Over the past 15 years, I have been privileged to pay many visits to South Africa, and in particular Cape Town, a city that has become one of my favourite places to stay. I have developed some great friendships there and look forward to each of my trips. Cape Town is beautiful. It’s quite small, but it appears larger thanks to its wonderful centrepiece, Table Mountain. Each time I see this magnificent natural wonder of the world, it never fails to take my breath away, especially when it’s wearing its ‘table cloth’ of white clouds against a deep azure background, all highlighted by the gloriously warming South African sun.
I love the atmosphere, the people and the beauty of Cape Town, with its forests, architecture and mountains. I have also become a great fan of the local wines, and have seen a massive improvement in the quality of local restaurants in recent years – eating out is part of the new culture. My favourite recipes come from the Cape Malay community, found in the Western Cape. At this time of year particularly, the flavours are the same as those we use in our own cooking – heart-warming and tasty, with a wonderful aroma of spices.
Cape Malay dishes also provide a great insight into the history and culture of many of the people who today make up the population of Cape Town. This style of cooking dates back to the 17th century when ships trading spices from the East used to stop over before heading off to Europe with their cargo. Their ginger, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon and chilli were eagerly bought up by the early settlers and are today a signature of Cape Malay food. When wandering round the Malay Quarter, which is where you will find small Cape Malay cafés and restaurants, it’s these spicy notes that sit in the air, just waiting to tempt you inside. Go on – you’ll just love the food as well as the welcome you’ll get!
Dishes that in my opinion you really must sample are smoorsnoek, a smoked local fish with garlic, ginger, potato and chilli, and of course the fabulous bobotie, a type of spicy, fruity cottage pie, with a topping not of potato but of turmeric-coloured egg custard. Each is equally delicious and so typically Cape Malay. However, others would argue that a tomato bredie with its marriage of spices, tomatoes and lamb is not to be missed. And let’s not forget dessert! Malva pudding is similar to, yet very different from, our own sticky toffee pudding. Then there’s the fabulous milk tart. It’s so similar to some of the custard pies I ate in my youth that came from Fullerton’s bakery in the high street of my home town that I can’t resist!
There are plenty of Cape Malay restaurants, but if you find yourself in the Constantia Valley sampling some of their delicious wines – and why shouldn’t you – then the Cape Malay Restaurant, masterminded by chef Martha Williams at The Cellars-Hohenort Hotel, is a real find. Nearby is the Jonkershuis in Groot Constantia, where they serve traditional Cape afternoon tea. This includes koeksisters, made from a dough that is deep fried golden brown then dipped in syrup before serving. They are like very sweet doughnuts – perfect for this time of year!