Sunday, August 21, 2016

Souvenirs from Cape Town

What do you cling to, to hold on to the vacation glow?

Mine was salt and vinegar chips left over from a week staying in Cape Town.

My friends and I had rented an Airbnb just outside of the central business district, and my first order of business upon arrival was sorting the food situation. Luckily, there was a Woolworths Food just down the road from our house, and I ended up visiting the M&S doppelganger three times in our first two days of vacation. (For those unfamiliar with Marks & Spencer, imagine a high-end grocery store, shrunk down to the size of a 7-Eleven, with all the ingredients you would need for cooking at home -- produce, meat, bread, etc. -- supplemented by lots of prepared options if microwaves and ready to eat are more your style).

I had selected the sharing-sized packet of salt and vinegar chips thinking that our merry band of four friends would have ample snacking opportunities during our week in this coastal city. But as it played out, we came to the end of our stay, ready to fly to the eastern part of the country for some safari time, and the bag had remained untouched. I considered leaving the chips for the next Airbnb guests, but an inexplicable fear that we would find ourselves somewhere desperately hankering for some salty-sweet fried potato goodness -- on the airplane, during the drive to the lodge, in the game viewer 4x4 doggedly hunting down an elusive big animal -- pushed me to hastily stuff the chips into my carry-on.

Of course, the game lodge did a superior job of feeding us and hunger became but a distant, abstract notion during our four days of safari. By my count, the lodge offered a meal or snack no less than every two to three hours, from our pre-dawn coffee and muffins to the nightly four-course dinner. And so the salt and vinegar chips got buried deeper and deeper under a mass of khaki and olive green clothing in my luggage.

Neither did my 28+ hour return journey proffer an opportunity to justify my impulsive snacking purchase, so I found myself back in the United States with an errant Woolworths branded packet of salt and vinegar chips amidst sundry other relics of our South African adventures. And it was there, in the jetlagged, disturbed cicadian rhythm haze of my re-entry into the real world, that I finally feasted.

With their origins in Ireland, salt and vinegar chips are hardly the most representative items of Capetonian cuisine. Coincidentally, I had also purchased a packet of peri peri potato chips that, due to their more exotic appeal, got consumed before we even left Cape Town. Yet, over the next few days of returning to work, stressing over how to feed myself absent a full game lodge culinary staff, and waking up at 4 am, each time I turned to that bag of sweet and salty goodness, I felt flushed with a wave of nostalgia for our South African vacation. Others might use postcards or kitschy souvenirs to recall the glory days of a recently completed vacation, but this was no ordinary Lay's packet of chips; these chips traversed hemispheres to accompany me back home.

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