In the early days of the Cape Colony, the Dutch traded with the local people. But, within 50 years of settlement, the Khoikhoi near Table Bay had lost most of their lands and many were forced to work as servants. The Dutch East India Company also brought over slaves from Bengal, Java, Malaysia, East Africa, Mauritius, and Madagascar. Some of these people had relationships with Europeans and Indigenous Africans and their descendants became known as Cape Coloureds and Cape Malays. A strand of cookery developed, which is known today as ‘Cape Malay Cuisine’. It includes elements often associated with Asian cookery, like curries, sambals, pickles and spices, alongside more European food.
In two of South Africa’s earliest cookbooks, nineteenth century matriarch Hildagonda Duckitt mentions the influence of ‘emancipated slaves and their descendants’ and her recipes are littered with references to Malay, Bengali and Indian cooking.
One Cape Malay recipe still popular in South Africa is the sweet-and-sour dish of curried fish known as Cape Picked Fish (Ingelegde Vis) or Cape Curried Fish (Kaapse kerrievis). There are many variations of this recipe – I’ve decided to stick with an old one!
Fish (pickled, or ‘engelegte’)
Adapted from Hildagonda Duckitt (1896) Hilda’s ‘Where is it’? of Recipes, London: Chapman and Hall Ltd.
(Cape way of preserving fish.)
Should fill about 8 x 500 ml jars
¼ cup oil, lard or butter
2 kg firm-fleshed white fish fillets, cut into 6 cm pieces
6 large onions, sliced in rings
60 g turmeric
30 g mango relish (or chutney)
4 large chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
½ tsp coriander seeds, crushed
15 g ground ginger
a few lemon leaves
30 g sugar
salt to taste
750 ml brown vinegar
250 ml water
Fry the fish a nice brown in lard, butter, or olive oil; drain, and cool.
Put the onions, turmeric, mango relish, chillies, coriander seeds, ginger, lemon leaves, sugar and about a dessertspoonful of salt in a pot.
Pour in the vinegar and water and bring to the boil over medium heat.
Take the cooked fish pieces and put them carefully into the boiling curry mixture.
Briefly return to the boil before turning off the heat.
Let the pot stand till cool.
Add the mixture to 500 ml sterilised jars and seal.
Refrigerate for a minimum of three days before serving.
Is a delicious breakfast or lunch dish and will keep for months if well sealed in small jars.
One dish that’s sparked a bit of ‘foodie debate’ is the South African classic, bobotie. Many claim it firmly as a Cape Malay dish, while others say it is Boerekos food.
Bobotie has been linked to Dutch and Malay cooking traditions and to the ancient Roman recipe, patinam ex lacte. The dish usually consists of spiced minced meat (a little like meatloaf) topped with egg custard and lemon or bay leaves. It’s possible it got its name from the Indonesian words boemboe (an Indonesian spice mix) or bobotok (made from grated coconut and eggs).
Adapted from Jeanette C. Slade (1938) Mrs Slade’s South African Cookery Book, South Africa, Central News Agency, Ltd.
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large slice of white bread
1 cup milk
500 g minced beef
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar
a few lemon or bay leaves
butter or dripping for the top
salt and pepper to taste
Soak the bread in half the milk.
Heat the oil on medium in a pan, add the onion and fry until golden.
Allow to cool slightly.
Mix the fried onion, curry powder, sugar, salt and vinegar or lemon juice together and add to the mince, together with the soaked bread and one egg.
Mix well, then put into a well-greased pie dish.
Whisk the other egg and the rest of the milk, season with salt and pepper and pour over the mince.
Put a few lemon leaves or bay leaves on top and bits of dripping or butter.
Bake in a moderate oven at 180°C (conventional), standing the dish in a pan of water.