Cook­ing from a new book on Dur­ban curry, poet and cul­tural critic Rus­tum Kozain dis­cov­ers the per­fect every­day recipe

CityPress - - Front Page - Dur­ban Curry: So Much of Flavour by Erica Plat­ter and Clin­ton Friedman with Devi Sanka­ree Goven­der Paw Paw Pub­lish­ers 143 pages R295

Aba­sic recipe for a curry from the cook­book In­dian De­lights (first pub­lished in 1961 in Dur­ban) asks for onions, tomato, minced green ginger and garlic, some mix­ture of turmeric, co­rian­der, cumin. Add some salt and pep­per, and you have a sauce fit for global in­un­da­tion.

You can vary the taste of this ba­sic sauce by tweak­ing some or all of the in­gre­di­ents. Chop your onions finer and you get a thicker sauce. Braise the onion with the turmeric. Add your cumin and/or co­rian­der at a dif­fer­ent stage. No­tice how dif­fer­ent the sauce tastes.

Th­ese in­gre­di­ents seem to be the DNA of many cur­ries and the vari­a­tions will de­pend on their proportions and the se­quenc­ing.

This is the magic of curry. It al­lows for vari­a­tions and can take on fur­ther in­gre­di­ents and build to a dish of sub­tle lay­ers, yet it will re­main recog­nis­able as part of a group of dishes we call curry.

It is, of course, true that in In­dia there is no such thing as “curry”. (Prob­a­bly from the Tamil word ‘kari’ – which means sauce or gravy.) In Bri­tish colo­nials’ mouths, the word re­ferred to what­ever spicy dishes they might have eaten in In­dia.

Purists pooh-pooh the use of the word, but it has be­come ac­cept­able short­hand for a range of dishes with roots in In­dia. As I learn more and cook more “curry”, of course, I am able to tell my ro­gan josh from my ren­dang, my pasanda from my Murgh Masala.

His­tor­i­cally, there are two broad curry tra­di­tions in South Africa: Cape curry (the one I grew up eat­ing) and Dur­ban curry.

Cape curry is traced to the rebels and slaves brought from mainly In­done­sia and Malaysia by the Dutch dur­ing the 1600s and 1700s.

The var­i­ous strains of Dur­ban curry ar­rived with in­den­tured labour­ers and mer­chants from var­i­ous parts of In­dia dur­ing the 1800s.

More re­cent im­mi­gra­tion from In­dia, Pak­istan, Bangladesh and else­where add to the va­ri­ety of our cur­ries.

In broad terms, Cape curry tends to be milder and yel­lower (more turmeric), while Dur­ban curry tends to be red, sharper and hot­ter (more tomato, more red chilli pow­der).

But th­ese two broad branches were, and are not, iso­lated from each other.

Cape curry has its roots in In­dia, given the deep his­tory of In­dian civil­i­sa­tion in In­done­sia. Fur­ther­more, a few slaves in the Cape came from parts of In­dia and Sri Lanka.

Since chilli is an aphro­disiac, there must have been a lot of fur­ther mix­ing in the Cape and in Dur­ban.

I’ve tasted a Su­ma­tran beef curry in In­done­sia that tastes like a Dur­ban curry and also like many cur­ries I’ve eaten in non-In­dian homes in the Cape.

So was sur­prised to read Devi Sanka­ree Goven­der ad­mit in her fore­word to Dur­ban

Curry: So Much of Flavour to some dis­ap­point­ment when, in In­dia, she fails to smell the fa­mil­iar food smells of Dur­ban.

There’s no doubt that recipes change over time and with dis­tance. Cur­ries in In­dia will also have changed since the 1800s. She quotes ex­perts who point out that Dur­ban cur­ries rely on more tomato and chilli than those in In­dia.

But the Su­ma­tran curry? An In­done­sian dish rem­i­nis­cent of a Dur­ban dish? It’s a mys­tery.

I have an ap­pren­tice’s ob­ses­sion with cur­ries.

Part of my quest has been to find the per­fect every­day curry. Why? When you strug­gle to think of some­thing to cook, curry is per­fect.

Once you get the hang of it, it’s quick: chop-chop, braise-braise, sim­mer away and soon you will have a de­li­cious meal.

For years I have been cook­ing a lamb curry that has evolved – I re­alise now – from faulty ba­sics, tweaked with in­sights, in­gre­di­ents and cribs from here, there and ev­ery­where. My part­ner loves this mu­tant curry, as do guests.

In my mind, how­ever, there has al­ways been some­thing not quite right about it. It’s never had the taste pro­file of some myth­i­cal great curry that my taste buds yearn for – some­thing I’ve tasted, some­where, some time ago.

The book, Dur­ban Curry, has taken me back to the ba­sics and I tried the Bri­tan­nia Ho­tel’s Mut­ton Bunny Curry recipe (with rice, not bread). It is un­be­liev­ably easy. I used some masala that a friend had brought from Dur­ban, as is cus­tom­ary. Chop-chop, braise-braise, sim­mer-sim­mer.

I could not be­lieve it. I could not re­mem­ber where I had tasted this curry be­fore, but this was it! It’s what I had been look­ing for as my every­day, go-to curry.

The book’s recipes come from a range of peo­ple: well-known chefs, fam­ily cooks, leg­endary take­away cooks and equally leg­endary spice-shop ma­gi­cians. One or two of the joints are fa­mil­iar to me from quick curry for­ays dur­ing too-short, too-in­fre­quent stays.

I’m sure a few Dur­ban­ites might ar­gue over the omis­sions of their favourite curry haunts. But I’m from Cape Town, so I’ll stay off un­known turf. For in­stance, “Bunny joints have fa­nat­i­cal sup­port­ers, rather like foot­ball clubs,” says Erica Plat­ter.

But the book does make me want to move to Dur­ban. The de­sign and photographs are bold in colour and the lay­out is clean. It cap­tures Dur­ban’s vi­brancy, invit­ing the reader and cook to a bit of day­dream­ing while the onions braise...

Imag­ine easy ac­cess to The Spice Em­po­rium, green mango for mak­ing atchar, the braised mut­ton curry of Dur­ban’s Vic­tory Lounge (next on my list to cook) ... or Yoshan’s masala chops at the Ma­ha­rani ho­tel when I’m lazy and have some cash … But watch those onions!


Bunny chow from the new book Dur­ban Curry: So Much of Flavour by Erica Plat­ter and Clin­ton Friedman with Devi Sanka­ree Goven­der



His­tor­i­cally there are two curry tra­di­tions in SA: Cape curry and Dur­ban curry

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