If there is one thing the people in the Cape enjoy more than eating, it is eating in the company of others. Family, friends and visitors from less blessed regions are always welcome. The hospitality is innate, but it is equally true that people who are fortunate enough to live in an environment that is so richly endowed, also enjoy showing off just a little.
Mealtimes are convivial affairs, occasions for savouring the local vintages and consuming the seasonal food in a cheerful atmosphere that encourages talk and enjoyment.
‘Capetonians’ display a charmingly reverence and preference for their food creations and the wines which they love. Where food is concerned gender is seldom a factor when distinguishing between a good chef and a bad one, they are assessed purely for their skills. Notes are compared on how individual variations of favourite dishes have been achieved, delivered with all the intensity of philosophers sharing the deepest secrets of human existence.
The character of such occasions ranges from uproariously informal buffets and beach barbecues, to more ceremonial dinners and lunches. At the latter, classic dishes are reverentially presented in an atmosphere of damask table linen on polished exotic wood, with good silver ware to transport the edibles from plate to taste buds.
The composition of a good meal and the achievement of balance between dishes that are both suitable to the occasion and in harmony with the fresh produce available at the market is very much a matter of personal preference. Cape cooks are nothing if not individualistic!
Still, for those who may have visited the region, or who simply want to recapture its atmosphere when they return to their homes far away from those fertile valleys and soaring mountains and warm generous people, I offer a traditional recipe to keep the memory warm. A good Malay Curry.
2 kg stewing mutton
10ml curry powder
50ml sunflower oil or any other neutral oil
4 medium onions, chopped
5 cloves garlic crushed
25ml chopped fresh ginger
Few sticks of cinnamon
5 cardamom seeds
8 whole cloves
6 tomatoes, skinned and chopped
5 potatoes quartered
250 ml frozen peas
Chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves
Cube the meat and sprinkle with the turmeric, curry powder, coriander and cumin. Allow to stand for 30 minutes.
Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan and brown the onions gently, adding the ginger and garlic. Brown the meat and add the cinnamon, cardamom and cloves.
Add the tomatoes and 250ml water and cook the curry very gently for about 1 hour until the meat is tender (add more water if necessary).
Add the potatoes and peas and cook for another 45 minutes. The potatoes should be cooked but not disintegrating.
Scatter over some chopped fresh coriander which enhances the flavour of a curry.
Serve this curry with rice and a selection of sambals, some sweet chutney and perhaps a lemon pickle.