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July 22, 2013

Cape Town traditional food: take a bite out of history

cape malay food

An example of a Cape Malay culinary feast. Photo courtesy The Cellars-Hohenort

If Cape Town was a meal, what would it be?  A smaaklike Dutch potjiekos? A spicy Cape Malay chicken curry? Perhaps a mouthwatering African chakalaka?

The answer is quite simple: Cape Town is all of these meals and much, much more. With a culinary history that is as delicious as it is extensive, the Mother City continues to delight palates.

The fairest Cape has found cooking inspiration in her residents for centuries, since the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in April 1652 adding to the diversity. When the Dutch first arrived on our shores in the 17th century, they brought with them their farming expertise, planting and harvesting succulent vegetable crops and aromatic herb gardens that helped to feed many a starving sailor of the Dutch East India Company.

We can also be thankful for their delectable melktert (milk tart) and potjiekos (a meat, veggie and rice dish, flavoured with wine or stock, cooked over a fire) which continues to be popular celebratory meal choice.

A darker side to this burgeoning food trade was the forced arrival of Javanese slaves in the 18th century. Back then they were often hired as chefs in Dutch households, and their distinctive gourmet influences have survived and can still be tasted in today’s Cape Malay dishes.

Like a hearty, tasty stew, Cape Town’s flavour has improved with the addition of new and exciting residents. German, Italian, Chinese, French, Portuguese and Flemish populations have added dashes of variety to the Mother City’s cultural melting pot.

In the 21st century, there are plenty of talented cooks in the city’s diverse kitchens. While you can certainly still enjoy home-cooked meals, particularly of the Cape Malay variety, at many smaller cafés, a walk through any of the bustling streets of Cape Town ensures the discovery of Greek, American, Mediterranean, Moroccan, Nigerian and other African cuisine, served with flourish in superb restaurants and bistros.

Fancy an authentic Cape Malay beef curry and roti, or a filling bobotie? You’re sure to find these signature dishes and many more culinary treats at the following establishments:

For koeksisters, samoosas and curries, try

Bo-Kaap Kombuis
7 August Street on Upper Wale Street, Bo-Kaap
+27(0)21 422 5446

For traditional beer, chakalaka and imfino patties, try

The Africa Café
108 Shortmarket Street, Cape Town
+27(0)21 422 0221

For caviar, champagne and croissants, try

The Roundhouse Restaurant
The Glen, Kloof Road, Camps Bay
+27(0)21 438 4347

For pasta, pizza and gelato, try

Andiamo Deil, Restaurant and Bar
72 Waterkant Street, Green Point
+27(0)21 421 3687/8

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