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Learn more about Africa’s spectacular wildlife

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Africa is every kind of special when it comes to wildlife. With more species of mammal than North and South America combined it’s no wonder that travellers trek to the African continent on safari to spot the Big 5 and to see an array of other wildly intriguing mammalian and non-mammalian species.  


Often overlooked but no less intriguing, the strange looking aardvark is found in Sub Saharan Africa. Directly translated from the Afrikaans language, aardvark means “earth pig”. Interestingly, while it shares a medley of features with animals including an elongated pig-like snout, rabbit-like tubular ears, and a cone-shaped tail similar to a kangaroo, it bears no genetic relation to any of them. In fact, there is no animal like it: It is the only animal in its bizarre, one-of-a-kind order.

Homey hideaways

Nocturnal for the most part, aardvarks generally spend their days curled up in cool underground networks. Not adverse to hard labour they dig their burrow homes in soft clay or soil using their powerful machine-speed, spade-like paws. Long thick nails, aid the digging process, so much so that the aardvark can dig feet in seconds. Surprisingly, in spite of being a speedy digger it moves relatively slowly and uses keen hearing and strong sense of smell to guard against predators such as humans, lions, leopards and python snakes.

Termites beware

In addition to being useful for home improvements, the aardvark’s powerful limbs act as nimble cutlery. Leaving their burrows at night to forage for food, the aardvark sways its snout from side to side to pick up termite scent.

Digging through the hard outer shell of a newly discovered termite mound it finds and feasts on its favourite crawly snack within. Using its protractile, sticky ribbon tongue (up to 30 centimetres long) it grabs and gobbles up its dinner. In fact, this earthly hog can consume up to 50 000 termites or ants in one sitting. As far as table manners go (or the lack thereof), an aardvark will sometimes simply press its snout against the opening of a mound and suck up the evening’s meal.


Having an unusually thick skin means that the aardvark never gets bitten. It also has more turbinate bones in its nasal cavity than any other mammal, which allows it to control airflow with military precision. In other words, it can close its nostrils while digging and dining without inhaling dust or suffering invasion from creepy crawlies.

No wonder the aardvark is admired in African folklore for its intrepid search of food and its fearless hunting down of termites and the mighty soldier ant. In fact, not just admired in folklore, the aardvark lends its name to a long-nosed supersonic fighter-bomber known for its nocturnal missions and low-level weapons that can penetrate deep into the ground.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Now far away from the place she called home as a child it is with a mix of yearning and sadness that Pamela talks about Kundulu. Just a sprinkling of huts on a rugged natural landscape, from a distance her childhood village in the Eastern Cape midlands could be seen as an idyllic place in which to grow up. Together with her younger brother, sister and four cousins she lived in a small cosy dwelling in the loving care of a wise and attentive grandmother. While not without it’s hardships, Pamela certainly talks about the place with fondness and for good reason.

Born in 1980s apartheid South Africa

During the 1980s many men and women of colour sought jobs in the big cities to support their families. Pamela’s mother, was one of those forced to leave her small children in the care of family. They didn’t see her much, not by choice on either side, but she would regularly send money home to provide for her children. Holiday homecomings were happy family reunions that would always end with her heading off again to find work as a domestic worker.

Rich in other ways

Some necessities that most people take for granted like easy access to water, microwaves and electricity were unfamiliar to Pamela and her family. While she didn’t have fancy clothes or elaborate furniture, there was always fire to warm her, food to eat, plenty of singing, drumming, dancing and traditional Xhosa cultural values. By village standards they might even have been considered ‘well off’.

Accepting responsibility

For Pamela, walking a fair distance to the mountain to collect water, tending the cows and goats (both usually the jobs of a boy), and cooking over an open fire were commonplace. These daily chores were not without the moments of resentment any young girl in her place would experience from time to time. Still, she was the oldest. There was no man of the house, her brother was little more than a toddler, and her grandmother couldn’t do it all on her own.

