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The Courtyard Restaurant
You know it’s a great craft shop when the “ooooh! look at this” and the “ahhh! look at that” don’t stop coming. It is for this reason that craft shop excursions are best done in two’s (or more) because who are you going to show the interesting Ostrich egg shell to if you are by yourself? Add to that a coffee shop or restaurant through the hall and you’re already gunning for the brunch and lunch destination of the year. Botswana Craft together with our restaurant pick for this edition – the Courtyard Restaurant beautifully delivers this. With a traditional touch of Tswana Charm throughout out its offerings, it’s an experience 52 years in the making.
This was a particularly interesting pick for me, because a younger version of myself would look in disbelief at how much I enjoy traditional Setswana food today. We need to study this, there is a science that if explored could back this up. How, in especially African households, the younger you are, the more you can’t stand the food from your culture, and the way that changes as the years go by. Now, let me make something clear, I am older and wiser now and I think there is no food that speaks to the soul quite like traditional Setswana cuisine, but – if there is ever a time that I’m said to have been involved in the gourmandizing of a morula fruit or any morula flavoured product, know that it was under duress. According to Khaya Groth, the restaurant and events manager at Botswana Craft who I sat down with for a chat, their morula juice is amazing, which I’m sure is great if the rather strange sweet, tart, fermented combo taste of morula fruit is your thing. As for me, mother nature and the food gods are alive and mighty because the juice was out of season and had it not been for that, I may have had to try it for the purposes of this article.
Naturally, we spoke about the rich history of the establishment, which precedes both of us as it first opened its doors in the year 1970. Back then of course, all it was, was a craft shop with beautiful artefacts all proudly sourced from independent creators in the local community and from across the Southern African region. Today, the craft shop in its two-story glory, is covered on every inch from top to bottom with beautiful African trinkets, woven baskets & bags, traditional teas and herbs. The wonder that overcomes you as you enter is almost as consuming as what it feels like to walk through a museum or art gallery, because in it’s true essence, it is both of those things – but unlike a museum you can take the stuff home, and unlike an art gallery, there is no need to call in your banker to facilitate the transaction.
It’s no surprise that many travelers from all around the world do not complete a visit to Gaborone without first stopping by Botswana Craft. With its idyllic city central location, situated just along the A1 which is one of the main highways in the country, it’s easily accessible whether you’re stopping by for a last-minute souvenir on your way to the airport or an immersive traditional culinary experience at the alluring Courtyard restaurant which the craft shop opens up to. It is apparent how the name came about; the restaurant is literally in the courtyard. Shaded beautifully by a boscage of trees, it is picturesque with rustic décor that ties in perfectly with the craft shop. If you slobber over the fusion of family, passion and food like most people do, you’ll be happy to know that this entire establishment is family owned and run. Khaya and I speak briefly about how there aren’t many of those in the city – restaurants that aren’t imported franchises. He says that through Botswana Craft, the family wants to share Botswana’s culture with the rest of the world, referencing their slogan ‘sharing culture’.The best part about The Courtyard Restaurant is its food! With a café style menu of simple breakfast offerings that deliver on those delicious classic flavors that we all know and love so much and an indulgent traditional Setswana lunch with a few western variations for choice. I was tempted to try the Lamb Curry because it sounded exquisite based off the description on the menu; “lamb cubes in a creamy spinach curry sauce” – not the traditional Setswana cuisine that I’ve been going on about but it really was screaming EAT ME. Meanwhile through the corner of my eye, I could not help but notice ‘plate after plate’ those miniature 3-legged pots move from the kitchen through the pass to very eager diners. I came to learn from the head chef Portia Garegope or Sis Portia as she’s affectionately known that most of the pots had oxtail in them, a top favourite amongst customers, served up in 3 different ways; fried, stewed in gravy or simply boiled the traditional Setswana way. And in the end that is what swayed my lunch decision, the boiled oxtail delivered on all fronts. On the menu ‘Mma D’s morogo’ also stands out – named after Mma Dambe, Khaya’s grandmother. A special piece of home that the family so graciously shares with its patrons. Sis Portia, who has been with the restaurant since its inception in the year 2009, is a self-taught cook. Prior to her tenure at The Courtyard, she worked at various contemporary establishments in the city’s restaurant scene. She fondly shares memories of renowned South African Jazz fusion musician Ray Phiri’s visits to The Courtyard and how he would always order Koko Ya Setswana from the menu. On Steve Harvey’s visit he had the T-bone steak with chips. She can’t quite remember what Steve Kekana would order on his visits but strongly emphasizes that on most of these occasions there were no special events taking place and that the people were simply there for the food. Botswana Craft delivers on the entertainment as well. With a particular focus on live music and performance, they have branded Live Sessions where talented musicians from across the globe headline shows periodically. Every event is a sold-out show, which on its own tells us everything we need to know about how good the live sessions are. Their stage, has in the past been graced by legendary acts – Sereetsi & the natives, Oliver Mtukudzi, Sipho Hotstix Mabuse, Socca Moruakgomo, Salif Keita and many more. Unfortunately, due to Covid 19 the venue has not hosted Live Sessions since the start of the pandemic.
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