CAPE TOWN, April 30 — Travel in South Africa and you may just hear the phrase “Sommer lekker!” bandied about. Roughly translated from Afrikaans as “Just great!” or “Just delicious!”, this exclamation is part of the local joie de vivre.
Folks in Cape Town (or Capetonians, as they call themselves) really know how to enjoy life.
Nowhere is this festive spirit better captured than in the daily communal interactions at Hout Bay, a charming fishing village 20 kilometres south of Cape Town’s city centre.
This is no vacation spot though; Hout Bay is a real working harbour where industrious Capetonians catch the freshest fish, crabs and shellfish that end up on the ubiquitous seafood platters in restaurants all over the Cape.
Driving to Hout Bay from Cape Town is an experience in itself, with stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean along Chapman’s Peak Drive.
Once you reach the Mariner’s Wharf, you’ll discover a plethora of seafood restaurants where sweaty trail hikers and sunburnt swimmers head for some grub.
The real action is at the open-air wharf market where traders sell their wares: maritime memorabilia, jewellery made from local pearls, vintage curios and seashell souvenirs.
Amidst this boisterous atmosphere, you might notice some long lines along the wharf. These queues are for the various boat companies that organise near hourly charter boats to the enigmatic Seal Island, home to more than 70,000 Cape fur seals.
The cruise takes about 45 minutes and allows passengers to watch the seals in their natural habitat. The journey is truly scenic, with views of Cape Point and Table Mountain.
There are many cruise operators so don’t be surprised to find some would-be passengers haggling over the prices...
The heart of Hout Bay — for travellers, at any rate — has to be the Bay Harbour Market, open only on weekends (including Friday evenings).
Located in a once-abandoned fish factory at the distant end of the harbour, the market has over a hundred stalls offering everything from clothing and jewellery to art and handicraft.
The handicraft section, in particular, of the market draws tourists looking for souvenirs that will remind them of Cape Town once they’ve returned home.
From carefully-sculpted stone pendants to exquisite handmade beaded purses, everything here evokes the spirit of South Africa.
Some of these handicrafts, such as animal-shaped key-rings and the miniature giraffe figurines, are made from recycled materials such as tin cans!
But the most popular section of the market is where visitors go to eat and drink, naturally.
There is a dazzling array of food choices here, encompassing both South African and international cuisine: freshly-baked breads, croissants and pastries; authentic Italian gelato and oven-fired pizzas; seafood platters and catch of the day from the Cape; handmade Belgian chocolates; Tunisian shawarmas and falafels; German sausages (from bratwurst to currywurst) and pretzels; Mexican chilli poppers, quesadillas and burritos; even dim sum and sushi!
If everything looks so delectable and you have no idea where to begin, well, soup always makes a good starter. More so if it’s Zoop!, an artisanal soup stand featuring broths made from additive-and-preservative-free ingredients.
Soups are as colourful as they are tasty, whether they are hot (such as the Curried Red Lentil and Spicy Coconut Chicken) or cold (try the chilled Gazpacho and the Indian Summer Tomato). Don’t forget to grab a couple of addictive cheese sticks to dip in your soup.
For something more substantial, head to the Bon-Amie kiosk. This is the breakfast and brunch central of Bay Harbour Market.
Whether it’s salads and omelettes or sandwiches and burgers, they have it here. Ingredients are fresh and nutritious with plenty of seasonal fruits such as blueberries and strawberries.
As a nod to South African cuisine, local game such as springbok and oryx also make an appearance in some dishes.
If that’s too “healthy” for you, it’s easy to indulge in more sinful offerings, courtesy of Naked Drinks. This funky cocktail bar has an admirable selection of mojitos to cater to every palate — their strawberry daiquiri is a signature drink.
Order your cocktail of choice by the glass or the jug; the latter to share with friends, unless you happen to really enjoy your tipple...
Gather all your “loot” from the various stalls and share a bench at the long, communal tables. It’s a good way to start a conversation with your neighbours — some are Capetonians, many are visitors from abroad just like you — or simply people watch if you’re feeling a tad solitary. If you’re lucky, there’ll be “live” music on the Bay Harbour Sound Stage, such as jazz performances.
The Bay Harbour Market stands apart from other weekend markets as it’s led by an environmentally conscious philosophy.
As such, market-goers are provided with only biodegradable containers and cutlery. The waste from all the stalls is recycled. (Now that’s what I call a guilt-free meal.) And when you’ve wiped your plates clean, it’s time to wander again and look for more delicious food!
Not all the food-and-beverage stalls are standalone outfits. Food Pirate, a Capetonian food vendor collective, aims to provide the best of South African fare to various markets and events in the capital.
One of their vendors here is Krokette: they make traditional krokette (croquettes) using homemade stock and breadcrumbs, old school style, before deep-frying them. Popular fillings include chives and steak as well as the gooey trinity of chicken, cheese and ham.
Another Food Pirates vendor is Dr Juice, founded by juicing advocate Eduardo Herraiz. His fresh juice bars began in 2008 at Oude Libertas Stellenbosch’s Slow Market and now can be found in many similar markets in Cape Town.
Dr Juice draws regulars and curious passers-by with unusual juice blends such as Fennelicous, a nutrient-packed beverage tasting of lemon and liquorice.
Of course, no visitor to South Africa can leave without trying biltong, the local version of beef jerky (though various meats are used, with even a vegetarian version made using mushrooms).
At Bay Harbour Market, the resident biltong seller is Stokkiesdraai. A family-owned business, Stokkiesdraai’s biltong is completely preservative free and uses only reputable sources for meats such as beef, game (such as kudu and springbok) and even an unusual ostrich sausage made with olive oil.
Complete your market tour with some sweet treats and much needed caffeine at Nap Coffee, a collaboration between confectioner Nap Living and coffee purveyor Deluxe Coffeeworks.
You’d be hard pressed to decide from a wide array of homemade goodies such as colourful cupcakes, lemon meringues and rich fudges.
Their chocolate tartlet, topped with a strawberry, is especially good. Pair this with a cup of coffee made from locally roasted beans and you’ll be thinking about your next trip to the market.
Spend a weekend in Hout Bay and you can’t help but get into the sommer lekker vibe. It’s irresistible.
Bay Harbour Market
31 Harbour Road, Hout Bay, Cape Town, South Africa
Open Fri 5pm-9pm; Sat & Sun 9:30am-4pm; closed Christmas Day