Each day would begin with waking up early to go to the kraal (animal enclosure) to milk the cow and goats, to make fire for tea and the breakfast maize porridge, and to prepare grandmother’s morning bath. Morning chores completed, Pamela would head off on foot to school.

Learning in the sand

Early school life was rudimentary at best. A typical classroom was a small rondavel (a traditional circular hut-type structure with a conical thatched roof made from locally found materials). There were no books and no pens or pencils with which to write. They would write in the sand on the playground outside, and the teacher would go around and mark their work. They used pebbles for arithmetic.

Ignoring the calling

Her grandmother was a respected member of the community. She’d had the ‘calling’ to be a sangoma (traditional healer) like her mother before her but had rejected this in favour of Western religion. As Pamela was bright and eager to learn, the other children would say her grandmother used magic to make her more clever than the rest of the class.

A question of survival

After school, she would go home for lunch, and set off to fetch water from the mountain. Then she would pound the maize in preparation for the next day’s breakfast porridge, collect the livestock, count them and close them in the kraal for the night. There were times when she would fetch water in the pouring rain or have to chase a cow out from behind a bush on a cold winter’s day. Her bare feet would get so desperately frosty that she would slip them into a fresh pile of warm cow dung. 

Sometimes one of the cows or goats would hoof the milk pail and send the contents flying. Frustrated, she would cry but then her grandmother would come. Together they would finish what needed to be done - it was a question of survival, a way of life. She says, “from my grandmother I learned how to appreciate the old ways, to be independent, to do things for myself, to be patient and accepting. I learned how to be a proud Xhosa woman”.

Old ways new ways

In 1995, Nelson Mandela was South Africa’s first democratically elected president, the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup and ten-year old Pamela, now in grade six finally had a proper school with walls, windows and writing materials. Life was full of responsibilities but she was happy.

Early one morning Pamela found her three-year old twin cousins playfully tugging at gran in an effort to wake her. Intuitively, Pamela ran to the neighbours for help but her grandmother never woke up. She remembers feeling both devastated that her grandmother was gone forever and happy that her mother was coming to fetch them to live with her in the big city of George.

Having bright electrical light at night was odd at first. An easy flick of a switch brightened up an entire room and there was a stove! No collecting of wood to make fire to cook, no pounding of maize, no milking livestock, and no grandmother. Pamela missed her terribly.

Becoming a woman

Adapting to all the changes that come with loss and moving home is tough. Having to deal with the unkindness of other children is worse. Her aunt purchased brand new brown school shoes for her in Cape Town. All the other kids at school had black shoes. On her first day at her new school, waiting outside the staff room, some of the kids laughed at her and called her “no transfer”. In time though she settled in, worked hard at school and made friends.

Pamela’s mother was fair but strict. There was little leisure time. Education was important and Pamela matriculated in 2003. At the time, she thought of becoming a social worker. She’d been through so much herself, had witnessed the desperate circumstances of others, people far worse off than herself and her family, and she wanted to do some good in the world.

Painful decisions

Sadly, this was not to be. Shortly after she matriculated, the following year her mother passed away. Suddenly, Pamela was catapulted into a new set of circumstances. Barely an adult herself, she had to become provider and mother to her brother (fourteen) and sister (seven).

In 2007, she made the painful decision to leave her now seventeen year-old brother and ten-year old sister with her aunt, and moved to Cape Town in search of work. She worked as a security guard. Risky and dangerous, it required long hours and often dealing with unsavoury people. On any given day she would have an altercation with an unruly member of the public and end up riding home on the same public transport as them.

Becoming a mother

While in Cape Town, she met a man and fell pregnant. He responded to the news by saying that he was too young to take on the responsibility of fatherhood and left. Conflicted by what to do about her situation, she drew on her mother’s strength and decided, “If my mother coped, I can too”. So she packed up and headed back to George where she gave birth to twins.

