Murray’s food trails: Kalk Bay

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Kalk Bay is a fishing town facing the sea, with a series of lofty mountains rising majestically into the sky behind.

The name “kalk”, meaning “lime” in Afrikaans, is where it gets its name from. The lime was extracted from burning mussel shells that washed up on the beach. Once the lime was extracted, it was used as building mortar.

The original kilns in which the shells were burnt unfortunately have not survived, but examples of similar kilns can be found along the West Coast, in the vicinity of Yzerfontein, approximately 85 kilometres north of Cape Town, off the R27.

Kalk Bay (Kalkbaai in Afrikaans) is conveniently situated on the railway line between central Cape Town and Simon’s Town. Undoubtedly, however, the principal landmark of Kalk Bay is its active fishing harbour, where a variety of freshly caught fish can be bought daily.

The foundation stone of the harbour was laid on 7 June 1913 by the minister of railways and harbours, Advocate Henry Burton.

However, other than its centring on the fishing industry, there is a long list of activities that this small seaside town has to offer, and it can keep the resident and tourist alike busy for ages.

Great eateries, antique shops and fashion boutiques flourish here, not forgetting Quagga Rare Books and Art, one of Cape Town’s most renowned antiquarian bookshops.

Popular among young surfers, Kalk Bay is famous for its “Kalk Bay Reef” a short way out into the bay, best in summer when a strong southeaster blows, and in winter with its northwester. It’s best known for its heavy barrel waves so popular with surfers.

There are a number of tidal pools for safe bathing, and walking along the esplanade is a great recreational pastime.

And, for those not eager to get their toes wet, whale-watching is a favourite among nature-lovers, when the southern right whales come into the bay to calve.

Behind the town, in the mountains, are famous walks along the slopes, with caves where there are wells for drinking fresh water, such as “Ronan’s Well”, which gets its name from Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Saint Ronan’s well.

There are plenty of parking bays along the main road of Kalk Bay; alternatively, parking in the harbour area is safe, for starting the tour from there. There is an exciting time ahead for visitors to Kalk Bay and for those turning out for some exercise and fresh air.

Or, if you plan on staying over, go to https://www.holidayapartments.co.za/Western-Cape/Cape-Town/Kalk-Bay/info and see what accommodation is available; this same site offers information about activities and restaurants. Or, you can phone 021 405 4500, fax 021 405 4524, email info@tourismcapetown.co.za or view www.cape-town-info.co.za.

To start, go to one of the tourist boards along the walkway at Kalk Bay, which stretches the entire length of the town. The history of Kalk Bay is nicely spelt out for the visitor on these boards, allowing them to appreciate the place’s rich historic value.

The walkway spans the entire length of the town; it is well-suited for summer, although fresh outdoor walks in winter can be invigorating. The walkways themselves are totally user-friendly and spacious, offering excellent views of the sea on the one side, and of the mountains on the other.

Spacious walkways stretch from one side of Kalk Bay to the other, offering excellent facilities for recreational walking or just sight-seeing – at places, with sight-seeing of the harbour and the mountains. Or, just come and enjoy fresh fish and chips from some of the local venues, such as Kalky’s, which is reasonably priced.

As already mentioned, Kalk Bay’s lifeline is its harbour, although few could dispute the importance of its other link, namely, its railway line, which runs between Simon’s Town and Cape Town.

Perhaps a good idea is to take the 10-kilometre train ride from Kalk Bay all the way to Simon’s Town, and back (10 kilometres one-way). The train ride will provide one with some beautiful scenery of False Bay along the way.

For an update on details for such a journey, go to http://www.capetown.travel/visitors/plan/getting-around/getting-around-cape-town/travelling-by-train/, which has the following to say: “While the railway system in Cape Town is mainly focused on commuter transport, the Southern Line Rail Route, which stretches from Cape Town to Simon’s Town, is highly recommended for visitors. The train stops at several beautiful suburbs and coastal villages along the way, and is an affordable option.”

The railway line between Cape Town central station and Simon’s Town has a regular schedule; hopping on at Kalk Bay and riding all the way to Simon’s Town, and back, can be a great way to spend the morning/afternoon/day.

The harbour at Kalk Bay has many activities for the visitor and resident alike. It’s very much a working harbour, with fresh fish landed on a regular basis (weather-permitting and according to season).

But, it also provides the angler a chance to fish off the harbour wall – not to mention the excellent seafood served from the eateries that are there. 

Anglers from the harbour wall casting their lines into the sea, hoping to catch fish

Angling – fishermen casting their line and sinker into the sea in the hope of catching rock fish – is a popular form of recreation here at Kalk Bay.

