The gunshots were still echoing in the night sky, but I was assured they were the last. For that night, at least. My uber-driven vehicle had arrived, courtesy of the Bonteheuwel Burgundy 73 Wine Society for which I had been asked to present a tasting of Côtes de Beaune Pinot Noirs, as well as to give a bit of general lowdown on the region. They are very into geography on the Cape Flats.
It had been a truly fine evening, with the wines from Pommard, Volnay and Beaune commanding most of the attention from the assembled crowd of winos. Washington Philander, the pint-sized treasurer of this motley crew of Bonteheuwel Burgundy lovers was so enthralled by the E’nfant Jesus 2002 that he committed to making this wine the home-coming drink of choice when his son is released from Pollsmoor in November. Next year.
But it was late and we were gently buzzing on red jewelled juice. And now that the Cape Flats gangs had stopped their exerting night-shift of executions and drive-by hits, I had to call it quits.
Farewells were lengthy and there was a lot of hugging and fist-pumping to contend with before I was allowed into the car, carrying a Bonteheuwel briefcase not filled with wine, but some cold hard cash.
Man I was hungry. The Bonteheuwel crowd have a mean appetite for wine, and when it gets flowing – the tastings were a generous eight pours per bottle times ten – food is the last thing on these fellows’ mind.
And with most of them having laid their firearms on the table before them, I was not going to get pushy about the dearth of edible items. You don’t complain about anything, and I mean anything, to a guy with a Glock.
The uber driver knew the route back to Cape Town city, but I asked him to stop at any suitable place where I can add some solid sustenance to my stomach’s admirable wine content, which was making sloshing sounds in an empty, hollow space.
I had no clue where we were, except there was a mosque ahead, its turreted white form shining like a beacon over the dark streets and starless black sky.
Ahead of us was a light. A row of bulbs above a red Coke sign with the words Festive Foods. Below it, another light led to an open door, and the car stopped.
The driver joined me in opening the doors of his Ford Capri and we stepped inside Festive Foods where we were met by an empty, cheerless space containing four formica tables, some hard metallic chairs and a counter. A sullen round, short man with silver spectacles nodded. He was sweating.
Feeling about as at home as a Swartland wine maker at a Distell corporate marketing meeting, I asked the driver – Broekies – what he’d recommend by ways of food. And to make it two. Sharing is caring.
The order was brief: two Gatsby’s. Full-house.
Of course the Gatsby, a Cape Town staple. What hot-dogs are to New York and organic lattés to Sea Point, the Gatsby is to the greater public of Cape Town. I had heard of these, but never had the pleasure of eating one in the Cape Flats.
For this is Gatsby terroir.
Invented in Athlone, the dish was attributed to the filmed version of Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby by a builder who when faced with the monstrous sandwich said it was “Gatsby delish”. He had just seen the Robert Redford-Mia Farrow version of the movie, and to him the concoction represented the luxurious, decadent and opulence of the lifestyle led by Jay Gatsby himself.
The round sweaty man retreated to the kitchen behind the counter. Sounds of chopping and frying and clanging pans were easily heard in the sparse interior, and Broekies and I made small talk about the early short stories of Scott Fitzgerald as well as the underrated literary technique of Scott’s bonkers wife, Zelda. She had written a few good short stories.
After about ten minutes the food appeared. I had planned to eat mine in the car, but seeing Broekies was not driving a medium sized bus or a repossessed Sherwood tank, this was simply not going to be possible.
We sat down at one of the tables just as a gang of noisy youths walked in singing a Gloria Gaynor song, and the owner-cook placed two things the size of inflamed whale haemorrhoids wrapped in white paper before us.
“Drink?” asked the presenter of these intimidatingly large objects which were supposedly edible.
Broekies ordered two Cokes, stating that a Gatsby is not meant to be negotiated with any other liquid.
The paper wrapper was beginning to show glittering stains of grease, and I began to unwrap my parcel with the kind of apprehensive curiosity one would use when approaching a gift-box making a ticking sound that had been mailed to you by an ex-girlfriend from Aleppo.
I handled with care and guile, and then Gatsby lay before me.
Oh Gatsby, what are we talking about?
We’re talking a loaf of bread inspired by the baguette and about the size of the thigh of a steroid-using Russian weightlifter. We’re talking soft, crustless bread all doughy and airy, and fresh. Although this Gatsby was only constructed four minutes ago, the bread was already soaked through with oil and grease and sauce – do not even think about picking the thing up. Even if you were strong enough to lift it, the bread part is going south and whatever it hits is not going to be a pretty sight afterward, potentially resembling high-speed rodent roadkill on a snow-covered freeway.
Then we’re talking filling. As far as I can gather after a bit of poking around, we’ve got everything in the sandwich filling except Belugian Caviar, a Van Gogh sketch, some Maine lobster, a Laguoile knife, three Partagas No 2 cigars and the original manuscript on which Max Perkins edited Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
So what have we got?
Lying inside the sliced bulk of bread I make out: thin slices of battered beef-steak, cooked through; medallions of pink polony made from the parts of a pig not even a bunch of German avalanche survivors would touch; ribbons of some bird, presumably chicken; flakes of white squid, set in a golden batter; three fried eggs, surprisingly yellow in the yolk; heaps of chips stuffed into all corners of the bread boat; round chunks of sausage identified by Broekies as being “Russian” for some kind of reason the KGB is probably still trying to fathom.
We are also talking some serious buttering of the bread, which is obviously margarine but smeared so thick they could have filmed three versions of Last Tango in Paris with this supply.
Then we’re talking sauce, o Lordie, we have to talk about the sauce.
All the above lies under a shimmering layer of sauce the colour you’d expect to find after a shark attack in muddy estuary water. The sauce is thinner than ketchup, but denser than blood, the perfect consistency for getting in-between every excessive piece of edibility stuffed into the enormous mound of bread.
Looking at Broekies I wanted to ask him where to begin, but he was already piling chips and broken hunks of bread into his mouth and not looking to be in the mood for talking. So when in Rome….
I grabbed. A shard of bread was broken by eager fingers and brought to my mouth after piling it with chips and polony. It was an explosion of taste, the sweet-sour-burn of the sauce joining the greasy excess of soft potato and garlicky slices of mushed pork. After this, a few pieces of perfectly cooked calamari folded between my teeth, sliding down the hatch leaving a perfectly weighted flavour-fest of Gatsby sauce and clean-tasting squid backed by the textured crunch of the batter.
Then came the steaks. Sliced thin as a Samsung Galaxy, the beef shows the cratered effects of relentless pounding. The meat discs are cooked right through, flavoured with marsala and covered with a layer of yellow processed cheese dripping tears of fat, oil and possibly the sweat of the rounded owner.
Why should you care? If you had survived the Gatsby up to know, those viscous rivulets could be distilled arsenic and you’d still live.
Piling the tasty weathered beef with its cheesy layer on another chunk of sodden bread, I stopped to clear my palate with a sip of ice-cold, full-sugared Coke and honestly tried to remember when last a meal had truly satisfied me so much?
The steak and cheese and bread were followed by another round of chips, and I was eating like a Gatsby pro – according to Broekies, that is. Namely, showing full concentration on the food, eating in silence and stopping only to wipe your fingers on a pile of paper napkins or to stare out of the door for any signs of discontent Cape Flats locals looking to cause Gatsby Shop violence.
This is the Cape, and the Gatsby is a classic. Embrace it. Protect it. For you won’t take a knife to a gun-fight, but can face anything with a Gatsby.
- Emile Joubert