A Cape Malay Cooking Lesson in Bo Kaap, Cape Town
SPICING UP MY LIFE IN CAPE TOWN | Darrin Henry
A Cape Malay cooking experience in the colourful, central Cape Town district of Bo Kaap has truly caught me by surprise in that I am now inspired to cook. Properly, I should add! In our house Sharon humours me with the title of ‘breakfast king’ but in reality I’m a kitchen-o-phobe, or something like that.
Cooking Up Delicious In The Little Pot
But today I’ve made Cape Malay curry, sprinkling teaspoons of exotic powdery spices like I was on Masterchef and kneading and rolling roti bread like it didn’t make my wrist muscles burn! I’ve only made curry but I feel like I made fire!
In truth, it was a rather scary moment to begin with. Our plan for Sharon to cook and me to photograph was flipped on its head by our Bo Kaap tour guide, the incredibly knowledgeable Shireen Narkedien. After interrogating Sharon and establishing I don’t pull my weight in the kitchen at home, Shireen reversed our roles, much to my wife’s amusement.
My fear was short-lived though once we met our host and Cape Malay cooking instructor, Faeeza. She welcomed us into her home and instantly I could tell, in the way you can tell about certain people, everything was going to be fine.
Our Cape Malay Cooking video. Take a look.
Chicken curry first. My initial thought was the pot was so small! At home our ‘small’ pot of curry is twice this size. Onion and potatoes were already on the heat. My tuition began with spices – turmeric, chilli, roast, cumin, coriander… a teaspoon of this, half a teaspoon of that. Not a packet of Rajah (curry powder) in sight.
Small cuts of chicken breast next, but nothing stirred in, just placed in the pot and then covered for ten minutes. No time to waste, on to something else; making the rotis.
Learning How To Dance In The Kitchen
Three cups of flour, four teaspoons of oil, salt, baking powder… I was following my instructions carefully. Faeeza would demonstrate the techniques first with smooth movements followed by my stop start efforts with dough sticking to my fingers and not rolling at all like I’d just seen.
Sharon was roped in to help with tending the chicken curry; I think I was taking too long kneading the roti, even though Faeeza kept reassuring me I was doing great.
I was good at the rolling pin bit, flattening the dough into a circle. “It’s like a dance,” chuckled my instructor, “out, then back, then that way, then this way, then start again!” Yeah, I was good at the dance!
Considering my trepidation beforehand, Cape Malay Cooking was a thoroughly relaxing and enjoyable experience. In between the master to student instructions we yarned away the time, exchanging stories of our cultures and backgrounds. Faeeza enlightened us about her Muslim faith which I found fascinating. Our stories of St Helena and five days travel by ship entertained her. Despite quite different backgrounds we seemed to have far more in common than not, something we’re finding everywhere we go. Sharon and I could have been in either of our parents’ kitchens back home, we felt that comfortable.
Cape Malay Cooking Makes You Clap Your Hands
As the roti dough spirals were chilled in the freezer for half an hour we started making samosas. Turns out I’m not too bad at the precise folding sequence and felt quite proud of my little triangular pouches stuffed with corn and cheese, placed alongside Faeeza’s. Sharon had a go as well, but she struggled to get them as neat as mine. I resisted gloating as I wasn’t sure what else was to come.
Chilli bites were next. Chopping up onion and tomatoes I was comfortable with. Faeeza did most of the chilli bite mixing and preparation.
Deep frying the samosas and chilli bites was effortless. Frying the rotis though was great fun. It’s a bit like frying pancakes but there’s a technique of folding the fried roti in half then throwing it up in the air and clapping your hands together squashing the roti to give it… texture? I never actually asked that to be sure. It’s a rather dramatic move that puts puffiness and a crinkle in the roti. (My non-technical description)
A Bo Kaap Feast For Two
And then it was time to eat. Samosas first and the chilli bites. Talk about mouth wateringly good, they were amazing. Not those dried up, chewy samosas you get served sometimes at cocktail parties, no! These were just wonderful.
Next the curry in a roti wrap. Curry is such a tradition on St Helena but I never knew you could have it in a wrap like we did in Bo Kaap! Simply amazing. The most delicious meal I can remember in a long, long time. I was aware I kept making ‘food pleasure’ noises but it couldn’t be helped. Talk about ‘hit the spot!’
Dessert was a traditional Cape Malay indulgence called Koeksister, (pronounced ‘cook sister’). It has a texture not unlike a doughnut. Again, another absolute treat for the taste buds.
I’m gushing about this experience but it really was something special. The cooking was a key element of course, but really, what made it stand out was the wonderful cultural and social aspect of the day. We began with a walking tour of the district with Shireen. This included a visit to a spice shop “where the local residents shop” and an introduction to hundreds of spices and the range of ways they are used for both cooking and medicinal purposes.
Bo Kaap itself actually feels a lot like St Helena; very friendly and close-knit. Shireen seemed to know every person we passed on the street. Faeeza gave us more than just a Cape Malay cooking lesson and a wonderful lunch; the cultural history of the Cape Malay people was gently revealed to give us a little better appreciation of this amazing city. Although it was essentially a tour, we left feeling as though we had made new friends.
If you visit Cape Town, I would thoroughly recommend this Bo Kaap cooking safari with Andulela Tours. If you have a choice, ask for Shireen and Faeeza. And please say “hi” from Darrin and Sharon.
Me, hopefully I’ll be on St Helena throwing roti bread in the air and clapping my hands, becoming more than just the breakfast king.
#lovecapetown #learntocook #capemalaycooking
We must add a big thank you to the team at Cape Town Tourism who arranged this tour for our blog. Even so, all opinions expressed are entirely our own without bias.