On the scale of taste explosions, not a lot comes close to the full flavour of the humble West Coast black mussel

The West Coast is   known for many things – from the friendly people to the endless beaches and rugged coastlines. And of course it is home to one of South Africa’s culinary treasures: the West Coast black mussel.

On the scale of taste explosions, not a lot comes close to the full flavour of the black mussel – especially if you make it in a potjie over a fire, serve it with freshly baked bread and eat it with good friends . . . you get the picture.

One of the perks of living by the coast (like I do) is that if the weather and the tide allow it, you can flex your muscles and get your own for free. Well almost…

Mussels are really easy to harvest. You don’t need bait. You don’t need to sit around and hope for a bite on the other end of the line. All you need is a knife or screwdriver, tackies (so you don’t cut your feet on the rocks), and either a big hat, a bucket or even a pillowcase for your pickings, and you need a permit (obtainable in SA from the post office). Make sure to check with the local fishermen whether there’s a red tide. Wait for low tide, trek down to the rocky beach and pick as many as you can find, keeping in mind the bag limit of your permit. Here’s what you do.

  1. Pretend you’re a klipspringer and make your way down towards the water’s edge.
  2. Have your screwdriver or knife ready (hopefully it was safely tucked away in a lappie, in your hat, bucket or pillowcase).
  3. Look around for mussels – if you’re at a good spot they’re easy to find.
  4. Using the blade of your knife, slip it in behind the back of the mussel and cut through the beard (the strands that attach the mussel with super glue-like strength to the rocks). No knife? Grab the mussel and twist it off the rock. Works just as well.
  5. Chuck the mussel in your hat, bucket or pillowcase.
  6. Repeat steps 2 to 5 until your hat, bucket or pillowcase is filled to the brim
  7. Keep an eye on the waves – you don’t want to be lost at sea. If you see a big one approaching, run like hell! (Which reminds me, it’s probably a good idea to let your wife, husband, boyfriend or girlfriend know what you’ll be getting up to.)
  8. Once you’ve got enough mussels, go back to the shore and tend to your scraped knuckles, then soak the mussels in a bucket of fresh sea water for a couple of hours to allow them time to spit out sand or grit.

To make the Mussel Pot:

You’ll need

a couple of hatfuls of mussels
a handful of fresh parsley

a splash of dry white wine


black pepper
a couple of cloves of garlic – crushed
fresh chopped chilli
a chunk of ginger – peeled and grated

First, heat up a potjie, chuck in the mussels, the parsley and a good splash of white wine. Put the lid back on and steam the mussels until they open. You can eat some of the mussels straight from the shell just like that – really simple and delicious. But please keep some for the main act.

Throw away the ones that didn’t open, and reserve a bit of the sweet cloudy mussel juice at the bottom of the pot. Clean the mussels by pulling off the beards and removing them from the shells.

Heat up another potjie, add a generous knob of butter, a good squeeze of lemon, black pepper, crushed salt, the garlic and all of the cleaned mussels. If you want mussels with a bit of a bite, add some chilli and grated ginger and a ladle of the sweet mussel juice. Let it simmer for a moment, give it a good stir, then tuck in.

Best served with fresh bread which is ideal for soaking up any juice left behind in the potjie.



Justin Bonello_Greenhouse

Water is a precious commodity. We can survive without food for 3 weeks, possibly longer, but can only last for 3 or 4 days without water. We need to learn how to use water frugally…

As I write this, Cape Town is in the depths of the worst drought of my memory (possibly in recorded history). I’ve been trying to do my bit by harvesting rainwater, my ‘grey water’ is being recycled to keep my vegetable garden going and I’ve been working really-hard at reducing my and my family’s consumption. We’ve become very mindful of every drop we use, so thought I’d do some amateur science and spent a week working out what my family of 4 uses on a monthly basis, to see how we’re actually doing. Let’s break it down:

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 5.26.40 AM

TOTAL OF 5250 liters a month, 63000 liters a year

That’s a total of 5250l a month – approx. 63000l a year. So I’m looking ok! Or am I? There’s a hidden water cost to everything I consume and it’s called my water footprint. This includes what I use at home (out of the tap), but includes the water it took to produce the food I eat, the products I buy, the energy I consume. I may not drink, feel or see this virtual water – but it actually makes up the majority of my water footprint, and even worse, the food I eat is responsible for more than 2/3rds of this  footprint.

When I add my families virtual water cost to our out of the tap consumption, our water use rockets exponentially. As example, let’s take a look at what it costs for a beef and cheese sarmie without butter.


Virtual water cost of a Beef and Cheese sandwich: 610 liters


One sandwich has a virtual water cost of more than 600l. Now the maths becomes horrible and my amateur science less sure – but the principle is right. Assuming that we only eat beef and cheese sarmies, 3 times a day, x 4 family members  x 365 days, our virtual water bill is 876000 liters – that’s more than a 1000% of my families out of the tap annual usage. It takes 2.5 million litres to fill an Olympic size swimming pool, and with a little of my bad science, and without taking into account the virtual water cost of fuel, electricity and a whole plethora of other criteria, I could fill this pool with my virtual water usage by just eating the above-mentioned sarmies in 3 years. 3 years….

If we ever do get out of this water crisis, we need to plan and live like disaster is always around the corner…

In the words of my mate Graham Brookman, ‘we don’t value water because it’s so cheap, because it’s invisible.’ And he’s right. We don’t value that that we get for ‘free’. It has no value because we no longer harvest it for ourselves and don’t have to manage what we have harvested for own sustainable use. We don’t grow, harvest and process our own food; we’ve become increasingly reliant on the system to provide for us (instead of providing for ourselves) and in doing so, we have all proven to ourselves that we are fools. We are to blame for our current water crisis. Not government. Not council, not the DA, not the ANC. US.

We are to blame for our current water crisis. Not government. Not council, not the DA, not the ANC. US.

Fresh water is scarce and rare, yet we treat it like it’s abundant. We should’ve planned for disaster.

All of us. Should’ve installed rainwater tanks to harvest rain. Should’ve reduced our consumption years ago (not just when there’s a crisis). Should’ve replaced European imports with water-wise indigenous plants. Should’ve got rid of that egotistical monoculture, the useless inedible green lawn years ago. Should’ve planted our own edible gardens…

Fresh water is scarce and rare, and we need to look after it…

Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve…

Instead of flushing it away post haste we need to re-think how we see water in the Urban biome. When the rains do come (and I’m on my knees now), we should be harvesting every drop that we can. We should be recycling our grey water. We need to grow our own food. We need to lobby our local councils to sink the water into the ground and into our backup systems, the aquifers of Cape Town, instead of flushing it out to sea as quickly as possible through storm water drains. We need to bring our springs up to the surface where we can all use nature’s bounty and if we ever do get out of this water crisis, we need to plan and live like disaster is always around the corner. Fresh water is scarce and rare, and we need to look after it.

If we do this, then maybe just maybe, we can avoid a future crisis.




My five year old recently tried to ride his bicycle up a flight of stairs! It didn’t end well and he needed to have some stitches on his chin. Read More