“I hope you've all brought a huge appetite," says Johann Booyens as he smiles at guests arriving at his restaurant, Die Strandloper.
It's easy to see who the regulars are. They're already loosening their belt buckles, taking off their shoes and grabbing bottles of beer from the coolers they brought. Newbies are just a little slower to embrace the casual atmosphere of this outdoor eatery.
Mere steps from the ocean on a picturesque beach, first-timers tend to stand around initially, uncertain that the collection of ramshackle huts and wooden benches overhung with little more than fishing net is indeed home to one of the Western Cape's most beloved seafood restaurants.
“But where's the kitchen," asks one confused patron. Booyens laughs and points to the outdoor clay ovens and the fire pits overlaid by grills. “What else could you possibly need," he asks.
Located in the seaside town of Langebaan, about 90 minutes north of Cape Town, South Africa, Die Strandloper sits steps away from the ocean on a picturesque beach. While true farm-to-table eating is a treat, ocean-to-table dining involving locally caught fish is an even rarer, especially with these kinds of seaside views.
Diners enjoy authentic South African seafood "braai," the Afrikaans word for barbecue, involving 10 stuff-yourself courses that highlight some of South Africa's most popular dishes. There's snoek, a white fish, and lamb bredie, a traditional stew with onions and tomatoes. But nothing is made ahead of time. A meal at Die Strandloper takes, on average, about four hours.
The first course is fresh mussels and bread, cooked side-by-side over coals. People line up with their paper plates as a chorus of mothers warn the kids not to touch the hot grills. The tantalizing smell of fresh-baked bread lures diners to take more slices than they could ever eat, if they're to fit in another nine courses. After bread comes Weskus haarders — a small, local fish — followed by spicy fish curry and that flaky snoek. Lamb stew is next, followed by smoked, salty angelfish and juicy rock lobster.
Bathing suits are the attire of choice, and pets are as welcome too, but the food is serious business.
Patrons carefully pace themselves to reach the end of the meal. During breaks every few courses that allow the restaurant to prepare dishes, guests can walk along the surf and enjoy the view or go swimming. Regulars lay out on the benches for a power nap.
Reaching end of the meal is a triumph. Coffee and koeksisters — fried dough with honey — await those with enough fortitude to make it through the feast.
As dining winds down, guests enjoy a second cup of coffee and relish the warm South African surf between their toes. The soft sound of the waves against the shore makes the perfect coda, for an incredible meal.