curried ground beef casserole, much softer than American meatloaf, little egg custard on top to keep the moisture in.”
That Malva Pudding Sanette serves is actually her mom’s recipe. This caramelly sweet cake is truly addictive and has customers craving it constantly.
“For Sunday lunch mom always served it with custard and ice cream, and that’s how I serve it. Some of the customers have developed a bit of a habit, and now they Jones for it every now and then,” she said. “We have had a few customers now renaming it into ‘Karoo Crack’ because in the middle of the night they need a piece of Malva.”
While Sanette may be half a world away from her family in Karoo, she’s created her own family here at the restaurant.
“I got their back and they’ve got my back, so we’re all having fun.’
“Coming from South Africa and being here and having my own restaurant and having a South African restaurant and it works – that blessing everyday feels absolutely amazing, and it makes me less homesick.”
You can find Karoo at 3 Main Street in Eastham, and online at karoorestaurant.com.
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