Cape Town is comprised of many things – high-rise buildings, picturesque beaches, majestic mountains, mysterious forests, fluffy penguins, wild baboons, snazzy Ferraris, and run-down minibus taxis. But no matter what the individual may identify with Cape Town, one thing certainly holds true – Cape Town is full of diversity and, especially, cultural diversity.
In my world, culture and cuisine go hand in hand. And, judging from the variety of cafés, markets, and restaurants here, I think Cape Town agrees. You name it, we’ve got it. I was shocked last year when I was living in the US and travelled to Toronto, Canada, with a group of friends from all over Europe (the border official aptly referred to us as the United Nations), and, after deciding to visit an Indian restaurant for lunch, they all exclaimed that they had never had Indian food before. And here I was, all the way from sunny South Africa, with more tastebud experience than the privileged Europeans. On any given day, I can choose from enjoying local Boerewors rolls (like hot dogs, just half a million times tastier), savouring samoosas or curry, munching on a Big Mac, indulging in some German cakes, or feasting on exquisite sushi. And that’s just a handful of what’s available!
But, once a year, instead of cruising through the endless expanse of Greater Cape Town, one can simply head to one place to experience everything (well, almost everything) Cape Town has to offer. Welcome to the annual Community Chest Carnival at the Maynardville Park, a charity festival that offers what I like best – food! The Community Chest Carnival first took place in 1951, and it has been growing steadily ever since. It is primarily a fundraising event run by volunteers that contributes to and supports over 400 charity organisations in the Western Cape. There are the usual carnival attractions, and kids can spend their time spinning away on a variety of amusement rides, while adults can browse through craft and book markets. But the greatest attraction is the country-specific food.
The Community Chest hosts a variety of countries that offer their local specialties, and it’s the perfect place to sample cuisine basics. One can venture from Austria (Eisbein/pork knuckle with Sauerkraut and, for dessert, apple strudel) to Holland (everything from poffertjes to rollmops to Bitterballen and beef croquettes) to India (curries) to Germany (Bratwurst) to Italy (cannoli, pizza, and pasta) to Switzerland (Rosenkuchen) and China (I think this is a no-brainer). And then there are also more general stands offering doughnuts, the sweet stuff (lollies, caramel apples, cotton candy), sushi, calamari, prawns, waffles, pancakes, grilled mushrooms, biltong (the South African beef jerky, although it’s often game meat – very tasty). And, of course, no carnival would be complete without the presence of the Coca Cola conglomerate offering refreshments.
The best bet is to share. Sharing may normally be caring, but, in the case of the Community Chest, it’s an absolute necessity in order to get through as many countries as possible without risking having to roll home. And, of course, for those who cannot handle dinosaur portions, there’s always comfort in the fact that a lot of the food on sale at the market is also available elsewhere in Cape Town. And then there’s always next year, when the Community Chest Carnival will, hopefully, open its gates once again. Honestly, indulging in yummy food, gaining a rich cultural experience, and supporting charity? Sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me.