Painful Padkos

The search for wholesome foods on the road was fruitless

We have many great food traditions in South Africa and the second greatest of these is padkos. Those little morsels of sustenance for journeys along our achingly long roads and during desperate hold-ups at the “Average Waiting Time 20 Minutes” signs erected countrywide in anticipation of that forthcoming soccer contest.

Road-food – not to be confused with road-kill – is, however, seldom healthy. It is generally about 85% oil, fat and sugar with the remaining 15% tartrazine, which is odd given that a principal purpose of padkos is to keep kids quiet; all this nutrition-free rubbish can surely only serve to make them rougher, rowdier and more flatulent.

Given this paradox and as a service to parents of ill-disciplined passengers, I have, this week, undertaken an informal (and admirable) survey of numerous petrol stations along a range of routes, in search of something wholesome to eat.

I regret to report no success – even at outlets emphasising their greenness and including the one with an apple in its logo. Could I buy an apple there? No. Not even a grape. And this was in Worcester, where there’s no dearth of grapes.

Chips, biltong, chocolate, droewors, sweets, biscuits; even long-life milk, corned beef, teabags and tinned pilchards. But not one fresh item. And everywhere, the curly processed cheese sandwiches on desiccated white bread and the ubiquitous ghastly pies. Goodness knows those things are indigestible enough already without the additional gastric disturbances resultant from gorging on them while bouncing around in N1-sized potholes. The one thing you can buy in all these stop-shops is Rennies. For good reason.

So I think we should start a movement, if you’ll pardon the expression – and what better time to do it than when the entire population is criss-crossing the country at breakneck speed with dangerously hyperactive children, stopping only at these outlets for a pee and a pie?

It could be Arrive Alive’s little brother – Eat Right En Route. Sponsored by the Health Department. Citizens Arise! Let’s ask for Route Fruit and packets of Motorway Muesli at every service-station shop. Let’s demand Highway Health Food and Sand-road Sushi.

With one too many bad Cornish pasties under my painful belt on this recent trip, I had given up by the time I reached Cape Town. Turning pescetarian until I got home, I boycotted the garages and frequented cheerful roadside cafes instead. I had fresh baby marrow and mint pancakes in Newlands; I had prawns – not from District 9, but from Hermanus – and I slurped big sloppy, snollie-like oysters and lekker local chokka at the superb Gypsy Cove in Mossel Bay harbour.

In PE, I learned more than I cared to know about sushi from a young duo of chefs. One youngster swore that he too was about to eschew meat in favour of fish, although, perversely, not when served raw. Food for thought.

Finally, at a blue-fronted fuel outlet, lurking among some indigestible-looking sausage rolls coated with a smattering of sesame as a seedy sop to exhausted intestinal tracts, I spotted a couple of pears. They looked decidedly uncomfortable and were sweating slightly, but they were pears nevertheless. I lunged for them with Vitamin-C-deprived glee.

The first was lush and sweet but, O Calamity, the second, when I came to it, was inedible – soft and brown around its neck and pockmarked by the trauma of the pastry-encased company it had been keeping. I threw it out of the window (as is permissible with biodegradable fruit) and the car behind me drove over it.

Dead padkos. Food for the road – but also the healthiest piece of road-kill in the Eastern Cape. A pescetarian pear, negal.