Bottom of the Menu.

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When I started work, and was shown all the ropes, I travelled alone to the various stations and towns to test the water. Our department didn’t have a vehicle of it’s own, so we were issued with a Service Pass which allowed us to travel on the trains and busses.

Amongst others, I worked the Transkei area up as far as Umtata (or Mthatha, as it’s now known). It was a crazy trip. I would take the train to my first port of call, alight from the train with my overnight bag on one shoulder and the heavy metal testing kit in my other hand. Before I even reached the water treatment plant or water tank, the steam locomotive would blow it’s shrill steam whistle and chug away.

My work completed, I would hasten down to the main road and catch a bus to travel further. The busses would be full with no seats available. I would have to stand in the narrow aisle of the swaying vehicle, apologising profusely to the passengers on either side, as I bumped into them at every turn. All this time I would keep an eye on the railway line. The bus was much faster than the train. So whenever we overtook the train, I would get off at the next stop and board the train again when it puffed into the station.

This juggling of modes of transport happened about 3 or 4 times within a distance of about 226km until I reached my destination. The track didn’t go any further so the train would do a turn around, at least the locomotive did, ready for the trip back.

The train arrived at Umtata at about 5pm and departed again at 8pm. This gave me 3 hours to go into the town and grab something to eat. The only eating establishments available were the hotel, too expensive, and a fancy (for Umtata anyway) restaurant that would probably not have allowed me in, smelling as I did of steam train soot, smoke and water treatment chemicals.

My only remaining option was a dual purpose establishment belonging to a Portuguese gentleman. The front of the store was a fruit and vegetable shop. Passing through a doorway with a plastic strip curtain providing some sort of privacy, you entered the tearoom section.

The first time I visited this eating/store combo, the owner plonked the menu on the table in front of me. He stood there, arms folded, waiting for my decision. I started at the top. A mixed grill for 75c. Only receiving 5c per hour expenses, I was on a minimum budget. So I went down the list a bit. My eyes fell on the omelette for 35c. Much better! I looked at the bottom of the Menu, Soup of the day for 15c. Now we’re talking.

On that occasion I ordered the omelette. When it came, I was a bit disappointed. There on the plate was just a folded omelette, nothing more and nothing inside. I summoned the owner and asked if there should not perhaps be some cheese inside. He scowled at me and jabbed his fat finger on the menu, saying, “What menu say?” Nervously I replied, “Omelette”. Still scowling at me he continued, “That’s what you get, omelette!” Sheepishly I asked, “Tomato Sauce?”. He stood there, arms still folded, shaking his head. I chanced my luck. “Grated cheese?”. He started to walk away, still shaking his head, mumbling. “You ask for omelette, you get omelette.”

The next time, I ordered the Soup of the day from the bottom of the menu, supposedly to spite the owner by not spending too much money. I soon realised I was just spiting myself and landed up ordering the omelette again.

Hope you enjoy the following soups.

Creamy mushroom soup

A creamy and mouth-watering soup that comes together in no time!


  • Glug olive oil
  • 1 punnet (400g) button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 punnet (200g) portobello mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 punnet (150g) shimeji or shiitake mushrooms, cleaned (or substitute with portobello mushrooms)
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 4 stalks celery, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 8 sprigs thyme
  • 4 cups (1L) vegetable stock
  • Salt and milled pepper
  • 1 tub (250ml) cream
  • 2 Tbsp (30ml) butter
  • 2 Tbsp (30ml) flour
  • ½ punnet (10g) sage, fried until crisp
  • Crusty bread, for serving


  1. Heat oil in a pot over high heat and brown mushrooms. Remove and set aside.
  2. Sauté onions and celery for 5–7 minutes, or until soft.
  3. Add garlic and thyme and fry for a minute.
  4. Return three quarters of mushrooms to pot and top up with stock. Season.
  5. Simmer soup for 10 minutes.
  6. Blitz with a stick blender until smooth.
  7. Add cream to soup and season to taste.
  8. Rub butter and flour together using your fingertips and whisk into soup (making sure there are no lumps).
  9. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  10. Top soup with remaining mushrooms, garnish with sage and serve with bread on the side.
  11. Tip: Splurge by topping soup with pan-fried exotic mushrooms. Crumbled blue cheese also works a charm sprinkled over hot soup.

