A Culinary Journey of South African Indigenous Foods
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.