Many types of rock fish abound in South African waters, and fishermen can bring home the most scrumptious fish for the pan. One of the most sought-after fish is the kabeljou (technical name: Argyrosomus inodorus), which provides a wonderfully tasty dish, whether steamed in a pot, grilled in the oven or braaied on a grid over coals (in South Africa, cooking over coals is called “braaing”).

This tasty fish, as well as various other kinds, can be enjoyed with excellent white wine at a table in the Harbour House, in the actual harbour at Kalk Bay. This restaurant comes highly recommended for the fish-loving diner, and offers a wide range of fish, from the most exotic crayfish to the ordinary hake and chips.

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Recipe for preparing kabeljou
Here follows an original recipe for preparing kabeljou for four diners: get a nice medium-to-large-sized kabeljou, filleted and properly cleaned (not frozen – it must be freshly caught that morning and kept very cool at all times, from the place of purchase to the place of cooking; preferably, take a cooler box with ice layered on the bottom).
Wash nicely, and dry off with a towel. Place the whole fish in a (Pyrex) baking dish. Stuff the fish (in the tummy area) with large, white onion rings, celery and fennel.
Close the fish and bind it with cotton, using an extra-long sewing needle (disinfected).
Pour a little more than half a bottle of superior Sauvignon blanc into the baking dish. Cover it with tinfoil. Prepare the oven at 190 degrees Celsius/375 degrees Fahrenheit. Let it bake for 40 minutes.
Separately prepare baby baked potatoes; steam some courgettes and some carrots – all these are separately done, with no mixing of the vegetables in the cooking pots.
Sprinkle zest of lemon and butter over the potatoes, with their jackets (skins) left on. Leave the courgettes as they are, and, for the carrots, sprinkle over a few pieces of cut chives.
Take the remaining sauce (stock) from the Pyrex dish and, very slightly, thicken with rice flour – do not add salt – and this is then ready to serve from a gravy bowl.
Serve the fish with the vegetables and sauce, and enjoy with a crispy, chilled, yellow-white Cape Chenin blanc.
Serve with a few pieces of over-dry Melba toast.
Plan your own starter and dessert to work around the hero of the meal, which is the kabeljou.

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A wide range of fish caught from the boats (trawlers) that go out into the open sea to fish – Kalk Bay is a true fisherman’s village.

Fishing from the rocks (angling) is very different to the way fish are caught in the open sea (trawling), or from lines being thrown into the water, or even rod-fishing from a boat.

Fishermen making their living from trawling go out into the wide-open sea, where they spend a few days at a time, according to weather patterns and the season.

The harbour at Fish Hoek is one specialising in the catching of so-called pelagic fish, which are basically from the deep sea rather than from the rocks or the seabed.

These include fish such as yellowtail and geelbek. There are many different categories of yellowtail, the one from the Cape waters being the Seriola lalandi, which is visible in the above picture (the two on the far left); the geelbek is the one with the yellow around the jaw (the two in the middle).

The art of filleting fish is a delicate one, as in this way, excess bones – which can be an impediment when eating fish – are eliminated, and the diner is assured of eating viscera-free fish. The photo below shows a fish that has been flayed and filleted and is ready for cooking.

Yellowtail flayed and filleted at the Kalk Bay harbour

The sea area at Kalk Bay is never without its surprises. Here is a story of such a surprise for children, residents and visitors at Kalk Bay:

One day, Buffel arrived on the shores of False Bay, having sought refuge after many days of deep-sea diving. Buffel is a 1200-plus-kilogram southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina) with a huge and imposing body, who chose the beaches of Kalk Bay to come to relax after his heavy fishing explorations, having gone as deep as 1,5 kilometres down into the abyss of the sea.

There is a massive colony of this species off Marion Island, 1 920 kilometres south-east of Cape Town. So, somehow, Buffel landed up in False Bay and on the beach at Kalk Bay – a rare sight!

Buffel is 4,2 metres in length, and is called an “elephant seal” because of his protruding nose. According to scientist Otto Whitehead, Buffel has sought the sunny weather, in which he can quietly moult, in order to groom himself and his new coat of fur. Go to https://www.capetownmagazine.com/elephant-seal for an update.

So, the question arises … how does he survive staying on the beach for four weeks without food? Or, is he just your everyday “beach bum”? According to Whitehead, these animals can survive on their large amounts of stored body fat.

Buffel has attracted thousands of kids to come and see him. And, according to Whitehead, the only likely way that you would otherwise get to view something like Buffel is if you ventured to Marion Island – or to the Subantarctic or Arctic.

