Driving a Land Rover Defender around South Africa takes work. A guy gets hungry after a couple hours of weaving past sugar cane and timber plantations in central KwaZulu Natal. Navigating the back roads from Greytown to Ixopo is scenic, but it’s a long journey cruising at 80 km/hr. When I saw the hand painted sign along the side of the road advertising wors rolls I stomped on the brakes and swerved into the driveway. This was going to be good.
Beside the yard strewn with junk for sale I found the man I sought. He was an aging farmer, grey mustache and creased eyes shaded beneath a wide-brimmed hat. His green Springboks apron stretched across his stout frame and in one hand he brandished a pair of braai tongs. The heat of the air hung heavy, shimmering in waves radiated from the road and from the grill. He prodded at the wood in the grill and splashed some water across the surface. It exploded in a cloud of sizzling steam.
Mark Antony was the farmer’s name. The way he stared at me I thought better of making a comment about it – surely he’d heard them all before. I asked him about his farm as he cast a pile of thinly sliced onions onto the grill and poked them around with the tongs. He raised chickens. Why the roadside stand? Faced with increasing economic hardship in the agricultural industry, he and his wife decided to diversify their operations as an entrepreneurial activity. Staring thoughtfully into the flames, Mark explained that now he was able to employ a couple more people and create a community gathering space in his driveway. The boerewors crackled and popped as he placed it on the grill.
“What do you want on it?”
“What do you suggest?”
“Sweet mustard and peri peri.”
I sat in the shade in a plastic chair at a plastic table on the cracked, yellow grass next to Mark’s driveway. He set the Styrofoam container in front of me. I thanked him, my hunger battling anticipation.
Objectively the boerewors roll had its shortcomings. The roll itself disintegrated in my fingers and the sauces ran down my hands, but I didn’t care. Here, in this shady corner of South Africa, I had found a bite of heaven. This was the most delicious thing I have ever eaten in this country. Better than nyala poitjie stew slow-cooked on the coals in the middle of Tembe elephant park, better than the spiciest Durban curry, better than the freshest seafood in Cape Town, this simple creation in its humble setting was the culinary highlight of my three visits and a year spent in South Africa. In a bite I had discovered pure happiness and the most complete sense of the word “lekker” I had ever experienced.
My hunger satiated, I resumed my conversation with Mark. He asked how long I was staying and invited me to join him on a neighbor’s game farm to hunt impala and springbok. It sounded like a memorable opportunity but I had been up since 4 a.m. and many kilometers of winding road lay ahead. Recharged, I thanked Mark and his wife, Sarah, for their kind hospitality – a generosity of spirit that is still common in this country. The price for my snack was R20, or $1.42. Already the next hungry traveler was in line for a roll. This alone would be worth the drive from Durban, I thought, as the braai receded behind me and I climbed back into the plantations.