Cape Town - There is a wonderful new book out called Bo-Kaap Kitchen. It’s filled with traditional recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation, and accompanied by the personal stories and history of Bo-Kaap residents.
The introduction on the cover flap reads: “Bo-Kaap Kitchen reveals the heart of the Cape Malay people, their history and identity, distinctive architecture and language. The warmth and character of the people shine through as they share their stories about cooking, family bonds and strong faith.”
Sub-titled “Heritage recipes and true stories” it’s a book to love and treasure. Cape Malay or not, many of us are familiar with the food, but not all of us know how to cook it. Properly. In Bo-Kaap there are lovely, kind, generous women who open their homes to anyone who would like to learn.
Gamidah Jacobs is one of them. We – being Kfm presenter Twala Ngambi and I, as well as a couple more unexpected guests from the radio station – arrived on a special day; Jacobs had just received her official tour guide badge so she was feeling rather proud.
During our cooking lesson, we learnt to make chicken curry, rotis, samoosas, chilli bites, and the all-important sambal that accompanies the curry.
Jacobs told me she learnt most of her cooking skills from her mother-in-law, but she had perfected her own sambal – a mixture of tomato, onion, vinegar, apricot jam, and atchar masala.
We began with the chicken curry, which is so much easier than you’d expect.
Jacobs shared the little secrets, like not using any oil to brown the onions, and cooking it with the lid off the pot to ensure the curry reduces and thickens. And it’s quick, too: it can be made in less than an hour. Of course, you won’t be using any pre-packaged curry powder. Perish the thought. You go down the road to Atlas Trading and you buy the cumin, coriander, fennel, leaf masala or roasted masala, turmeric, and chilli powder. Even if you never make a curry, go to Atlas anyway, just to inhale the glorious exotic aroma of the spices.
With an onion, a tomato, chicken pieces (Jacobs trims the skin and fat for a healthier curry), and potatoes, that’s your curry.
While that was simmering away on the stove, we got stuck into making rotis, also fairly easy. Well, the mixture of flour and water for the dough is. Ngambi was given the job of kneading it, which takes a bit of effort. Jacobs showed her how it was done, changing the stickiness to silky smoothness. “How did you do that so fast?” Ngambi asked in amazement.
The dough is then rolled out, spread with butter, and cut into balls. Then comes the fun part – beating that butter into the dough. It involves a lot of twisting, flinging it about, and slapping it on the kitchen counter. Some breakage is inevitable, and the shapes achieved by us novices were not as uniform as they could have been. There’s a method of rolling it back up again which requires some co-ordination. By this stage there was a lot of flour all over the place.
Rotis resting in the fridge, we moved on to samoosas. Ngambi told us that when she first come to Cape Town she spent her first year at school asking for “triangle pies” at the tuck shop, and no one corrected her. Unless you’ve made samoosas yourself you’ve probably not given much thought to how these triangles are constructed.
You start with paper-thin pastry leaves (which can be bought up the road at Biesmiellah, which comprises a restaurant, takeaway, butchery and supermarket). These come in large packs but freeze well.
I’m not even going to try to explain here how it’s done. It’s something you have to be shown how to do, sometimes more than once. Jacobs had premade a filling of grated cheese, chopped onion and barbeque spice, but you can put in just about anything you can imagine. If it’s meat or chicken, however, that needs to be cooked first because the samoosas don’t spend that long in the oil. They go in for a few minutes and the most difficult part is waiting for them to cool down so you can eat them. Because, trust me, there is nothing – nothing – better than a freshly made samoosa. Once you’ve had one, you will not want to buy them but make them yourself. And you will be proud of your achievement. I know we all were.
Jacobs quickly fried up some chilli bites, aka daltjies. I’m not sure if the samoosas and daltjies, which were light as air, were supposed to be starters, but we couldn’t resist them and polished most of them off in between rolling out and cooking our rotis.
Finally it was time to eat – as Muslim culture dictates, with the right hand only – after saying “Biesmiellah” which means “In the name of Allah”.
Delicious, fun, educational, inspiring and rewarding… what a lovely way to make new friends and share a meal.
l Lekka Kombuis, 81 Wale Street, Bo-Kaap. Phone 021 423 3849 or 079 957 0226. Listen to Twala Ngambi on Kfm weekdays, 12pm-3pm.
1 cup flour (plain or self-raising)
1 cup pea flour or chickpea flour
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp fennel
1 tsp leaf masala or roasted masala
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp chilli powder
1 onion, finely chopped
3-4 spinach leaves
Place in bowl and mix together. The mixture can be frozen at this stage. Just before frying, add one teaspoon of baking powder. Fry in medium-hot shallow oil until golden brown and puffy. - Weekend Argus