Spinach and broccoli soup

Get in extra vegetable servings with this fresh and vibrant soup.


  • 2 Tbsp (30ml) butter (or plant-based margarine)
  • 1 Tbsp (15ml) olive oil blend
  • 6–8 (300g) leeks, trimmed and sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 3cm knob ginger, grated
  • 1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced, plus extra for topping
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, bruised (optional)
  • 3 cups (750ml) vegetable stock
  • 1 can (400g) coconut cream, plus extra for serving (regular cream works well too)
  • Salt and milled pepper
  • 2 heads (300g each) broccoli, chopped
  • ⅓ packet (100g) spinach or Swiss chard (kale works well too)
  • 1–2 cups (250–500ml) frozen peas
  • Handful fresh coriander and/or parsley and mint, chopped
  • Squeeze lemon juice, to taste
  • 1 packet (100g) crispy chickpeas, for topping


  1. Heat butter or margarine and oil in a pan and sauté leeks for 7–8 minutes, or until browned.
  2. Add garlic, ginger, chilli and lemongrass, if using, and cook for another minute, or until garlic is golden.
  3. Add stock, cream and season.
  4. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  5. Add broccoli and cook for 4–5 minutes, or until tender but still bright green.
  6. Stir in spinach or Swiss chard, peas, herbs and lemon juice and blitz mixture using a stick blender to desired consistency.
  7. Serve immediately sprinkled with black pepper, chilli and topped with chickpeas and extra cream.

Sweet potato and chicken curry soup

Dinner in minutes


  • 1 Tbsp (15ml) oil
  • 1 Tbsp (15ml) butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4 tsp (20ml) curry powder
  • 1 tsp (5ml) each ground cumin and coriander
  • 3-4 leftover sweet potatoes, sliced
  • Juice (80ml) and grated peel of 1 orange
  • 4 cups (1L) chicken stock
  • 1 chicken breast, cooked and shredded
  • Chilli, for serving (optional)
  • Fresh coriander, for serving
  • Salt and milled pepper
  • Crusty bread, for serving


  1. Heat oil and butter in a medium-sized pot until butter is melted.
  2. Fry onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes more.
  4. Stir in curry, cumin and ground coriander and cook for a minute.
  5. Add sweet potatoes, orange juice and grated peel, and stock. Cover and bring to the boil.
  6. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  7. Blend until smooth using a stick blender.
  8. Stir through the chicken, chilli (if using) and coriander. Season.
  9. Serve soup with bread.

Spinach and bacon mielie bread

Best-ever country loaf.


  • ½ cup (125ml) olive or canola oil, plus extra for greasing
  • 6–8 bacon rashers, fried and chopped (optional)
  • 2 cups (500ml) self-raising flour
  • ½ cup (125ml) grated cheddar cheese
  • ⅓ packet (100g) Swiss chard, blanched, dried and finely chopped
  • 1 can (410g) Whole kernel corn, drained
  • 3 extra-large eggs
  • 1 tsp (5ml) dried chilli flakes (optional)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • Salt and milled pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 200°C
  2. Grease a 19cm x 8cm x 6cm deep loaf pan with oil and line with baking paper.
  3. Mix bacon, flour, cheddar, Swiss chard and sweetcorn together. Make a well in mixture.
  4. Whisk oil, eggs, chilli, garlic and seasoning together.
  5. Stir into bacon mixture to form a batter.
  6. Pour into loaf pan and bake for 30 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  7. Cool in tin for 5 minutes, then unmould and cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or store in an airtight container.