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Roosterkoek and melktert
South African favourites at the Old Gaol in Swellendam
Roosterkoek, a braai staple, are literally ‘grill cakes’. To make them a ball of bread dough is cooked over hot coals to create a charred, smoky outside and a hot fluffy centre that begs for butter.
Fillings can be savoury or sweet, and here at the Old Gaol in Swellendam they’ve upped the game with gourmet toppings to make for a uniquely South African sandwich.
The restaurant is located in a historical house on Church Square. Directly opposite is the town’s Dutch Reformed church, and the stark, white building cuts an imposing silhouette against the purple backdrop of the Langeberg Mountains. We’re overlooking the restaurant’s garden; here there’s a collection of antique horse and ox-carts, a children’s playground, a traditional wood-fired oven, and even an antique store.
Rose hips curl on a vine above us, and it’s all very pastoral, and relaxing. Lunch comes quickly; we’ve both ordered the house specialty, of course. Our roosterkoeks come piled high with toppings: mine; salmon, capers, and rocket, while my partner has springbok carpaccio with glossy roasted vegetables.
The Old Gaol began as a private empowerment venture at the Drostdy Museum complex. The initiative employed four local women, who went on to own shares in the business. These days two of them, Charlene Mfundisi and Michelle Dyantyi, are the sole owners.
For dessert, we have the other house speciality, melktert or milk tart. It’s traditionally baked in a beaten copper pan, also over coals; the shortcrust pastry falls apart to my fork and makes delicious scaffolding for the delectably dreamy filling inside.
Huwelijk! And that’s Afrikaans for ‘it’s so delicious it’s heavenly.’
Words and photographs Malu
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