Hot, subtle, spicy, mild - many of the undertones that distinguish modern South African cooking were introduced by the Malay cooks brought to South Africa in the eighteenth century. Sosaties, bobotie, breyani, slamse kerrie, denningvleis with sambals - these names may stumble on the foreign tongue, but they leave a taste that is essentially Cape Malay.
The Cape Malay have perfected the art of cooking with spices: borrie, aniseed, methi, jeera, garlic, cardomom, cassia, ginger, and saffron - spices brought to South Africa by early explorers on their way through the Spice Route.
Typical Cape Malay fare features
Frikkadels, mosbolletjies, mosbrood
Yellow rice redolent of cinnamon sticks, turmeric and crushed cardamom pods. Served with their rich curries, yellow rice is further enhanced with plump raisins and fried almond shavings.
Waterblommetjie bredie - This stew is a seasonal treat served when the plant that yields the waterblommetjies flourishes on local dams. Combined with the tart taste of surings and the full-bodied flavour of mutton, it strikes a perfect balance of salt, savoury and slightly sour tastes.
Dried fruit and venison stews - It's a popular custom in Cape Malay cuisine to combine dried fruit with meat – venison like Springbok or ostrich in particular. Slightly sweet, somewhat tangy and acidic, the fruit complements and mellows the taste of the venison.
Cape Malay curries are full of flavour but are milder and sweeter than their Indian cousins. They eloquently showcase regional produce such as perlemoen, crayfish, and even snoek – a much-loved ocean-dwelling fish.
Fish bobotie - Flaked fish is turned into a fish pie rich with the flavours of Indonesia, like nutmeg, turmeric and bay leaves. It's served topped with an egg custard and accompanied by a traditional chutney.
Pumpkin fritters - Mashed pumpkin mixed with egg and a bit of flour is lightly browned before enjoying a dusting of cinnamon sugar and a touch of nutmeg. Delicious with duck, venison or any sweet-and-sour dish.
Honey and cinnamon pumpkin - Half-moon slices of pumpkin – skin and all – are drizzled with honey, butter and brown sugar before baking in a hot oven till the ingredients caramelise to form a sticky, sweet syrup that glazes the pumpkin perfectly.
Malay koeksisters, which are different to Afrikaner ones, yet go by the same name. Flavoured with ginger, cinnamon and cardamom, they are oblong yeast balls cooked in a citrus-flavoured syrup and sprinkled with dessicated coconut – traditionally served on Sunday mornings.