Namibia, the land of meat lovers
The cultural equivalent of the American hot dog, grilled beef – kapana – is the street food of this cow-revering nation's rich and poor.
(Page 2 of 2)
Either way, kapana is popular, in the way McDonald's is popular in the US – relatively cheap, available everywhere, almost a culinary afterthought but central to many peoples' daily routines. Businessmen working in downtown Windhoek will drive a mile or so back to Katutura during lunchtime to go to their favorite stalls; township locals use pocket change to get snack-sized servings at all times of the day. Namibian fashion designers Natascha Scheidt and Charlotte Shigwedha, who have been making clothing celebrating Katutura culture, recently released a "Dolce and Kapana" T-shirt.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"Oh my goodness, these people are making a good business," says Katutura resident Verona Thomas of the kapana sellers. She came to the Oshetu market to buy meat for dinner, but since she was here, she says, she naturally stopped at one of the kapana stalls to buy a snack of meat for herself and her 5-year-old daughter, Zeni.
To make kapana, the grillers slice strips of meat and fat. (They won't always divulge which cuts they use because sometimes they try to mix cheaper parts of the cow with the tastier morsels.) They cook the meat on a metal grill, placing the fat on top of the meat to keep it moist. Once the beef is cooked, they chop it and the fat into cubes and serve it in newspaper for quick take away, or in a sweet, almost donut-like fried bun. (About 50 cents gets a pile of beef for one.) When it's cooked right, the beef is moist and smoky, the salty fat is crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside – almost like a grilled hunk of cheese. Each griller has a cardboard box of spices next to his workstation – the customer can add whatever sprinkled spices are desired.
At official markets, such as Oshetu, the municipality rents grill space to registered kapana sellers, who often wait years for a spot. Elsewhere in Katutura, which has a population of about 200,000, unofficial meat cookers set up makeshift grills along taxi routes and on street corners. Usually the kapana sellers are men, although sometimes women will sell the accompanying buns and sometimes sit next to the kapana stalls selling cow hooves – a popular snack to gnaw on – out of plastic buckets.
To the uninitiated, all of the kapana stalls pretty much look alike – a bunch of sizzling meat and fat behind a veil of grill smoke.
But Best Karamatha, who lives in the high-end Katutura neighborhood dubbed "Luxury Hill," says there is a strategy to getting the best pieces.
"There are some stalls that are better than others," says Mr. Karamatha, who is carrying a bag of raw meat that he intends to turn into a potjie, a traditional stew cooked in a three-legged cast iron pot.
When he wants to buy kapana, Karamatha walks down the row of grillers, inspecting the strips of fat, looking for whiter pieces rather than those that have a yellowish tint. He won't go to any station where the griller calls out to him, he says, because that makes him suspicious. Instead, he'll look for something else: "Sometimes, you'll see them doing this," he says with a laugh, waving his hand back and forth as if he is trying to keep away flies.
That, he says, is a clue that the meat is fresh, and that the kapana seller is taking care of his product.
He says he gets kapana almost daily, but especially on the weekends.
"Meat for us is breakfast, lunch, and dinner," says Mr. Hukura, the Katutura tour guide. "When I took some South Africans around, they were wondering how people ate that much kapana. But everyone knows themselves. We know what kind of stomachs we have."
[Editor's note: The original version misspelled Katutura.]