All life is a song

Two years later she was back in Cape Town waitressing at GOLD Restaurant. Everything about the place was an inspiration to her. The people, African cultures coming together, the guests from all over the world, the food, the live entertainment – in particular the singing. From her earliest days in the warmth of her grandmother’s house she loved entertaining people, and singing along with gran to the rhythmic beating of the drum.

One evening, the staff was flitting about checking tables, shining glasses, donning their GOLD issue African-inspired attire in preparation for the night’s dining experience. Then Pamela got wind that one of the singers hadn’t turned up for work so she filled in.

Nowadays she’s a permanent part of the GOLD entertainment repertoire, singing most nights, doing what she loves with people she respects and for people who welcome the music and appreciate her for it. She sings about village life, struggle, war, and cultural pride. She says, “when I sing I feel joy. I feel relief”.

Being part of something special

She stills fills in to lend a hand waitressing when needed. Does she mind? Absolutely not. GOLD’s people are more than a team, they’re family and Pamela has come to value and almost covet her role. She says, “people like coming to GOLD because in one evening, in one space, they find many African cultural experiences and they feel part of something special”. Fortunate to have learned important life lessons from the powerful and brave women in her life, she’s grateful to her mother and grandmother. However, she says the person who inspires her most is Cindy (GOLD Restaurant co-owner). When asked about Cindy she says, “Wow, she’s made me stronger. She’s taught me to be a go-getter, to push harder in life. Yes, she’s the boss but she’s also a mother to me. She cares”.

Back to Kundulu

The last time Pamela was in Kundulu was in 2014. The events leading up to that visit were bitter sweet. Her brother who had left school in grade 11 had been staying in Phillipi township outside Cape Town. They were close growing up but he too had suffered loss and had his own share of disappointments. He wanted to go back to school and she was finally in a position to help him.

One day she got a call from the police to say that there was an incident involving her brother but they didn’t give her any details. She frantically tried calling but couldn’t reach him. Eventually, she discovered that he’d been run over by a car. She says, “He was gone and there were so many things left unsaid. I wished that in our last conversation I had told him that I loved him. I didn’t know how I was going to tell my sister. I had gone back to Kundulu to bury my brother”.

“I never cried”

Looking back she says, “I never cried when he died. I held it in. I wanted to help him in so many ways. I wanted to invest in his future and when the chance came it was too late”. She says, “I wanted to be a good mother to my brother and sister, to close the empty space left first by our grandmother and then our mother. My sister helped me to realise that I could never close that space and so I’m learning to let go and to focus on being a good mother to my own children”.

When she was a small child, her mother carried a dompas or “dumb pass”, which all black people in South Africa were forced to carry when they ventured outside of their designated areas. Pamela grew up petrified of people who had a different colour skin colour to her own. She says, “it wasn’t a good way to grow up. My children won’t have to grow up like that. Their experiences and opportunities will be different. I’ll make sure of it”.

Celebrating the old ways

Brought up with simple, honourable Xhosa values, Pamela’s culture is deeply ingrained in who she is. In fact, she hopes to open her own consulting business one day to preserve her culture and to share it with others. She says, “I want to teach people, I want to remind them of the old ways, why they are still important, and how they can be applied today”.

She wants to show young Xhosa women in particular the significance of Xhosa traditional dress and behaviour (this will become a link to another article on the subject). Everything from behaviour, tone of voice and eye contact to clothing and make up has meaning. Even the way you tie your head-scarf says something about who you are.

Moving on to better things

As for having someone special in her life, she laughs and says, “I have two, my children”. She and her children’s father never reconciled as a couple but he made contact in 2009 and has since made an effort to develop a relationship with his children. He doesn’t do much by way of financial support but she’s happy that her children have a dad. She says, “I know things will be better and one day I will find someone who will love me and my children. I want that for us. For now, I am happy to have work I enjoy, to sing, to be able spend time with my children, to listen to their chatter, and to end each day with something good. Family is everything”.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Sometimes, the thought of preparing a wholesome, homemade meal is exhausting. Regardless, you’re at the chopping board clutching the chopping knife. The herbs are misbehaving and flying all over the place but you continuously rein them in and persevere. Then you discover that a key spice ingredient has lost its flavour while languishing on your spice rack above your stove. Your fingernails reek of garlic and probably will do for hours if not the whole of the following day. On top of all of this you don’t have anything in the pan yet and dinnertime was 15 minutes ago.

