High Street in Hermanus, which runs parallel to Main Road from the Royal Centre down to Woolworths, has a character all of its own. It is one of the few streets in the CBD where small speciality shops, eateries and galleries co-exist with private residences, creating the laid-back ambience of real village life.
Someone who is new on the scene but who already feels very much at home in High Street, is Tanya Bassi of Curiositea, “the tiniest tearoom in town”. In this quaint and cheerful little shop you can browse, sniff and taste various speciality teas (loose leaves and tea bags) and enjoy a cuppa with a sweet treat such as real Belgian waffles, pancakes or freshly-baked scones served with cream and tri-berry & peach jam; or a wholesome ‘sarmie’ made with home-baked brown seedloaf.
Caffeine addicts don’t need to feel left out, as Curiositea also serves excellent Terbodore coffee, along with milkshakes and a delicious Lindt hot chocolate. Hand-roasted Terbodore coffee (Mocha Java, Great Dane, Italian Hazelnut, Dutch Chocolate) and various teas from Dilmah, Carmien and Enmasse are available for purchase, along with the Oh So Prettea range of organic rooibos teas, hand-blended in Montagu. “The tourists of course love everything to do with rooibos,” laughs Tanya.
Then there are the rusks and cookies – shortbread, macadamia & white chocolate, biscotti, Florentine, Amaretti, Venetian Cioccolatini – and jams, olives and olive oil, which all make great gifts for foodie friends. Tanya also stocks a small selection of ceramics, kitchenware and tableware, scented candles and baskets; you might just feel the urge to buy yourself a present!
Among all these treasures, the most curious item I found was a range of Bird’s Nest Tea Soup with different flavours that sound rather exotic, such as Devil’s Advocate, Green Caipirinha and Sticky Naartjie. Apparently Bird’s Nest Soup originated in China 400 years ago and has become an expensive delicacy, also referred to as the ‘Caviar of the East’. And yes, the real thing is made from swiftlet nests, which are not only rare and difficult to find but have to be picked at just the right time – after one batch of eggs has hatched. The nests then have to be painstakingly cleaned before they are safe for consumption. True story!
Fortunately, Curiositea’s Bird’s Nest Tea Soup, produced by Enmasse Tea Merchants, sounds rather more palatable and I am told that it’s packed with the flavourful aroma of herbs and spices and innocuous noodles, instead of glutinous swiftlet saliva. You simply add hot water to the tea soup bag and, voila!
Tanya is a boeremeisie who met her husband, Marcelo, while working at the Houwhoek Hotel, which at the time was owned by his family. Marcelo is of Italian descent and grew up in Chile before moving to South Africa. “Marcelo and his cousins and nephews all married Afrikaans girls,” laughs Tanya.
Before they moved to Hermanus earlier this year, Tanya had a shop in Paarl called ‘Curiositea’, and the mosaic signboard displayed in her new Curiositea shop was made by Learn to Earn in Khayelitsha. “I am so happy to have found a new place to hang my mosaic,” says Tanya. The couple, who have three grown-up boys, have owned several businesses in Ceres and Paarl, where they’ve run the Under Oaks Pizzeria for 10 years. It is now being managed by their youngest son, while Marcelo commutes regularly to keep an eye on the business.
Marcelo’s ‘Chilean connection’ explains the presence of South American dishes that sometimes appear on Tanya’s blackboard, such as the Empanadas she served over the Kalfiefees long weekend (“made by my hubby and monster-in-law”) or the decadent Milhojas – a cake that consists of layers of puff pastry, caramel and custard cream (“simple but yummy”).
“We just love living in Hermanus,” says Tanya. “The locals are so friendly and after I took over the shop in April, all my neighbours here in High Street came over to say hello and make me feel welcome. I’ve enjoyed getting to know all the shop’s regular customers, some of whom have lived in Hermanus for many years. They always tell me how much they enjoy coming here because it’s intimate, peaceful and quiet.”
There are only a handful of tables inside and, when the sun is out, two are carried out onto the pavement. This is the perfect spot to spend your lunch hour, meet up with friends or just sit quietly and gather yourself while allowing Tanya to spoil you with a special treat.
You’ll find Curiositea at 26 High Street. For enquiries, contact 083 665 2805.