05 September 2012

Food, part 2

Here's the rest of the grocery store...

Fruit & Veg

There are plenty of fresh and canned fruits available, and Apricots are tremendously popular here, in jams and fillings and juice and dried and whatever other format they can come in.  Not much frozen fruit is available, but fresh fruit is very inexpensive when in season.

Fruits and vegetables are often pre-packaged, and sometimes it is difficult to find produce that is out-of-season; the selection of frozen fruit is pretty small--I had to go to 3 different stores to try to find blueberries, and the best I could do was an expensive tub of mixed frozen blue/black/raspberries.

Prices for seasonal produce seem to be pretty good:

Bananas are about 40 cents a pound
Avocados are less than 50 cents each
Nectarines are imported, at about $2.75 a pound
Large "Blue" pumpkins are less than $2 each (more white, but with a definite blueish tint)
Onions are 30 cents a pound
A large papaya is about 80 cents
Pink Lady apples (pre-packaged) are less than $1 a pound
Pineapples are ridiculously cheap at about 40 cents each
Naartjies (the tangerine-mandarin) are just 40 cents a pound
Lemons (of which I have a tree in my back garden) are 50 cents a pound

There are some frozen vegetables; mostly starchy ones, like potatoes, peas and lots of pumpkin, a definite favorite.  Prices are higher; simple mixed vegetables are about $1.50 a pound.

Frozen Food
Overall, the amount of frozen food is quite a bit smaller than Americans are used to; freezers themselves also seem to be smaller.  There are very few prepared frozen dinners (like Lean Cuisine or Stouffers), but there is a good variety of frozen fish, probably owing to the distance from the coast.  You can also get a selection of frozen savory pastries, like Samoosas (the local spelling), Sausage Rolls and pot pies.

Cheese
There's a good mix of cheeses available, but they do seem to be one of the categories that's more expensive.  It's easy to find cream cheese, Cheddar and Gouda (thanks to the Dutch), but other imported cheeses have limited availability.  There are lots of different flavors of Feta and Cottage cheeses, and a salty Greek cheese called Haloumi is particularly popular. 

Bread
Many grocery stores do have a bakery and the bread doesn't seem to be influenced by any particular country; the fresh bread is pretty average, and sliced white or wheat bread is easily available, but without preservatives, so it has to be eaten pretty quickly.  A standard 1 1/2 lb loaf of brown bread is just 70 cents. 

Alcohol
There are quite a few local brews available, and beer production in South Africa actually started before the wine industry.  The most prevalent beer available seems to be Castle, a lager that has been available in South Africa for over 115 years.  Castle is made locally by the 2nd largest brewery in the world, SABMiller, which was a merger of the American Miller Brewing Company and South African Breweries.

Wine started being produced in South Africa just a few months after the beer industry got its start, but both now have a 350+ year history in the country.  South Africa was a major provider of wine to the British Isles until the 19th century, when a combination of factors nearly ended the wine industry here.  The industry languished for decades, especially during the Apartheid years, when many countries would not do business with South Africa.

Over the past 18 years, since the end of Apartheid, South Africa's wine industry has taken off, with an increase in the number of wineries, and the export capacity of the wine here.  White wine grapes have traditionally outnumbered red, but the proportions are nearly equal now. 

South African wines haven't reached the quality or popularity of French or even Australian wines, but it appears the industry is poised to continue to grow domestically and internationally.  Much of the wine is bottled with twist-off caps, or in boxes, which is typical of most consumer wines worldwide these days, but they are certainly a bargain.  A bottle of a recent vintage Pinotage or Chenin Blanc can be had from $4 or $5 and up, and decent bulk table wines in boxes are even more affordable; a really large box of wine (equivalent to nearly 7 bottles) is less than $10.

Liquor stores carry a similar selection of spirits and liqueurs as you would find in the US, but prices seem to be as much as 40% cheaper, likely due to a lower tax rate.  One very popular local potable is Amarula, made from the fruit of the marula tree; it's made into a creamy liqueur, and tastes like a fruity caramelly  version of Irish Cream, and is a popular additive to coffee and hot chocolate.  Elephants also love Marula fruit, and there's a long-standing (but seemingly false) myth about Elephants getting tipsy from eating fermented Marula fruit, but it's a strong enough tale that a picture of an elephant figures prominently in the marketing for the drink.

Miscellaneous
Some other interesting grocery store finds include:
Rusks are a double-baked lightly-sweetened cookie (kind of like biscotti) that is available in a variety of flavors; usually dipped into Tea or Coffee.  Peanut Butter is available, but is rather thin; the kind with crunchy caramel bits in it is pretty tasty.  Canned Fish...certainly sardines and other typical canned fish are found here, but larger cans of pilchards (sardines) in tomato sauce remind me of the colorful can labels as found in the old canneries of Monterey.  There must be 50 different flavors of instant soup/ramen, including Curry or Oxtail.  Chutney is very popular, owing to the culinary influence of India, as is the spicy Peri-Peri sauce of Mozambique.  Corn Meal is a classic African staple, used to make porridges of various names across the continent; in bulk, it's just 30 cents a pound.  Rice is not quite as common, but also can be had in bulk for just 50 cents a pound.  Pasta is available, but not much variety, and curiously, very little pasta sauce is available.  A small selection of ice cream can be found, but a little pricey; it's expensive in the states, too, I guess, but it goes on sale frequently, unlike here.