My gastronomical nightmare in Swakopmund – I tipped him N$200
Swakopmund is known the world over as a tourist hot-spot.
With an intriguing assignment to cover the fishing sector in the Erongo region, my team and I decided to put up in one of the town’s numerous B&Bs.
When one stays at a B&B, it is obvious that they prefer eating out.
So, after a hard day’s work, we retreated to our Swakop base from Walvis Bay around 19h00 and by 21h00, we were back in the streets looking for a late night spot to indulge in some peri-peri chicken for dinner.
The new Nandos shop, once simply a fast-food outlet across in Windhoek, now aspiring to be a full-blown restaurant, was closed. So was Spurs and Wimpy the place which had accommodated us for breakfast.
We decided to settle for European dishes. Either a Portuguese one or German, since Swakop has the latter’s feeling and set-up. We found one, Erich’s Restaurant open, just along the route to the Lagoon. This was going to be a very different and interesting experience for us all.
Little did we know that that was the beginning of a nightmare. A gastronomical and somewhat racist one.
I am no stranger to being treated by the colour of my skin in a restaurant, especially those serving European dishes in Windhoek, but this one was more advanced. Advanced in the sense that it was coming from my own kinsmen, not from the opposite colour.
Upon entering Erich’s, I informed our usher that we were dining in situ and asked if we could get a sit somewhere deep inside the restaurant, as most of the visible vacant seat were too close to the door and the weather was not ideal to sit there. Our host waiter, Nathan, consulted with the manager behind the till and we were told its full inside and these were the only available seats.
We did not see a problem with that and sat close to the entrance, and no sooner had we settled did we notice that we were the only ones of colour in this eatery. And my adrenalin rushed with excitement because I knew then that we would get the best of European dishes.
I have dined in restaurants with a European backgrounds with Europeans but mostly while watching soccer matches especially the EPL and it is quite an experience.
Once seated, Nathan went ahead with serving other tables. For about 20 minutes, my team and I enjoyed each other’s company waiting for someone to come to the rescue. Only then did we notice something strange, or rather way too awkward.
To start with, Erich’s does not have female waitresses, or perhaps they were on leave on that said day.
Our table was right within the visibility of the restaurant’s kitchen. There, about five men, all draped in aprons, kept peeping at us and giggling. In fact, they were not checking on whether we had been served or not, rather we came to assume that they were checking whether we would last long sitting there unattended.
Nathan then reappeared as he walked into the kitchen, before coming back to us. I was wearing my shorts and sandals, nothing formal. As is the norm with most people from my background, when you are handed the menu, you tend to take time going through it, but for us to go through a menu for 27minutes was way too awkward, before the waiter resurfaced.
I ordered ‘Wild cordon bleu’, a crumbled oryx schnitzel filled with camembert. I asked if it could come with bacon served with chips, and prawns. I have never eaten prawns from that part of the country.
A colleague ordered kudu steak in light chocolate chilli sauce served with dauphine potatoes while the other gentlemen went for the normal beef and other lighties.
By this time, we had become very very uncomfortable because the whole staff seemed to be investigating and spying every move we made. Interestingly we did not seem to attract the attention of other diners who seemingly went about their meals.
A German couple walked in and sat close to us. They were served at the speed of lightning. Our food finally came, not from Nathan, but another waiter, Johannes who seemed so advanced in age, towards his 50s I calculated.
All that great anticipation soon vanished at the thought of what was happening around us. We came to realise that there was plenty of seating inside the restaurant, unlike what we had been told.
My prawns did not come.
All this time, every employee of Erich’s was staring at us, with each move we made, to the extent that I advised a colleague not to bother asking where the guest rooms were, lest we were suspected of something.
It was the type of psychological torture that most people of Arab origin people get when they board any American plane. Only that the torture would not be coming from other passengers but from the air-hostess themselves.
To be honest, I did not enjoy the food. I have written many food reviews in Namibia from both black and white run shops, but this was something else.
I soon recalled what I had encountered at Kubata one day, when two black waiters refused to serve me and opting for a white family which was dining next to me. The argument from the waiters was that it was better to serve a lot of people because of the chances of getting a bigger tip, especially families on a night out. I understood that. But this was something else.
Erich’s waiters are not your typical waiters. They did not bother asking if everything was ok, but stood right behind us. The cashier, whom I later assumed to be the owner, was just giving orders to other waiters now and then, but also keeping a watchful eye on us.
Poor old Johannes took time to enquire on us, and that is when I informed him that I had ordered prawns from Nathan.
We were not in a hurry, but we were concerned. Concerned that if fellow blacks can treat each other this way, then what is the purpose of unity. Either they are trained to do it or they do it for the money, that was our conclusion.
We were quite stuffed after two and half hours of being in Erich’s, but my reason for not wanting a stick toffee pudding was not because of my tummy, but because of the treatment that was on our desk.
Erich’s restaurant is not expensive. All in all, our food cost around N$400, to be precise N$396.
After we requested the bill, there was more drama.
The whole staff literally came to see how we would respond to the check. And soon, we began enjoying the drama, in which to them, we were the main actors, soon to cause panic by not paying.
After a brief pause, just to take the game back to the players, she took N$600 put it in the book and one of the waiters rushed to pick it and take it to the cashier. The cashier, brought back N$200, assuming perhaps my colleague had made a mistake in counting the money.
I took the bill, wrote in bold Tip (Nathan) N$200 and handed it back to the cashier.
“Thanks for coming guys, please call again,” the dumbstruck cashier said with a forced smile.
Pity, we left without personally thanking Nathan for being the odd one out, and I wonder if he got that money.
But that was my gastronomical nightmare in Swakopmund, old Nathan is my witness. PF