Among the food Cape Town can claim as her own, there’s the waterblommetjie (small water flower), or Cape pondweed, which is often slow-cooked with lamb and lemony sorrel leaves – once the sailor’s precaution against scurvy; hanepoot grapes bottled in brandy known as Kaapse Jongens (Cape boys); and bobotie, which is basically the ingredients of a Sunday roast minced, spiced, topped with an egg custard and baked. The origins of this humble dish are hotly contested – did it arrive with the colonial master or his servant? None these dishes are necessarily refined but what it speaks to is a diversity of cultures colliding between mountains, vineyards and sea, and a spirit of making do with what the land provides. Snoek, a typical fish pulled from the surrounding waters, is preserved through salting and smoking. Spices arrived courtesy of the Dutch East India Company ships, when they dropped anchor for supplies from fruit orchards planted for that purpose. The people of the Bo-Kaap, descended from Indonesia, Malaysia and across Africa, and laid the foundation for a uniquecookingstyle.Theoverridingthemeissweet,withspicy overtones,often playingoffsour.Itisintheturmeric-stainedpickledfishservedover Easter,thecurry- powder, apricot jam, vinegar base of mild curries and the basting for open-fire grilled snoek: apricot jam and lemon juice.
The Bo-Kaap is where the call to prayer pours out on a Friday. It is where to find the Noon Gun (at the end of Longmarket Street) and the oldest Mosque in South Africa. It is also the home of Cape Malay cuisine. Driving through the steep, cobbled streets, between houses painted a Smarties box of colours, knowing which door to knock on is what’s important. From 6am on a Sunday morning, friends and neighbours walk up the steps to Mrs Mohamed’s home to buy her koeksisters, doughnuts with a warming hint of cardamom and aniseed, dipped in boiling syrup and either rolled in coconut or with a teaspoon of sweetened coconut wedged inside. They are sold out by 9am. Mrs Mohamed is one of many Bo-Kaap cooks who have put in more than their 10,000 hours perfecting bredies, breyanis and salomis (filled roti) – but accessing these kitchens requires an introduction. This is where Bo-Kaap specialist (and resident) Shireen Narkedien comes in – she will make those connections or set up a cookery class. Brush up on the heritage and backstories by investing in a copy of Bo-Kaap Kitchen (Quivertree) in which both women feature. bokaap.co.za/bokaap-guided-tours-walking-tours/
District Six was once a vibrant, multicultural residential area in Cape Town’s inner city. In 1966, under Apartheid, 60,000 residents were forcibly removed and their homes demolished. Since 2006, Tina Smith, head of exhibitions at the District Six Museum, has facilitated the Huis Kombuis (home kitchen) Design and Craft Memory Project. At these gatherings, elderly former residents share memories of their lost neighbourhood while engaging in crafts. The women, once seamstresses in the rag trade and highly skilled in sewing, embroidery and applique, stitch family recipes onto cloth as a way of telling the story of District Six through food. Their work hangs outside the museum café, including the beadwork embellished Melktert (Milk Tart) by Marion Abrahams.
“Many museums have artefacts,” says Smith. “We are a living museum of people generating new artefacts. We are about the process of return, and the symbolic reconstruction of memory.” districtsix.co.za
Mrs HS Ball’s chutney is to South Africans what Heinz ketchup is to Americans. Mrs Ball’s, is a household name. It is slathered onto boerewors (a coriander- spiced farmer’s sausage) in split, buttered hotdog rolls along with sautéed onions. It is the quintessential accompaniment to bobotie, and many a school lunchbox has seen it spread on a cheddar cheese sandwich. And it all started in Cape Town. Amelia Ball, who retired with her husband Herbert Saddleton (the HS) to the seaside suburb of Fish Hoek, started a little cottage industry making her mother’s chutney. The business succeeded beyond expectation, she sold it and now it is an owned subsidiary of TCB.
That is until history repeated itself. Amelia’s great grandson Desmond Ball, who lives near Fish Hoek, unearthed a family recipe in the hope of replicating the original and began bottling. His chutney, jam-packed with organic dried peaches, is named Amelia’s Chutney. Find it at The Food Barn deli in Noordhoek, which conveniently lies at the far end of one of the most scenic drives in the world, Chapman’s Peak.
Vin de Constance is a South African icon. Napoleon Bonaparte was so partial to this natural sweet wine he insisted on having it to hand during his exile. In Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen recommends its “healing powers on a disappointed heart”. Now Matthew Day has ushered in a new era. Day was promoted from assistant to winemaker at Klein Constantia on the strength of the 2012 vintage. He is young and uses the acronym for Vin de Constance: “Typically VDC relies a lot on tertiary oxidative flavours and an almost honey character,” he says. “That’s not to say the older vintages aren’t great, I’d just like to bring out the aromatics, balance and freshness.” It’s also the dawning of a new era for the Constantia Valley, a leafy suburb with an aura of privilege, where Klein Constantia, Groot Constantia and Buitenverwachting stand as the bastions of the Cape’s early winemaking. In the last 15 years there’s been a proliferation of new wineries – High Constantia, Constantia Glen, Eagles’ Nest, Beau Constantia – creating a meaningful ‘wine route’ that’s only a 20- minute drive from the city centre.