Still, meal preparation needn’t be something you dread. You don’t need to be a chef or a foodie wizard to save some time in the kitchen and put a delicious meal on the table. You also don’t need cutting edge gadgets or assassin knife skills to shorten prep time.

Chopping herbs

When chopping your herbs, sprinkle a little salt onto your chopping board to keep them from flying about.

Crushing garlic

Place your garlic cloves inside a resealable plastic bag and crush them with the back of a knife. Crushing garlic this way will prevent your hands, chopping board and knife from reeking.

Storing spices

To keep your spices fresh for as long as possible store them in a cool, dark space such as a pantry, cupboard, or drawer. Never store them above your stove. Light, heat and humidity will cause them to lose their flavour as will moisture.

Cooking pasta

Make your pasta dishes even more flavourful. Boil your pasta until it’s almost cooked. Remove it from the pot and add it to your pasta sauce to finish cooking.

Seasoning meat and poultry

Chefs disagree about many things but seldom on basic food preparation techniques. However, when it comes to seasoning there is an ongoing debate about whether to season ahead of time or just before you cook. Whichever option you choose be sure to season your meat or poultry evenly so that every bite is equally delicious.

Juicing lemons and limes

Soften your lemons or limes by rolling them under your palm for a minute or so on a hard surface. Juicing will be quicker, easier and you’ll get more liquid from them.

Storing citrus zest

Store the zest of lemons, limes, grapefruit and oranges in the freezer in plastic bags. Whatever your zesting method preference be sure to remove the thin coloured skin only. The white pith just underneath the skin has an unpleasant, bitter taste.

Testing oil heat for frying

If you want to find out if your oil is hot enough for frying hold a wooden spoon upright in the oil. If bubbles form around the wood your oil is ready.

 See 5 Foods That Should Never Be in Your Fridge.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Refrigeration is one of the modern conveniences many people cannot imagine living without. You shop, pop items in the fridge and forget about food going bad for at least a day or two. What we place in our refrigerators is based on a habitual belief that our foods will stay fresh and last longer. For the most part this is true. However, you might be surprised to learn that some of what is sitting in your fridge at this very minute has no business being there. In fact, fridge storage can diminish the quality of certain products and may even cause them to go mouldy faster.


The tomato is the fruit of the tomato plant. Anyone who has grown these lovelies in some of their more than 7500 varieties know that they adore heat and detest the cold. Tomatoes need the sun to grow and to enhance their flavour. Even when removed from the vine they still don’t like the cold. So, if you store them in a fridge, they become uncooperatively floury and lose their flavour.


The argument goes that potatoes enjoy cool temperatures but don’t like cold temperatures. Rule of thumb is that they do best at room temperature. But room temperature can vary depending on where you are and few people walk about with a thermometer in their pocket.

Regardless, the point is this. A fridge is too cold to store potatoes. It increases the conversion of starch to sugar more rapidly, which in turn can affect flavour, texture and discolouration when they cook.


Onions are one of the oldest foods known to humankind. They are one of the easiest vegetables to grow, they really do make you cry, and they go soft and mouldy when placed in a fridge. They also perish when stored too close to the humble potato. Tatties emit moisture and gas, which cause onions to spoil rapidly. That said once peeled you can keep your onion in a covered container in the fridge.


An avocado, like the tomato is a fruit. In fact it’s classified as a single-seeded berry. If you purchase an unripe, hard avocado you shouldn’t store it in your fridge. Avos need time to ripen and the cold will hamper the ripening process. However, ripe avos may be placed in the fridge if you are not intending to use them immediately.


