Nov. 10, 2010 - Issue #786 : F&M
The real thing
Betsy's provides South African cuisine to ex-pats and the curious
The rich scent of cured meat wafts from the door to Betsy's, which occupies a spot in a small strip mall south of Whyte Avenue. An enviable selection of sausages, jerkies and meat pies crowds the coolers in this fragrant space. All of these products are archetypes of South African cuisine, but their availability in Canada is limited. This culinary void prompted South African ex-pat Betsy Stoltz to make sausages for her family at home. Betsy could scarcely keep up with demand once word of her culinary prowess spread to other members of Edmonton's South African community. She opened her namesake shop six years ago, and retired in 2009.
Fellow South African Yvonne Lennox purchased the business when Betsy retired. Lennox didn't plan for a career in the food industry, but sought this path following the births of her children and the realization that she did not wish to return to her job with computers. Lennox explains that the South African culinary tradition is highly diverse, and that typical cuisine is an amalgamation of Dutch, British, Indian and native African dishes. A cornmeal porridge served with tomatoes, onions and peppers is a staple of many tribes, while sausages, sweets and tea are indicative of European influence. "It's a lot like a mini Canada," states Lennox in reference to South Africa's multicultural population.
Barbecue, known as braai in South Africa, is hugely popular. "No braai is complete without
boerewors," remarks Lennox. Boerewors is seasoned beef sausage, and is widely considered to be one of South Africa's defining dishes. A dried version is known as droëwors, and is a popular snack item. Biltong, another popular snack, is similar to beef jerky but is dried, rather than smoked. "We season everything with our own custom spice blend," says Lennox, adding that although the recipe is a secret, it contains smoked coriander. Meat pies, a British staple, are also available. This staggering assortment of beef-based goods reflects the vast popularity of beef in South Africa—another characteristic shared with Canada. Notably, Lennox sources all of her meat from local farmers.
Multiple incarnations of South African sweets grace Betsy's shelves. "South Africans have a great love of sweets after a meal, and tea time is not complete without them," laughs Lennox.
Much-requested treats include koeksisters, which are sticky, syrupy, deep-fried braids of dough, and melktert, which is a custard tart laced with cinnamon. Typical South African cookies include hertzoggies, which are named after former South African prime minister JBM Hertzog. "We also bake rusks, which are similar to biscotti and very good with coffee," Lennox explains, "as well as fudge, which is harder than Canadian fudge."
Betsy's South African Deli gained a significant South African following when it opened, but its products have gained popularity with the general Canadian audience. Lennox noticed an influx of Canadian customers following the 2010 FIFA World Cup. "Many came back from South Africa and after tasting food there, they wanted to buy the same products here," she observes. She laughs and adds, "But we do not sell vuvuzelas!"
Lennox is content with the status of her business: it processes hundreds of pounds of beef on a weekly basis and demand for authentic South African products remains high. She doesn't rule out a future move to a larger location, but is not convinced that upsizing would be the best decision and cautions that "Going bigger can mean a loss of originality." Indeed, there are many interesting, amusing and memorable customers who grace Betsy's on a regular basis and Lennox remarks, "They feel like family." With that, Lennox resumes preparation of biltong and anticipates the diversity of customers that will grace Betsy's South African Deli throughout the course of the day. Here is a great paradox of city life: in spite of the bewildering urban structure and sizeable population, a disparate subgroup of people are repeatedly drawn to the same spot by the promise of locally made food that for some is a taste of home, and for others is a hint of exotic worlds unseen. V
Betsy's South African Deli
6928 - 104 St, 780.988.5050
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