This will be my first food entry to the continent of Africa, and I must tell you, it won’t be my last. Why? Probably because like so many other Americans, I know so little about this vast and diverse continent. What has filled these gaps are images of bare-breasted villagers, skeletal children, and gruesome civil wars carried out with machetes– oh, and World Cup madness! In a continent of hundreds of ethnicities, thousands of languages and a history that dates to the beginning of man, it shocks me that even today we still boil Africa down to a singular identity that is tied to the poverty, the exotic or the primitive. The reality is that Africa is a rich diversity of landscapes, peoples and histories.
The food in South Africa will dispel any preconceived notion of “African food” you may have had. The influence of Cape Malay food on South African cuisine is significant to say the least. Cape Malays have their roots in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Malaysia, where Dutch colonists captured slaves and brought them to Africa. The ingredients they brought, like chilies, ginger and cinnamon, mixed with the food of their Dutch masters and local African ingredients to create a unique Cape Malay cuisine. Bobotie is a minced meat casserole dish that is exemplary of Cape Malay food. It is eaten in the homes of most South Africans, whether they are Afrikaner, Cape Malay or of black descent, and each household has their own version or recipe. In recent post-apartheid years, this dish experienced a comeback and appears on many restaurant menus today. On a recent trip to Cape Town, a friend and I ate this dish while wine tasting in Stellenbosch, South Africa’s Napa Valley. With all the curried and spiced flavors you wouldn’t think you’d find it on a menu in wine country, but after tasting this rich dish, you’ll understand why it’s so popular and a prized national dish of South Africa.
Bo Kaap, formerly known as the Malay Quarter in Cape Town, South Africa
(image from here)