This is a tricky one. There are arguments for and against refrigeration. Most fresh food experts would agree that they are best stored at room temperature but can tolerate up to three days in a fridge. Too long in a fridge and they develop water-soaked patches, pitting, and all around general decay ensues.

Tips to store fresh foods

  • Store tomatoes on your counter (away from direct sunlight) and eat them / cook with them when ripe 
  • Potatoes should be stored in a cool, dry place and should outlast most if not all other fresh veggies
  • Keep your unpeeled onions in a cool, dark, ventilated space in order to keep the outer layer dry and papery until ready to use
  • Store avocados at room temperature until they’re ripe or you can place them in a brown paper bag with to speed up the ripening process
  • Keep cucumbers on a counter away from your tomatoes, bananas and melons 

Most of make use of a fridge with limited knowledge of the types of food that should be refrigerated. We see a fridge and our brains immediately associate it with food conservation. Now that you know otherwise you might be encouraged to try some new storage methods. In fact, you may well have some fresh food storage tips of your own. Feel free to share them with us.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Carnivorous plants are predatory flowering plants that capture and digest animals to obtain nutrients from their corpses. While most species grow without digesting prey they grow quicker and tend to flourish better when consuming animal nutrients.

Leafy flesh eaters prey on everything from insects, spiders, and other small soil and water inhabiting invertebrates to lizards and rodents. They seduce their food with various alluring species-to-species features including vibrant colours, nectar-producing glands, sticky guide hairs, and/or leaf extensions. Their specialised leaves act as handy snares.

Read all about it

On 28 April, 1874 an article in the New York World announced the discovery of a man-eating tree on the island of Madagascar, off the east coast of Southern Africa. The article included a horrific description of a local woman sacrificially fed to the tree by members of her Mkodos tribe. It was based on a letter received from the German botanist Karl Leche, who provided a chilling eye-witness account of what transpired.

A gothic tale of Frankensteinian proportions

Fourteen years later it was revealed that the story was a work of fiction. Neither Leche nor the Mkodos tribe was real. In spite of this revelation, the tale continued to circulate as gruesome fact. For decades explorers continued to venture into the wild and overgrown interior of Madagascar - a land unknown to outsiders - in search of the elusive cannibal tree.

While the tree never materialised, its popularity spawned various similar fictitious man-eating trees in other parts of the world. It also led to reports of actual carnivorous plant discoveries.

What Darwin had to say

Carnivorous plants are seductive and often beautiful living organisms, which could be said to dangle a frond in both the animal and plant kingdoms - at a stretch of the imagination that is. After all, one doesn’t usually associate plants with eating flesh. Darwin himself believed that the movement-sensing organ on the sundew, a particular species of carnivorous plant, is more sensitive than any nerve in the human body. This belief was based on his numerous experiments.

In spite of horror movies like “Little Shop of Horrors” and H.G. Wells novels and bizarre dining habits carnivorous plants do not bite or gobble people. Quite the contrary, they are completely harmless to humans. Still, the thought of a seemingly motionless plant organism ensnaring and consuming its prey is more than just a little unnerving.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Our planet is populated with magnificent creatures from microscopic organisms to colossal land, air and water dwellers. At the top of the colossus scale, coming in at approximately 180 tonnes and 30 metres (100 feet) in length, the Blue whale is the largest animal on earth and the heaviest. Its tongue alone is said to weigh as much as an elephant.

African Elephant

On the subject of elephants, Africa has its own impressive list of large creatures including the African elephant, the planet’s biggest and heaviest terrestrial animal. Much larger than its Asian cousin, shoulder to toe the African elephant stands more than 3 metres (10 feet) and weighs up to 7 tons.


From trunks to beaks. At a height of approximately 2 to 2.7 metres (7 to 9 feet) and weighing 100 to 160 kilograms, the ostrich is the largest bird in the world. Although unable to fly, what it lacks in levitation it makes up for in speed. The ostrich also has the distinction of having the largest eyes of any land animal.


