Monday, June 11, 2012

Unearthing Cape Town's Culinary Heritage: A Ravenous Adventure

Cape Town is a true melting pot. I set out to identify a unified style of cooking among the local chefs during my two-and-a-half-week stay—as well as a list of traditional dishes. For lunch the first day, I visited the Earth Fair Market, and my stomach roared at the possibilities: Egg rolls (a southeast Asian dish), massive pans of paella (Spanish)...



...cured meats made from the Kudu antelope...



...meat pies (most likely brought by the British and Dutch) made using lamb with rosemary and oregano, curried chicken, beef, and more...




...biltong (African jerky, which is pretty much the same as regular ol' US beef jerky, except it uses different spices and the meat is usually marinated in vinegar before curing), which can be made from everything from warthog to tuna (tune pictured below)...



...and curries made with huge amounts of spice. Indian curries are particularly common, but Cape Town has created its own style of cooking called Cape Malay. It is a product of the Cape Malay community, which is Islamic and has a Malaysian, Philippine, and Indonesian heritage. I'll talk more about Cape Malay-style cooking in later posts.



As with any gastro-anthropological study, my real research began in the supermarket. Cape Town has several levels of supermarket, from the basic Pick n Pay to the upscale grocery at Woolworths, (yes, Woolworths is alive and well in Cape Town, and the store bizarrely intersperses racks of clothing with curry spices and fresh lamb!). The supermarkets were as eclectic as the Earth Fair Market: The shelves were stocked with foods that our American grocery stores would relegate to the "World Foods" aisle.

It seemed that Cape Town's culinary identity wouldn't be coaxed out of hiding. Many of its most popular and iconic foods were already icons in other countries. Would I find unique South Africa dishes? How about the local chefs: Were they cultivating an identity, both for themselves and for Capetonian food in general? I set out to tour Cape Town's restaurant scene and find out—


2 comments:

Nubian said...

I beg to differ on the jerky/biltong. American jerky is dehydrated where as South African biltong is hung to dry naturally. I have a biltong box and spices, want me to make you some? ;-)

Mattie John Bamman said...

Maybe some hands-on research... What types of meat have you used?