If you don’t know what a !Naba is – and I didn’t, it’s a fungus that grows under the soil and is similar to a truffle. Its known in the Northern Cape as the ‘Kalahari Truffle’ and has a smooth potato-like texture which can be eaten raw or cooked. The locals know all the tricks to finding them. At certain times of the year, after rain, in red soil, next to a specific kind of bush and where signature cracks occur in the ground above them. They are so proud of this unique delicacy, they created the first and only food and wine festival in Upington and named it after the !Naba.
Orange River Cellars – the main sponsor of the !Naba Food & Wine Festival invited me to attend the event last week-end and experience the warm Northern Cape hospitality. I was thrilled. My mother was born in Upington and I hadn’t been back since I was twelve. I discovered so many interesting things about the area which I can’t wait to tell you about, but in the meantime, I wanted to share a few of my pics of the festival.
I was asked to co-judge the braai competitions with the charismatic and quite frankly legendary Jan Braai and loved every second of that. I got my heart melted by the cutest kids cooking up a storm over the coals and tasted some amazing dishes prepared by the locals. This is a community that takes their braai VERY seriously. (In case you are from another part of the world a braai is what we call a barbecue in South Africa).
This is how Jan defines what a braai is “I reckon to be a braai you have to make a real fire. Charcoal is half burnt wood and may be used in emergencies. Gas is not a braai, it’s Afrikaans for guest at your braai. However, if you’re using an old well weathered and season potjie to cook in on a gas stove during a hurricane, that comes close to the essence of braaing”.
There was some proper rivalry in the adults competition where all the teams had to make up dishes with the same core ingredients and both Jan and I were pretty impressed with the overall standard including the desserts they came up with.
The !Naba Festival was a very well organized event filled with so much local gees (atmosphere). A few wine producers came up from the Cape to add to the wines on offer from local farmers. The food was in abundance and all the typical things you would expect to find at a small town food fair. I was impressed with the meat suppliers, including a lot of goat and wild meat.
The Wine tent got really festive with loads of music and long arm dancing as the Orange River Cellars Wine flowed. This is one festival I definitely want to go back to.
Check out the !Naba Food & Wine Festival website to see the program of events from cooking demos, to live music performances as well as the braai competition. You will also see what a !Naba looks like. Luckily for me I came home with a bag of frozen Nabas and I can’t wait to get busy in my kitchen experimenting with this rare and exciting ingredient.