Equipped with a lifetime love of good food, an endless enthusiasm for new culinary discoveries, and a great eye for the quirky, Pam McOnie’s tour through Cape Town is the perfect addition to any holiday in South Africa- often becoming the highlight of a trip. With the inside scoop on what’s hot in Cape Town’s Bo Kaap region and focusing on small to medium sized wine farms, Pam, founder of Cape Fusion Tours, will be your guide through the colourful city’s culture and embedded history. An avid admirer for over 18 years, Pam tailor-makes the tours to showcase Cape Town’s creativity, with cooking classes, wine tastings, tours of the street art and art galleries and trips to the beautiful beaches dotted with African penguins.
Talking to Pam about her passion for food, wine and Capetonian life, we discover the ins and outs of South Africa’s favourite city with some expert tips on what’s new in the world of Cape cuisine.
When did you first become interested in food?
My father was head of a company called the Citrus Exchange, which looked after the exporting of the South African citrus crop. My mother was a stay at home mum who did all the entertaining of the foreign clients that visited to meet with my father. She would spend a week planning and creating amazing dinner party experiences, which included freezing flowers in ice and presenting the desserts with dry ice steaming over the dishes and so I think I was born and brought up on loving good food!
What were you doing before Cape Fusion Tours?
I studied one of the top business degrees in the country, Business Science, and specialized in marketing and advertising before deciding that I wanted to leave that world and start my own small business. I hoped to create a company that took into account all of my interests and passions in life: food, wine, people, travel, The Cape and psychology. Each day I am inspired by the wealth of creativity that this city has to offer, and each day I get to meet some of the friendliest people on the planet.
What can people expect on your tours?
All of the tours feature a foodie twist so we have reinvented the standard city tour and replaced it with a tour called Cape Town Eats. When I travel, the first thing I try to experience is the cuisine of a country, as to me, understanding the food is the first step to gaining insight into the culture and the people of the area. In South Africa, much of our cuisine is hidden as it is home cuisine. During the tours, we try to show all sides of the city, nibbling as we go along to understand the traditional cuisine, the current food trends and the people who create these fantastic dishes. We are very lucky that our city is small yet filled with artisan ventures on every corner. During the tour we will also reflect on the history that has shaped Cape Town’s food scene for generations.
As the tours are private tours, the more we get to know the clients we are walking with, the more we detour to match their interest and as such, each tour ends up taking a different path. Whether visiting community initiatives that help tackle poverty or doing some retail therapy, we simply keep rambling at our own pace.
What are the best foods to sample around Cape Town?
The list is endless but try and find the local dishes – Babotie, Salomes, Biltong, Boerewors, Koesisters, samosas, pap, samp & beans, bunny chows. Start in Bo-Kaap and sample the Cape Malay cuisine in this neighbourhood – it is right next to the city and easy to access. For contemporary cuisine, head to Bree Street, which is a cauldron of many of our artisan food producers. Start at the top and work your way down, with the first stops at Bacon on Bree and the Cultural Club Cheese to taste the locally made bacon and cheeses.
What is your favourite stop during the tours?
I love all of our stops as they build a true picture of our city, but the most popular stop is a to visit Chef Sandile on the station roof, where Sandile, a real raconteur, tells visitors about his journey in life, his business selling food to the taxi drivers and commuters and about his African cuisine. He explains what the staple dishes are and shows you the raw ingredients and tells you how the dishes are made as you sample a few small portions. This cuisine is the hardest to access on holiday in South Africa as it is eaten in people’s homes and not found easily in restaurants. As our black population represents 80% of our people, if you miss out on trying it, you miss out on really understanding the local cuisine.
What’s new in Bo Kaap?
Batavia Café in Rose Street is a really sweet little café- they make delicious Koesisters (Cape Malay spicy doughnuts) so make sure you stop there to try one – they are magnificent!
Wardia, my street store lady who is a legend in Cape Town, is now opening her stand on Rose Street from Monday to Saturday. You will find her outside the barber shop (close to the Wale Street side of Rose Street). Wardia gets up at 3am to bake goods for her stand and she is always in bright colours – so easy to spot. Chat to her and she will tell you which items to try to get a truly local experience!
Do you have any top tips for people visiting Cape Town for the first time?
For your first visit you need to prioritize doing a peninsula tour or a peninsula drive past Cape Point – it is only when you exit the city that your realize what an amazing combination of cityscape and natural wonders Cape Town has. Within 45 minutes from the centre, I can be:
In Kalk Bay – my favourite little foodie village, where we buy fresh fish in the harbour or eat fish and chips. They also have a wonderful arty village where you can drink cocktails or head to one of my favourite restaurants – Olympia Café – a hole in the wall spot that does not take bookings but has fantastic food. For the freshest fish in Cape Town, why not consider Harbour House for a special lunch.
In Stellenbosch Town sitting at the artisan bakery, Schoon De Companje, eating freshly baked breads and pastries and drinking local brews on tap.
Sitting at the superb restaurant, Overture Restaurant, dining on impala tartar with pecan nut puree and Joostenberg Vlakte confit duck leg with lentil pot overlooking the Winelands.
Walking on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Noordhoek Beach, followed by lunch at one of the top restaurants, The Foodbarn, or having a light gourmet lunch at the Foodbarn Deli.