Thursday, August 8, 2013

Babel and its guavas

A quick detour to South Africa, back in time to early July - winter - and the best small plate of food I ate while visiting Cape Town. It came from a garden.

Babylonstoren, as I've written before, is the spectacular wine farm and kitchen garden near the town of Paarl, a forty minute drive from my parents' home. It is ten minutes from my aunt's house, which is in Paarl itself. So my mom and I collected her and the two sisters visited the spectacular kitchen gardens before we sat down to lunch in estate's bright white, glass-sided restaurant, Babel.

An aside: Lavender has the capacity to annoy me. In Cape Town it is hugely and unimaginitively overused in the design of faux Meditarreanean gardens (plant lavender and poof! - it's the south of France) and it gets old. But here, with every other medicinal, culinary and fragrant plant on earth apparently planted within the enormous grounds, I admired it.

Guava season, the trees lining a dirt road. I love guavas.

It is very, very hard to find a guava in New York. Usually, you have to head to Chinatown, and then you have to get lucky. So to speak. But the produce aisles of supermarkets overflow with them in South Africa, and they are so common that most people barely notice them.

So when a small plate of roasted guavas arrived - a little gift for the table, along with the farm's own herbed olive oil and wonderful bread - ahead of our ordered dishes, we were surprised. But after one bite, and then another, we wolfed them. They were the best part of the lunch which followed, which was very good. Cut in half, roasted in a hot oven and seasoned with plenty of thyme, citrus sugar, and salt.

Roasted fruit is big at Babel, whose philosophy is to preserve the integrity of ingredients,  rather than to chop them to ribbons. The entire, peeled and roasted naartjie (clementine) that accompanied my mothers lamb chop, and the roasted tree tomato (tamarillo) that nestled beside the Shirazy-y beef on my plate were somehow novel while remaining very simple. Novel and delicious.

The wine was excellent, inky and smoky and spicy, a Shiraz produced on the farm. Most of what we ate came from the gardens and nearby farms, and the emphasis is deeply local.

After lunch, a perfect cup of coffee. If you dip into this blog regularly you'll know I go off about coffee. This was one of the good ones.

These naartjies (NAAR-cheese, what South Africans call clementines)  were on a table outside, a goodbye gift, if you wanted one. They were ripening on the trees, nearby.

In short, if you are headed to Cape Town, put Babel on your list. And give yourself plenty of time to walk those walled gardens. Their collection of indigenous South African herbs is reason enough.

For garden geeks: Here is a link to the PDF of the garden plan, with plant list.


  1. Well that looks heavenly.

    I don't know if I have ever eaten a guava.

    Now I want one. a good one.

    xo jane

  2. Aahh, guavas ... I have wonderful childhood memories of picking guavas and making jam and jelly with my Nana. Thanks for sending me back to that time!


  3. I love that there is a "wormery" on the garden plan.

  4. You had me a bit worried - talking about going to the herb garden with no mention of the wine farm - but your shiraz solved that.

    In theBahamas they serve 'guava duff' ... wonder if it's the same fruit. We were never able to get it, tho!

  5. This place looks and sounds amazing... And this garden geek thanks you for the garden plan and plant list... :)


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