Since the time of the dinosaur, Earth has witnessed countless gargantuan-scaled beasts including the crocodile. Thought to be around 200 million years old it outlived its fellow dinosaurs and invokes both fear and fascination in humans.

The saltwater crocodile is the largest species and is found in various parts of the world including Africa. The longest captive saltwater croc was a chap called ‘Lolong’ from the Philippines. From snout to tail he measured 6.17 metres (20 feet and 3 inches) and weighed 1075 kilograms.

Not to be outdone, the Nile crocodile is the second largest croc species in the world. Legendary man-eating ‘Gustave’ of the African country of Burundi is estimated to be about 6 metres (20 feet long) and still growing. He has never been captured.


With an elongated neck of 2 metres (6 feet) or more accounting for almost half its vertical height, the giraffe is the tallest land animal. At an astonishing 18 to 20 inches (45 to 50 centimetres) its prehensile (capable of grasping) tongue is among the longest in the world.

Nile perch

Of the world’s largest freshwater fish, the Nile perch isn’t the largest in the world. Still, at a length of 6 feet and weighing up to 230 kilograms it certainly features in the top 10. Found in lakes and rivers not just in the Nile Delta but also in the Congo, Ethiopia and parts of the Mediterranean it could be argued that it isn’t strictly African although it is commonly referred to as the African Nile perch.

African Goliath beetle

Occurring practically everywhere except for Antarctica beetles are the most common type of insect. Based on weight and bulk, the Goliath beetle is a worthy challenger for the largest insect on Earth title. There are others that are slightly longer but these contenders are lighter and pack less of a punch in terms of strength. This heavyweight can lift more than 800 times its own weight.

Six-eyed sand spider

This whopping largest in the world collation of African animals covers the five vertebrate groups (amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles) and one of the two invertebrate groups (insects and spiders).

While Africa is no slouch in the large specimen eight-legged department it doesn’t feature on any world’s largest top 10 lists. However, the Southern African Six-eyed sand spider features on practically every most dangerous Arachnid list, dangerous to other animals that is.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Malawi is a geographically diverse landlocked African country with a massive glittering lake, the third largest in Africa. Lake fish are plentiful and form an important source of food as do a variety of vegetables, maize-based nsima, rice, cassava, and sweet potatoes. Sim-Sim (sesame) balls are finger food consisting mainly of sweet potato with cinnamon for spice. Sesame seeds provide the crispy coating on the outside. This recipe includes cheese for piquancy.

Recipe by: GOLD Restaurant
Makes: 40 Sim-Sim balls (ideal as a snack food)
Difficulty: Easy
Preparation: 30 minutes
Cooking: 30 minutes


T = tablespoon
t = teaspoon

3 large sweet potatoes peeled
½ cup water
5 t sugar (white or brown)
1 t salt 2 t cinnamon
2 t mixed spice
6 t corn flour
200g grated cheese
¾ cup white sesame seeds
Vegetable oil for frying


Roughly cut the sweet potato into chunks.
Simmer the sweet potato and water in a covered pot over a low heat.
The sweet potato should be soft and dry when cooked.
Remove from the heat, remove the lid, and leave to cool.
Add the sugar, salt, cinnamon and mixed spice, and mash.
Add the corn flour if the mixture is too soft - some sweet potato varieties retain more water than others.
Lastly, add the grated cheese.

To shape the Sim-Sim balls:

Scoop out the mixture into your palms and roll into walnut-sized balls.
Coat each ball with sesame seeds – continue rolling the sesame seeds onto the outside of the ball so that they stick and cover the surface area.
Repeat the rolling until all the mixture has been used.

To cook the Sim-Sim balls:

Heat the oil in a pot over a medium heat until hot but not smoking.
Gently deep-fry the balls until golden brown.
Drain on paper towel.

Tip: For a sweeter variation leave out the cheese and add more sugar.
Edible Gold © 2013 | 5D