What are the 11 key ingredients of South Africa's Cape Malay cuisine?

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The next time you find yourself in the city of Cape Town, make a turn past the vibrant Bo Kaap district to spend an afternoon on a savoury safari, creating a spread of spice-infused curries and snacks that are typical of Cape Malay cuisine.

Travelling today offers a global buffet of people, places, history and culture…For those that are fortunate enough to briefly exit the routine of day to day life, there is a chance to explore and see what another country plates up, by way of its authentic and local culinary fare. 

It is the opportunity to digest not only what flavours a nation have attached themselves to historically, but also to savour the stories from its previous generations and gain a deeper understanding of a people, simply through the pleasure of taste.

Eating and drinking is a large portion of the travel experience, and one that most of us look forward to delighting in. In a world where food is celebrated more than ever before, we are in a constant state of desire to try new things, by seeking out exciting, flavoursome dishes and by sharing in unusual gastronomic experiences. Being ‘a foodie’ is a title that is no longer reserved for the culinary experts, we are all on a journey to devour and discover.

The Cape Malay people are a community of Cape Town, originating from South East Asia and India. They arrived onto the shores of South Africa as political exiles and slaves under the Dutch East India Company, between the late 1600s and 1749. These beautiful and exotic descendants brought with them magnificent architecture, the Islamic faith, and some of the most loved cooking and dishes that form part of South African cuisine today.

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Spending an afternoon in the kitchen of a local Cape Malay woman’s home, listening to the stories of her culture and history while creating some of the most flavour packed dishes, is an experience that you cannot leave Cape Town without trying.

These women are highly respected within their community, and demonstrate techniques and recipes passed down from their mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers to small groups of travellers at a time. It is a privilege, and the most delicious and delightfully social way to spend the better part of a day

The fundamental ingredients that form the base of most Cape Malay dishes are herbs and spices…Turmeric, cumin, masala, chilli, fresh coriander, dhania, garlic, ginger, saffron, cinnamon and curry leaves are all used in abundance, and salt is regarded as the ingredient of love. Chicken Masala curries are often wrapped in rotis (a flaky, buttery flatbread) when not accompanied with rice, mince is skilfully and lovingly folded into samosa triangles. Malay koeksisters, a small oval donut if you will, are fried and drenched in a cardamom syrup, and finally rolled in coconut shavings.

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Bobotie is another beautiful fusion of flavours and a staple dish in most South African homes – it is made using egg custard, mince beef, turmeric, bay leaves and raisins. Breedie casseroles are a popular dish, perfect for those long winter evenings and made by slow cooking lamb in a herby tomato stew.

Common accompaniments are Dhaltjies, which are small balls of deep fried chilli bites, sour atjars and hot chutneys. You may create any of these dishes on a cooking experience in a Cape Malay kitchen, it depends on your hostess and what is most fresh at the time by way of local ingredients.

Travellers usually enjoy a short walking tour of the colourful, cobblestone Bo Kaap streets as well as a visit to the hub of the district, the main store where all of the locals purchase their spices. It is an adventure of aromas and a wonderful way to further immerse yourself into the cultural side of this neighbourhood, observing locals interacting and purchasing what they require.

This is more than just a cooking class, allowing travellers to pause for a moment and really take in what it means to be a part of a close-knit community within South Africa. You will leave with a few age old recipes to add to your collection, but also with admiration, respect and a new found love for the soul of the Cape Malay community - their food and their fellowship.


My favourite Western Cape cookery courses:

Andulela in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town and Africa Relish in Prince Albert.

My favourite South Africa lodges and hotels serving the best food:

Singita Lebombo in Kruger, with an extensive wine cellar and delicious deli lunches.

Tintswalo Atlantic in Hout Bay, Cape Town, which has an open-plan kitchen allowing guests to watch the chefs creating their delights from fresh, locally-sourced and sustainable ingredients.

Jamala Madikwe, Madikwe Game Reserve, where guests can dine alfresco on the award-winning safari cuisine from chef Nico Verster. 


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Posted by: Catherine Fouche

Posted on: 16th September 2016

Read more: Posts about Africa