Cape Malay Cooking

I took a Cape Malay cooking class today. I had been searching for a “South African cooking” class but realized after a while that there’s really no such thing as South African food due to the influences from so many cultures here. That’s also why you get so many “fusion” restaurants, although they are about seven years behind us in terms of culinary trends. Note the “volcano chocolate cake” and “creme brulee” that was so common on SF menus years back…they’re dominant here.

The closest one can get to real local cuisine is the food of the Malay, a conglomeration of former slave cultures–Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Java, Sri Lanka and Madagascar. These were slaves who were brought here to work for the Dutch East India Company.

I hadn’t had much luck until Saturday when our Winelands tour guide arranged for a class in Bo’Kaap, or Malay Quarter. When I arrived at the bright green house, Gamidah was there to greet me. It turns out it was to be a 1:1 cooking class!

We chatted and cooked together and then had lunch together. She was delightful. I told her how much I enjoyed hearing the call to prayer from the mosques in this neighborhood, and we stood at her kitchen door listening at 1 p.m. to the lulling singing from two different mosques. She also translated it for me.

She taught me to make Malay chicken curry, samoosas, roti and sambal. She gave me the printed recipes and directed me across the street from her home to a little market where I bought up a bunch of ground spices. The good thing is that I can buy most of what she had at home (coriander, cayenne pepper, fennel, etc.) But I bought different versions of garam masala. Oddly, they had one called “mother in law masala” and “father in law masala.”  I have no idea why. I avoided buying the curry leaves, as the good paranoid people at customs might not allow me to bring in a plant. I’ll have to search that out at home.

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