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Treasuring the flavours of home

Published Jun 13, 2015


WHEN Cape Town cookbook author Salwaa Smith moved to the UK 14 years ago, she made sure her family would never forget the tastes of home.

Surrounded by cuisine from around the world in the UK, Smith cooked all the traditional Cape Malay stews and staples she grew up with in Surrey Estate, relying on her trusty typed-up list of recipes from home.

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Three years ago those recipes gained wider appreciation when Smith started the Cape Malay & Other Delights page on Facebook.

This Facebook page has close to 100 000 subscribers, many of whom encouraged Smith to publish a cookbook.

And earlier this month the dream became reality, when Smith launched her self-published Cape Malay & Other Delights Cookbook in Cape Town, after an initial UK launch.

Smith said her desire to “create something” started two decades ago when she “typed up all the recipes”.

“When we moved to the UK I had more time, and did research online about Cape Malay cooking. I became motivated to do this.

“I worked for the Birmingham city council and went on a women’s empowerment course. One of the questions we were asked was, ‘What do you want to do in five years time?’

“And I realised I still wanted to do the book.”

Smith writes in her book that Cape Malay cooking is “characterised by the liberal intermingling of spices, and the influence of Indian, Indonesian, Malaysian, Dutch and French cuisines”.

“Bobotie is a Cape Malay dish which came with slaves who arrived from Java and various Indonesian islands in 1658.

“And, being slaves, the Malays often ended up in the Dutch kitchens, with their influence remaining apparent in dishes such as bobotie,” she writes.

Slave history scholar Mogamat Kamedien writes in Smith’s book that the author is “promoting and preserving vanishing heritage food practices and ordinary household meals beyond the celebratory food or ceremonial dishes”.

At the heart of Smith’s effort seems to be a desire for traditional Cape Malay food to remain on dinner tables.

“All over the world people value their own traditions. We should be proud of our Cape Malay cooking style because it is unique to Cape Town,” she said.

“From Facebook I saw that people are looking for easy ways of cooking. They also buy food instead of cooking. A lot of people don’t cook the more traditional meals any more, but only for certain occasions.

“I am trying to make people aware again of traditional recipes. When they see these recipes they appreciate them because their grandmothers used to make this food, and they haven’t had it in a long time. So now they are cooking it again.

“It’s important to preserve these recipes as locals have moved all over the world. I wanted to preserve our Cape Malay way of cooking.

“I wanted to preserve this and to also teach my children how to cook like this.”

But people who didn’t grow up with Cape Malay cooking are also using her recipes.

Her Facebook fans from around the world send her messages and pictures of the dishes they have made using her recipes, which she also publishes.

Smith said she has seen how food brings people from all walks of life together.

“My mother was a good example for us.

“At Easter time she would make raisin buns and send them to all the neighbours in our road. At Christmas time she would make a tart and send it to the neighbours as well.

“We learned not to discriminate. And I try to inculcate that in my Facebook page as well. Cooking is for all cultures, for everyone.

“People enjoy food. It makes them happy. We learn about each other’s cultures through food.

“Cape Malay cooking is for everybody. It’s not spicy, but flavourful and subtle. It’s very rich because we use a variety of different spices.”

In the book Smith includes an overview of the spices and herbs used “abundantly” in Cape Malay cooking.

These include atchar masala, aniseed, breyani masala, cloves, curry leaves, cardamom and barishap (the Cape Malay name for fennel).

The book includes recipes for appetisers, soups, main meals, stews, bread and roti, atchars and cakes.

Smith has also included some contemporary recipes, acknowledging that “people’s food habits change”.

“The contemporary recipes complement Cape Malay cooking. It’s more or less the same. Some ingredients or sauces are different.

“For example, I’ve added chopped spinach to the Cape Malay chicken curry. I learned that from my son-in-law who is Pakistani.

“I also added chocolate brownies, which is contemporary, to the traditional deserts like potato pudding with stewed fruit.”

Smith has also created a mobile application that can be downloaded from iTunes.

l Find information about Smith’s book and other recipes on her Facebook page Cape Malay Cooking & Other Delights.

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