Friday, June 4, 2010
I noticed a curious trend on a recent trip to South Africa - a whole slew of “South African” restaurants had opened across the country. I lived in South Africa for most of my life, dining at the usual places - Steakhouse, Indian, Seafood, Italian, French, and all manner of Fast Food restaurants – but I’d never seen a restaurant billed as South African before - in South Africa, that is. Oddly enough, the first South African restaurant I ever came across was in Atlanta, Georgia, a few years ago - “10 Degrees South”- where my husband and I spent a lovely evening reacquainting our tastebuds with familiar flavors.
Back in South Africa, I discovered a worthy representative of this new breed of restaurant at the V & A Waterfront in Cape Town. The Karibu Restaurant is gorgeously African, as are the servers. Naturally, we had to check it out. The menu alone was a source of delight – every delectable entry had us oohing and aahing. For instance, biltong - a South African delicacy that I have to compare to jerky for want of a better comparison, although biltong is made with 100 percent real meat and makes any other jerky seem like shoe leather. The menu goes on to list snoek pate, pickle fish, oxtail stew, boerewors and pap, butternut bredie, milk tart…I could go on and on; suffice it to say, we left feeling deeply satisfied.
The next day I ventured out to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for so many years. On my return to the mainland, in sore need of sustenance, I found yet another South African restaurant close to the ferry stop. Rooti’s Cape Malay Restaurant, as the name suggests, specialises in Cape Malay dishes, particularly curry, a popular dish in South Africa. Cape Malay food is truly unique, a creation of the Malay cooks who were brought to the Cape of Good Hope in the 1700’s. They adapted oriental recipes using local ingredients like peaches, apricots and raisins to achieve an unexpectedly tasty blend of sweet and savory flavors. I sat at a table overlooking the bay, savoring a delicious meal of chicken curry and koeksisters in full view of a group performing Nkosi Sikelel i’Afrika (God Bless Africa). The perfect end to a perfect day.
On the last leg of our trip we headed to Johannesburg and Lekgotla, in Nelson Mandela Square. This restaurant offers a wide range of perennial South African favorites interspersed with traditional dishes from Africa, as well as exotic cocktails presented with flair tableside. Dining here is a sensual experience complete with food, drinks, art and music from the length and breadth of the African continent. We left with lighter wallets and a few gorgeous samples of African art – must have been those mystery cocktails!
Now that the 2010 FIFA World Cup is about to kick off, the country will be full of visitors sampling South African food for the first time. It seems like a good time to share some recipes, starting with a family favorite: Bobotie (pronounced “bibooty”). I've cooked it so many times that it could be my signature dish.
Bobotie is one of those Cape Malay creations packed with flavor. It’s comfort food, similar to meatloaf, but with a decidedly ethnic flair. I learned to cook it in my mother’s kitchen. She’s an instinctive cook, and though she does not remember how she learned to cook bobotie 50 years ago, she made it her own. I took over from her, throwing in a little of this and a little of that – in the tradition of those Malay cooks, come to think of it.
My daughter helped me to finally commit this and other South African dishes to paper. This recipe is the result of a happy hour or two, from our kitchen to yours. Enjoy!
2lb lean ground beef OR mutton
2 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
½ cup seedless raisins (preferably golden, or sultana)
½ cup blanched almonds, chopped or flaked
1 slice white or brown bread (with crust)
8 oz milk
1 large white or yellow onion, finely chopped
2 tsp cooking oil
1 Tbsp curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp coriander
1 Tbsp apricot jam
1 Tbsp fruit chutney (Mrs Ball’s – you can find it at English shops in the US – or any other kind will do)
2 Tbsp lemon juice
3 or 4 bay or lemon leaves
Soak bread in milk for a few minutes, then squeeze the bread dry (reserving milk) and mix it into the ground beef together with salt, pepper, raisins and almonds.
Saute onion in oil for a couple of minutes. Add curry powder, turmeric, coriander, apricot jam, fruit chutney and lemon juice to the pan, stir, and saute for 1 more minute. Blend into meat mixture.
Spoon into a large oblong casserole dish, smoothing and leveling the surface.Beat eggs with reserved milk and pour over surface of dish. Garnish with bay or lemon leaves and bake at 350 degrees F for 1 ½ hours.
Turn oven off and let dish stand, loosely covered with foil, for about 30 minutes before serving. (Flavor improves - leftovers are good).
Serve with yellow rice and offer sliced bananas and fruit chutney on the side. (Serves 6)
YELLOW RICE WITH RAISINS
2 cups white or brown rice
4 cups water
1 ½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp butter
½ cup seedless dark raisins
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low/medium and cover with a lid. Cook for about 25 minutes, or until all water has evaporated and rice is tender.