Tag Archives: Somerset East

Hobson’s Choice: a Hidden Gem in Somerset East

After visiting the Walter Battiss museum (see previous post), my parents and I went to a little deli in Somerset East for a bite to eat before the next leg of our adventure (watch this space for more on that).

Fine dining is probably not something you’d expect in a little town in the Karoo, not least on a Sunday. We certainly didn’t; we even packed a little picnic just in case. But we took a chance and asked the lovely curator of the Walter Battiss Museum, who immediately recommended that we try Hobson’s Choice Deli. So off we went.

Now, you may remember how much I love pickled things (read about it here). Well, I’ve never even heard of dill pickled Agave flowers, let alone tried them. Of course, I had to order the sandwich that showcased them, accompanied by freshly baked ciabatta, farm cheese and …wait for it…candied aubergine. I bet you’ve never heard of that either. It was altogether delicious!

Mum had a roast Karoo lamb and mint sandwich (a Karoo classic), and Dad had the slow food special, chili con carne. We followed this up with impressive home-made deserts, hot baked Jungle Berry Crumble and cold Coffee-Brandy Tartufo.

It was refreshingly exciting for a meal in a remote town, and I loved the focus on local produce (even the Agave flowers and candied aubergine are produced locally). A wonderful change from the usual greasy toasted cheese sandwich from the corner shop. We came away with full tummies and smiles all ’round; and needless to say, a jar or two of pickled Agave flowers from the deli for our next luncheon party.

Hobson's Deli, by These Walking Boots

Dill pickled Agave flower, candied aubergine and cheese sandwich

Roast Karoo lamba and mint sandwich

Roast Karoo lamba and mint sandwich

"Slow food is essentially what fast food isn't" - Gordon Wright

“Slow food is essentially what fast food isn’t” – Gordon Wright

Chili con carne

Chili con carne

Hobson's Deli, by These Walking Boots

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Tea with King Ferd the Third

Walter Battiss Museum, by These Walking Boots

In Somerset East there is a museum dedicated to the work of South African artist Walter Battiss. The collection was donated by Battiss from his private collection toward the end of his career, and is housed in a beautiful building that used to be his father’s hotel. Being only a two hour drive from Grahamstown, I’ve been longing to go there for years. On Sunday, my parents and I made an adventure of it.

Walter Battiss Museum, by These Walking Boots
On arrival at the museum, we were shown a video that was shot with Battiss at the age of 76, or 106 … or 6, depending on his mood. In the end, for Battiss, it’s all the same thing, as we’re all the same age in cosmic time. I like that. Walter, with wise words and a warm disposition, invites you into his home, into his world, onto his island, Fook Island, before strolling around the museum to view the collection of his work. “Come and have a cup of tea with me,” he says, as he pours two cups of tea.

Man Painting a Rainbow That’s Disappeared – love it!

Detail, Girl Dancing in the Wind

Detail, Girl Dancing in the Wind

Despite being the largest collection of Battiss’ work in Africa, it is only a tiny portion of the prolific artist’s diverse repertoire. Nonetheless, there’s something special and homely about it. As if it’s just how Walter would have wanted it. Small and true.

Love these little ghosts

Love these little ghosts

Fook Island is a “fake” island, that Walter invented himself. Like me, he was sick of conceptual art that wasn’t anything to look at. So he created a fake island as a form of commentary and decided to make it a real thing. “It is something that does not exist. I thought that I would take an island – the island that is inside all of us. I would turn this island into a real thing … I would give it a name”.  He didn’t only give it a name, however, he gave it a currency, and postage stamps, a language with a unique alphabet, even a passport for official citizens. And Battiss himself was King Ferd the Third of Fook, his Fookian flag proudly hoisted in his garden when he, Rex Insular Fookis, was in residence.

Fookian clothing, including Rex Insular Fookis’ jersey

Fook Island, notice “a sacred heap of ancestral stones” and “dried fruit”. Perfect.

Fook Bank Notes

Fook Stamps – check out the hole in the wall 

“You will seek in vain on maps for the location of the island, for it eludes conventional cartography.  It is not a place you arrive at, you are either there or not there.”

Strangely enough, I think there’s a reason I didn’t get to see the museum sooner. I loved Walter Battiss and his kooky Fook Island philosophy when I first encountered him at school, but I’m not sure his take on life and art resonated as much with me then as it does now. As I embark on my own journey to abandon the normative constructs I have gathered through my life thus far, the simplicity and relaxation with which Walter lived his own life is an inspiration. “Better to be a great big spectacular failure than a small success.”

Man Expoding!

Man Exploding!