Pilau Off

The text reads, “Have you eaten? Come for Pilau….”

In less than 30 minutes I’m showered, changed, with my offerings in hand knocking down BK’s door; yet again ignoring the conveniently placed at eye level, door bell. As I had stepped out of the elevator, the seductive scent of savoury Tanzanian cooking wafted through the door fringes promising a debaucherous rampage of flavour. We’ve got to love our Tanzanians!!!!!

Inside, there are predominantly East Africans, with the South being represented solely by a Zambian, who is later joined by a Zimbabwean. Everyone’s glass is full, another promising sign for my rejuvenated night: they are having a Cabernet Franc from Paul Cluver. Enthralled, I’m quick to hand over the contents in my hand to the host: two 500 ml Tusker cans… He deems them worthy and I’m offered a seat on the island counter separating the kitchen and the living space. Fighting off the attention the cans have drawn, he immediately retreats to his room to hide them: such rare decadences are never safe out in the open.

In the kitchen, Salma and Kevin are having a full-blown out cook off; attempting to decide who can make the best version of pilau (Pilau is a form of rice dish infused with various spices and a varying array of meats and vegetables dependent on the chef)! Ordinarily, my money wouldn’t be on Kevin (knowing him especially), but it’s turned into a girl vs. guy thing; the ravenous ingurgitating spectators are almost cheering on. The winner shall shortly be chosen through a blind tasting: official stuff really.

I choose a Castle Lite as we wait: more so for the next wine to be opened than the food to be ready. As I soak up the first couple of sips, Mr BK emerges from his room holding a retaliatory gift, while gleaming in my soon to be realised gratitude. Presenting it, it reads Dompo; a fortified sweet wine from Tanzania (Fortification is the addition of spirit to grape must or wine to either increase alcoholic strength or arrest fermentation because yeast cells cannot live above a particular alcoholic threshold. The spirit used is normally derived from distillation of wine). Despite knowing in advance that its style won’t particularly be to my liking, I am visibly hysterical: forever eager to try anything East African. He’s been saving this since he got back, my ego deciding that I was the reason…

The cork is eased out of the bottle and prudent tasting portions are poured in each member of the group’s glass. The nose is as expected, over ripe and stewed nondescript fruit. A good number approve. On to the palate, the alcohol and sugar are a bit too much for my liking; fulfilling satisfactorily its stated mandate (“Fortified sweet wine”). Chef Kevin takes a particular liking to it, BK and me not so much; to the point that he shudders at the thought of what I will write about it on this blog. I assure him that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the wine, it simply doesn’t appeal to my palate which prefers something less clumsy (the sugar and alcohol don’t harmoniously amalgamate to give balance. They rather hit you independently as if not part of a whole) or straightforward. In fact, I urge all those enjoying it to not only have a second glass, but to go out and buy as much of it as they can when they get home (It’s East African for crying out loud!). Wine should be all about what “YOU LIKE“, my opinion should, in honesty, count for absolutely nothing!

Tasting glasses empty, BK pulls out his favourite wine; the marketing gold mine known as The Chocolate Block from Boekenhoutskloof. The 2011 is a blend of Syrah, Grenache Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Viognier. To prove my point, I voice my disappointment of this wine as well. It is certainly well made and sought after by the masses, however I find it tight and lacklustre; almost clinical and lacking some form of excitement especially at its pricing point. Yet, he adores it and will continue to buy it years after today.

It pains me to say this, but I have absolutely no idea who wins the cook off. The tasting is, indeed, done blind with each plate getting separate servings of the two dishes. However, we aren’t told whose dish was whose: or possibly we are too caught up mocking the host for the Art of Seduction we find in his cabinet. Either way, they are both quite similar in enjoyment (my favourite by only an inch is the one with potatoes in it), which counts as a victory for Kevin (being able to hold his own) in my books…


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