A Culi­nary Jour­ney of South African In­dige­nous Foods

Cape Argus - - LIFE BOOKS -

col­lected from Tsonga, Pedi and Venda cuisines. In the East­ern Cape, the Xhosa gas­tro­nomic her­itage was cel­e­brated, and KwaZulu-Na­tal pre­sented Zulu menus. From the Western Cape comes a list­ing de­scribed as Khoisan recipes, and the fi­nal group­ing is Afrikaans, marked, some­what strangely, as cen­tred in Gaut­eng.

The dishes are, as one would ex­pect, sim­ple, largely straight­for­ward ren­der­ings of grains, legumes and leaves, gourds and tu­bers, sparked by in­dige­nous fruits and en­livened by worms and in­sects. Beef and chicken fea­ture oc­ca­sion­ally. There is not a sin­gle seafood recipe in this col­lec­tion.

Per­haps be­cause of their (com­par­a­tively) ex­otic na­ture, I en­joyed brows­ing through the cuisines of the north­ern groups in par­tic­u­lar: Among the Pedi recipes is one la­belled baobab-fruit yo­ghurt, a good start to the day, while Venda cooks lift their pro­tein in­take with Mashon­zha (mopani worms and peanuts) and Thon­go­lifha (stinkbugs fried in but­ter).

Sev­eral species of mo­rogo, or wild leaves, are used, in­clud­ing pig­weed or amarinth, black­jack, spi­der plant, pump­kin and wild jute. Breads are un­com­mon, but the Tswana make Diphaphata, a flat­bread, us­ing wheat flour, Nde­bele cooks use brown bread flour for their steamed bread, while oth­ers are based on mealie meal. Desserts are al­most non-ex­is­tent, al­though there’s a Sotho recipe for bot­tling peaches in sugar syrup.

I con­tacted the com­pil­ers to ask why Gaut­eng was used as a source for Afrikaans recipes and was told they had in­vited sev­eral groups in the Western and North­ern Cape to take part, with­out suc­cess, so even­tu­ally re­sorted to find­ing them from Gaut­eng-based Afrikan­ers. The recipes are Cape cui­sine, dishes that have be­come South African clas­sics.

I gazed, some­what in­cred­u­lously, at the pic­tures and recipes in the Khoisan sec­tion, pages where I ex­pected to find items like shell­fish, veni­son, ghaap, sour figs, veld­kool, wa­terblom­metjies, and per­haps drinks based on milk. In­stead, there’s a Greek-style salad with feta and olives, a caramel pud and a stan­dard white bread recipe.

Liver and onions and a mut­ton potjie (with red wine and packet soup pow­der) could just pass muster but there is vir­tu­ally noth­ing that says “Khoisan” or “Khoikhoi” in this mini-col­lec­tion.

The recipes were sourced from a group of cooks in Vre­den­dal, and I con­tacted one of the con­trib­u­tors to ask her how th­ese came to be re­garded as Khoisan.

Freda Wi­comb is the house­keeper at a lo­cal board­ing school, and is a pop­u­lar and ca­pa­ble cook, but she had no an­swer, say­ing this was how she cooked.

Khoisan, re­fer­ring to two dis­tinct groups of early South African in­hab­i­tants, is a term that should not be ap­plied to their cuisines, as they were dif­fer­ent. The Bush­men, or San, were hunter-gath­er­ers while the Khoi were herders.

The lat­ter group’s culi­nary and cul­tural her­itage has been well re­searched by fundis such as Dr Re­nata Coetzee, whose bril­liant book, Kuku­makranka, presents an ex­haus­tive dis­cus­sion on the sub­ject. In­gre­di­ents used in the past can still be found to­day, and cooks of both Gri­qua and Nama de­scent use veld­kos in their potjies, and make askoek, pot­brood and vetkoek, as did their for­bears.

I sug­gested that the com­pil­ers also con­tact chef Shaun Schoe­man of Solms Delta’s Fyn­draai restau­rant, whose Her­itage menu in­cludes Khoe-Khoen breads, wa­terblom­metjie soup and desserts star­ring herbs like buchu, for their next edi­tion.

Thema-Sethoga as­sures me this sec­tion will be more au­then­tic and will also in­clude Cape Malay cui­sine. Sadly, we will have to wait un­til 2024 for the new edi­tion.

Mean­while, this ti­tle, il­lus­trated with pho­to­graphs of many of the recipes, is well-in­dexed and in­cludes in­for­ma­tion on many of the in­gre­di­ents un­known to Western cook­ing.

The book is en­dorsed by the SA Chefs As­so­ci­a­tion and sup­ported by the Depart­ment of Arts and Cul­ture.

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