Senait Mekonnen’s Cape Town
Visiting the city through the eyes of a local.
Senait Mekonnen is a restaurateur responsible for two of Africa’s best-known Ethiopian restaurants. She grew up in Addis Ababa and has lived in the Netherlands and Tanzania, where she started Addis in Dar as a way of sharing her culture with the rest of the world. After relocating to Cape Town in 2006, she opened a second branch of her successful enterprise and named it Addis in Cape. Here, she shares her tips for making the most of a trip to South Africa’s oldest city.
Where to eat:
I love Beluga, a sushi place in Green Point — everyone goes there, and it always feels like a party. Societi Bistro, in an old Georgian house in Gardens, is another relaxed, comfortable spot with a French-Italian influence. Haiku is an old favorite that does incredibly fresh Asian tapas — lots of small items, including dumplings and wonderful fish.Very popular in Cape Town now are its food markets, where you find really creative South African food. The Oranjezicht City Farm Market is a triumph, and the Neighbourgoods Market at The Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock is definitely worth visiting — it’s incredibly social, and everyone sits around big, shared tables while they munch.
Cape Town represents an amalgam of cultures that shows up especially in its Cape Malay cooking. One such dish is bobotie, which is actually derived from an Indonesian recipe consisting of minced meat with a custard topping. It arrived in the Cape along with slaves of Dutch colonists from Batavia.
For a truly South African dining experience, you need to befriend the locals and get invited to a braai. It’s essentially a barbecue, but there’s a certain atmosphere that makes it unique, including the division of roles: The men grill steaks, lamb chops and boerewors (literally farmer’s sausage) over the coals while standing in the sun drinking beer; the women gather in the kitchen and make salads. It’s a very relaxed, informal way to connect, and there’s always lots of drinking.
Where to shop:
The Victoria and Albert Waterfront [or V&A] is fantastic if you’re looking for major brands and local and international chain shops. A recent addition there is the Watershed — a permanent market filled with the work of African designers, crafters and artists. On Long Street, there are a great many stand-alone shops, African art galleries and quirky design stores. I also love shopping in Kalk Bay, a fishing village with a very independent atmosphere and lots of antique shops where I can happily browse all day. Atmospherically, it feels very far from the big city, but it’s a half-hour drive, and it has good restaurants, coffee shops and an excellent bakery.
To connect to the city’s history in a very profound way, visit the District Six Museum. It’s not huge, but it relates to history that’s real and immediate, dealing intimately with an entire neighborhood where people were forcibly evicted during the Apartheid era. My trip to Robben Island was also deeply emotional, because the person giving us a tour of Mandela’s cell had actually been a prisoner there himself. Currently under construction at the Waterfront is the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, a major institution being created in an old grain silo. It’s going to bring an interesting new flavor to
Cape Town’s greatest hidden gem:
What many people don’t realize is that the city center itself is really beautiful. It’s the country’s oldest city, packed with old buildings and churches, and it has a mix of historic and modern architecture plus the distinct earthiness of Africa. Walking around the city, I’m forever making discoveries. For a bit of a thrill, there’s tandem paragliding off Lion’s Head; you float above the city and land near the beach.
If you could only return to Cape Town for a single day, where would you insist on going?
I’m a hiker, and nothing gives me greater pleasure than being able to walk up Table Mountain. It’s another world up there. And it’s uncanny, because you feel so far from civilization, and yet the city is right there beneath your feet — just five minutes by cable car. The weather is so changeable, creating a sense of adventure, being at the mercy of the elements. There are literally hundreds of trails up the mountain, but on a perfect-weather day, I would hike up Skeleton Gorge, which lets me see the mountain’s other side, starting from the southern suburbs. Then I would hike across the top and come back down to the city in the cable car.