Eat with Sarah in Buffelsjagbaai

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The interior of the eet plekkie, decorated with love and pride. Picture: Henk Kruger

She insists that it’s not a restaurant. Instead, she refers to it as just an eet plekkie. The smell of baking bread greets you as you enter the front door. The hostess, Sarah Niemand, welcomes her guests, shows them around the property and starts telling the story of how she started what has probably been the best-kept secret in the Overstrand.

The Buffelsjagbaai fishing village, situated 35km outside Gansbaai, has no supermarkets, ATMs, schools, entertainment or health care facilities. When people fall ill, they go to the bush and collect herbs.

The population is almost completely dependent on the sea and land for survival, and Niemand has managed to preserve her community’s traditional way of living.

She has no running water and, instead, collects rain water in two large barrels. While electricity was connected three years ago, she still has a working wood-fire cast-iron stove. When that stove is fired up, it warms the entire house.

Niemand explains her business started by chance in November last year. She was asked by a tour company to cook for the group of tourists hiking through the area.

She prepared fresh fish, alikreukel (giant periwinkle) frikkadel, fried perlemoen, home-baked bread, home-made sour fig konfyt and salad. The alikreukels are collected from the rocks near her home. Her husband goes out to sea most days and catches the fish. The sour figs used for the konfyt are picked from nearby plants.

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Sarah Niemand serves fresh seafood, home-made, just as her mother did. Picture: Henk Kruger

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Niemand doesn’t have business cards, a web page or even a landline. Her business has grown purely by word of mouth.

Since she opened for business, she’s had diners from Cape Town, Gauteng and even as far afield as Canada and Europe.

“I was so nervous. I didn’t know if the people would come. But they did,” she said.

Niemand doesn’t make “fancy” food. She prepares the food the way her mother taught her – the same way her grandmother cooked. Her method of cooking preserves the natural taste of the food, she explained.

This, said Niemand, is what is so unique about what she has to offer.

Niemand entertains guests in her small dining room at the front of the wooden house she lives in. The walls are painted blue and adorned with crafts made of shells she picked up on the beach.

There is a pair of fish dangling over the table. The fish, along with other ornaments, were made from driftwood collected from the beach. She and the community’s other women make mosaic-bottomed baskets and mirrors. “The women here are very artistic. You have to be because there’s not much else to do around here,” said Niemand.

She sells her trinkets, along with pickled alikreukels, at the markets in Gansbaai and Hermanus. But outside of summer, these sales are slow.

Niemand lives with 12 other family members in her wooden home. Before she and her family moved in, it was abandoned and dilapidated, and the locals believed it was haunted. Then Niemand and her husband slowly started fixing up the place. Each time they got a good haul of perlemoen or crayfish, the money would be pumped back into the house.

She said there were days when her husband and his three-man crew only caught one fish for the day. They use the traditional hand-line fishing method and the problem was further exacerbated by the temporary ban placed on rock lobster fishing earlier this year.

The community – including her family – were hit hard by this. As difficult as things got, there was always enough food to feed her family.

Then on Monday morning, she got an SMS stating that the ban had been lifted. This will go a long way in improving the lives of the local fishermen, she said. They’ll be able to put food on the table and her husband’s business will be given a boost. There will also be a chance to grow her business.

She could possibly add a few more features to the dining area and get signage displaying the name she always wanted for her place: Blinkwater.

Things may be looking up for Niemand right now, but several years ago, the family’s situation was dire.

Niemand, 42, her husband Daniel, 48, and their children left Cape Town 12 years ago after he lost his job and their house. The family returned to Niemand’s hometown, Buffelsjagbaai. At the time, she met a man in Gordon’s Bay who told Niemand her home would one day be like a lighthouse. People from all over the world would gather there. Niemand thought nothing of it, as she didn’t even own a house back then. Little did she know she would be living the prophecy years later – hosting people from as far as Germany and England.

At that point, she and her family were drifting from house to house, wherever they could find a space to stay. Two years later, the couple managed to claw their way back to solvency. Daniel took to fishing and eventually bought a boat, which he still captains.

The family moved into the local haunted house and since then, another wooden house has been built on the property and two caravans have been moved there. The couple, who have been married for 23 years, have two daughters and two sons. The boys attend a Gansbaai school and their bus picks them up at 6am and drops them at home at 4pm. One of their daughters is married, and the other is a law student.

“Growing up the way they did, the children have turned out to be very happy people,” said Niemand.

She said when she dies one day, she hopes her daughters will carry on with her business, which she has dreams of growing. Niemand wants to transform her eet plekkie into a fully fledged restaurant, and include a drive along the coast for guests.

But whatever she does, she wants people to come to her place of birth and experience another way of living.

“The part I love most is meeting all of these different people. I love talking with them and sharing stories. I’ve learned so much from them,” Niemand said. - Cape Argus

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