A cultural croissant crisis


For the last week or so I have been in southern Africa for work. Yes, my job is awesome but trust me this is no jolly trip to another continent. I am working, working and then working some more, evenings and weekends are not exempt. Add to this some very temperamental internet connections and there’s my excuse for not having posted for a couple of weeks (for those of you who noticed my absence and thought my standards slipping).

I was in Swaziland for the first four days and have been in Johannesburg, South Africa since then and I’m out here for just over two weeks in total. In case you think I am exaggerating about the amount of work, it is true, I did fib a bit because I did have Sunday afternoon off and a colleague took me to the zoo and then to the cinema where we saw Women in Gold.


I picked the film on the basis that Meryl Streep was in it but other than that knew absolutely nothing about the film. Incidentally, it’s a very strange experience to sit down at the cinema with no idea what you are about to see. Anyway, it was about a famous Klimt painting of Adele Bloch-Bauer, also known as the woman in gold but I’m giving the full title too for reasons that are obvious if you watch the film, and the restitution of art stolen by Nazis from Jewish families during the Second World War. Meryl didn’t let me down, it’s a very good film and I’m happy to recommend it to all of you.

Anyway, back to the point I’m trying to make, which is, obviously, about croissants. I am currently staying in a very nice hotel in Johannesburg and, as in all hotels, you can tell if it’s a decent choice because of the breakfast. Whenever I stay anywhere with breakfast included, particularly where there’s a buffet, I try to eat as much as possible to, one, get my money’s worth and, two, potentially avoid the need for lunch enabling extra dosh for dinner time.

The buffet at the Capital Moloko is excellent and I have been approaching it in the strategic way that I approach all buffets. For starters I’ll go for a bowl of muesli, yoghurt and fresh fruit salad with pumpkin seeds scattered on top. Round two and I’m digging into the cooked breakfast items, particularly relishing the bacon which Switzerland deprives me of. Finally, I will conclude with some toast and jam, perhaps a Danish or both. Yes, I do have a three course breakfast and yes, I am aware that I am probably eating my entire daily recommended allowance of calories in one go but I’ve already explained my reasoning.

Yesterday, on my final round of breakfast I selected a lovely fresh looking croissant. I then spied a collection of breakfast accompaniments in little white dishes. One of these was obviously peanut butter, the other was something dark and red I didn’t recognize and the third was a dark brown syrupy liquid that my immersion in Swiss culture taught me must be chocolate.

I had a lightbulb moment and thought I could upgrade my normal croissant to a chocolate supreme version by thickly drizzling, but artistically you understand, the sticky brown liquid all over my croissant. I felt so smug that I’d combined the two in this genius manner and even caught a couple of my fellow diners giving me what I could only assume to be envious glances. I took my croissant creation back to my desk, sat down to bite into this sweet breakfast delight only to discover that the ‘chocolate’ was in fact marmite.

Now don’t get me wrong I like marmite but I also like it thinly spread over buttery toast not dripping in thick clumps off a croissant. Perhaps with full appreciation of what I was eating a croissant and marmite could be a nice savoury option on this French breakfast treat but I cannot begin to explain the shock as I chomped into the pastry expecting a sugary sensation only to be hit by the bitter saltiness of marmite. I understood my fellow diners glances had not been envy so much as incredulity.

I never would have imagined that marmite might actually be popular in some places outside of the UK, so much so that it is easily offered without labeling as though all diners will automatically know exactly what it is. Should I be ashamed that as a British person I didn’t automatically recognise marmite? Has my time in Geneva turned me into a real European?


12 thoughts on “A cultural croissant crisis

    • Strangely, I did pick up a spoon of the stuff ans smell it before drizzling but I guess with all the other breakfast odours I just didn’t distinguish the true nature of the stuff!


  1. OMW! You know, you have a blogpal who is from South Africa (me!) who could have given you some tips! As I read, it suddenly dawned on me, before you said it, that you’d ended up with Marmite. Fabulous, but only on the right thing at the right time! I hope you’ve had a good time (and productive) in South Africa. If you’re ever in the Western Cape, please look me up. And if you need any tips from a local, you know what to do! Made me smile, though, because it’s so easy to make a faux pas like that when you’re unfamiliar with the way things are done (often in the same country, but different hotels).

    Oh, I once tried to coat fish cakes in demerara sugar because I got the containers mixed up and the breadcrumbs were much the same colour. I don’t need to tell you what a disaster that was. The Husband was very graceful. I was not!

    By the way, when I was at boarding school, a favourite (not of mine) was Fray Bentos spread (a bit like Vegamite because it was not as stiff as marmite) and marmalade.


    • If only I could have had you beside me at the breakfast buffet I could have saved myself from a nasty shock! It is funny though the things you just take for granted and assumptions you make when you are in foreign lands! I’m definitely enjoying my time here and it’s been productive but it’s a shame I’ve not had much of a chance to explore. My colleagues in the Johannesburg office keep asking me what I think of the people and the country but I keep explaining that although the office and hotel and all the people I’ve encountered at both are very nice I don’t really think that’s enough of a snapshot to be able to pronounce judgement. I would definitely like to come back and explore at some point and I’ll definitely look you up if I do!
      Poor you with the fishcakes. So frustrating when you’ve made all the effort and I’m guessing sugared fish wasn’t nice as either a savoury or sweet option!
      Were the Fray Bentos spread and marmalade had together? That sounds like a vile concoction!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Haha! And I am in Jhb on business pretty often, myself, so it could have happened 😉 And do come back and explore!

        And yes, the marmalade and “frabies” as it was known, were eaten together – marge then the spread and then the marmalade. Urrghh! Not my cup of tea.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s