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Why Cape Town is one of the world’s most beguiling cities

Cape Town is South Africa's oldest city.


Cape Town is the embodiment of multicultural South Africa. Long home to nomadic pastoralists, the country’s oldest city dates its modern history to 1652, when settlers from the Dutch East India Company set up a watering station for vessels heading to Asia.

Today, in spite of the dark history of apartheid and the ongoing daily struggle with blackouts, known to locals as “load shedding,” the Mother City is in the process of raising up its vibrant and fascinating past, much of its multiculturalism a result of the slave trade which brought people from Indonesia, Malaysia and Madagascar to its shores.

Locals of all backgrounds are on hand to talk up its incredible food and drink scenes and its access to some of the planet’s finest wild landscapes, without ever flinching from the important work of reminding newcomers just how this place came to be and the challenges it’s facing right now.

The Bo-Kaap is arguably the apotheosis of modern Cape Town. A one-time army garrison, it was here where freed slaves settled in the 19th century, before being driven out of the area under the racist apartheid regime. Today, its colorful houses and shop fronts, not to mention its incredible restaurants and cafes, make it a mecca for snap-happy visitors.

Karen Dudley knows the area better than most. A renowned cook who before the Covid pandemic ran her own restaurant, dubbed simply The Kitchen, Dudley is at the forefront of highlighting the amazing dishes on offer here. That’s everything from koesisters – delicious, spiced donuts that showcase the area’s Malay heritage – through to succulent masala steaks.

Dudley says her own restaurant and cooking are about the urge to come out of “our legacy of the need to categorize things and label things. There was a big question of ‘what is South African?’

“I think in Cape Town we’ve come to the place, and have been for the last years, where we just want to eat what’s delicious.”

Bo-Kaap's colorful streetscape.

Walking through the Bo-Kaap, however, the racial divisions which scarred the so-called Rainbow Nation are never far away.

“This area used to be an area of mixed races, and during the ’60s, it was declared a White area,” explains…

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