Cape Malay cuisine

Photo supplied by The Cellars-Hohenort Hotel

It’s said that the secret to the distinctive flavour of Cape Malay cuisine is a careful blend of spices – the most important of which is turmeric – incorporated into an array of tasty traditional dishes.

The Cape Malay influence can be traced back to South Africa’s early days, when the Dutch East India Company needed a provisions station to supply ships bound for Malaysia.

Jan van Riebeeck landed in the Cape in 1652 and established a farm to provide fresh vegetables and meat for ships rounding the Cape.

Labourers were needed for the enterprise so the Dutch ships fetched slaves from Sumatra, who later became known as Cape Malays. They brought with them their unique culture, traditions, recipes and spices, such as garlic, ginger, chilli, star anise, barishap (fennel), jeera (cumin), koljander (coriander seed), bay leaf, cardamom, cloves, dhania (coriander leaf), mustard seed, allspice, mint, fenugreek, saffron, nutmeg and tamarind.

Some examples of Cape Malay cuisine that have survived to tempt palates to today include smoorsnoek – snoek cooked over a fire or simmered with onions and tomatoes; oumens onder die kombers (old person under the blanket) – meat patties wrapped in cabbage leaves; denningvleis – slow-cooked leg of lamb with chillies, spices and vinegar; and bobotie – meatloaf with onion, sultanas, almonds, bay leaves and spices, topped with egg custard.

If all this talk of spicy food has left your taste buds tingling, you’ll find that the Cape Malay influence has been successfully incorporated into the menus of many notable Cape Town restaurants, including:

  • Emily’s – V&A Waterfront
  • Biesmiellah – 2 Whale Street, Bo-Kaap
  • Patat – new Church Square, Parliament Street
  • Buitenverwagting – Buitenverwachting, Klein Constantia Road, Constantia
  • Jonkershuis – Groot Constantia Wine Estate, Constantia
  • Cape Malay restaurant – 93 Brommerslvlei Constantia
  • Cassia (Nitida Wines) – Tygerberg Valley Road
  • Durbanville Hills restaurant, M13, Durbanville

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