The marked characteristic of Buffel is his proboscis – his protruding nose – which enables him to make a very loud sound. A proboscis is an elongated appendage protruding from the head – in the case of an elephant, the trunk; and, in the case of Buffel, you can see his protruding nasal area in the accompanying photograph.

He weighs seven times more than the polar bear, and swims down to almost two kilometres underwater, holding his breath for two hours, because of the large blood supply in his body that feeds enough oxygen to his brain and the rest of his body. Of all the mammals, only the sperm whale can go deeper down into the depths of the ocean, holding its breath for longer than two hours.

Buffel on the Kalk Bay beach (photo: Justin Fiske)

One will need to spend a limited time at the harbour at Kalk Bay, since, although there is so much to do here, there are several other interesting activities in the town itself. But, before leaving the area, take a look at the wonderful vista of the quaint town, and perhaps sample some of the seafood on offer at the Harbour House.

The view of Kalk Bay from the harbour: it’s very Mediterranean.

“Trawler” is the name of a boat that catches pelagic fish, here caught and brought to the Kalk Bay harbour.

Historically, there is much to relate about Kalk Bay, but one item cannot go unannounced. An article published by the Cape Argus explains a very close link between Kalk Bay and the sea:

An uprising against Spanish rule in the 1870s in the Philippines saw Filipino families making their way to South Africa and seeking refuge in Kalk Bay, which became home to about 200 families who settled in the area.

The descendants of the Filipino community still inhabit the area, yet the only indicator of their historic journey to the Cape was a single tombstone at the top of Boyes Drive, which served as the resting place of the Filipino settlers.

However, on Sunday 28 October 2018, the steps leading to the cemetery were honoured by Executive Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson, Philippine Ambassador Joseph Angeles and the Kalk Bay Historical Association, who renamed the steps Manila Steps.

The previously unnamed steps, on the corner of Quarterdeck and Kimberley Roads, were renamed to honour the Filipino fishermen who contributed to the fishing community and culture present in the area today.

This shows the strong links between Cape Town and the sea, and we need to be aware of some of the important less-known factors that contributed to the social and socio-economic fabric of Kalk Bay.

A very tragic example is the community of nearby Ocean View, which is a creation of the National Party’s apartheid policy from the 1960s.

It was created from farmland and fynbos terrain, and was where members of the so-called coloured population group were rehoused when forcibly removed from what were proclaimed as white-only areas in that region.

Many of the residents of Ocean View work in the fishing industry along the coast, providing their labour for this industry. Because it is seasonal, it brings with it vast unemployment, leading to poverty in the area.

Kalk Bay, a town tied to the sea, and on the rail links to Cape Town

One of the ways to promote economic sustainability in Kalk Bay is to capitalise on its scenic attributes and activities, for tourism to thrive.

Tens of thousands of tourists visit the place each month. Other than the features that have already been discussed, what else attracts them?

What follows is a series of photographs of places worth stopping at or visiting, although there are very many more:

All along the coastline at Kalk Bay, boards are available to explain important information about the place, as well as its history.

The Olympia Café has become a landmark, due to its freshly baked bread products and excellent coffee. Above the building is a contemporary art gallery.

For a whole list of cafes in Kalk Bay and environs, visit TripAdvisor.

For the collector of Africana or to find books on South African history, a must is Quagga Books.

Along the main road of Kalk Bay are several fashion shops – the shopper will need some time to visit them all.

The Harbour House is certainly for the classic diner wanting excellent seafood.

The Harbour House, for fish, is divine: the two photographs below show the proximity of the venue to the sea.

The Harbour House views of the sea

In recent years, Cape to Cuba has become a favourite among the younger generation of diners.

Cape to Cuba, a restaurant on the Kalk Bay beach

One of Kalk Bay’s most well-known eateries is the Brass Bell. It’s great for seafood lunches with excellent views of the sea.

The Brass Bell, Kalk Bay’s classic eating spot

Mural at the Brass Bell – at home at the sea!

View from the Brass Bell – like being on a Greek island

The Trading Post, a collector’s dream

For live theatre, go to https://www.kalkbaytheatre.co.za/.

Clearly, visitors and residents of Kalk Bay have much to do in this small little gem of a place, hidden away along the False Bay coastline.

There are several other places of interest along the same coastline, starting with Muizenberg and followed by St James, Fish Hoek and, finally, Simon’s Town.

Each of these places has its own charm, with new things to discover for the resident as well as the visitor/tourist.

  • All photographs, unless otherwise stated, are taken by the writer.
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