The Bo Kaap Foodie Day
How to cook a mean curry and eat all the samosas
I have ventured into the Bo-Kaap to try out the Cooking Tour and experience Cape Malay culture life first-hand. Here is what I've discovered.
Locals and foreigners walk the streets of the Bo-Kaap.
I’m a recent Capetonian, so this was my first time visiting the Bo-Kaap and even though it borders the bustling Bree Street, tucked away just behind Green Point, a visit to this neighbourhood immerses you into a whole new world, a whole different side of Cape Town.
The Bo-Kaap is full of colour, culture and a fascinating heritage, you’d be hard pressed to experience anywhere else. The narrow cobblestone streets, vibrantly painted houses and mix of interesting residents - each with a unique story to tell.
I started my tour of the Bo-Kaap with a Cape Malay Cooking Tour. To my surprise, it was nothing like what I expected, this was no ordinary cooking class. Guided by the lovely Zainie Misbach, a life-long resident who represents the lifeblood of this historical neighbourhood meant that not only did I get to learn about the unique Cape Malay cooking style from one of Bo-Kaap's best chefs, I got a snapshot into everything that makes this community tick, something which would not have been possible just wandering the streets on my own. This experience was about so much more than just the delicious food with deep roots and rich aroma.
While waiting for Zainie to arrive, a bakkie wanders the streets. The driver and his companion stop every so often, climbing up onto the back and blowing a loud horn. As soon as Zainie arrives, she explains, “that was the very first vuvuzela, it’s the Bo-Kaap’s traditional way of letting the community know that there’s fresh Snoek on offer.” This is the start of our tour.
The first stop is the Rose Corner Café. It’s been around for 75 years and of course, Zainie knows the family who owns the café. As you walk in, you realise they aren’t just friends, they’re family. This is the first time you realise that the Bo-Kaap is a real community, the old school kind, where you know your grocer by name. The same family own the Atlas Spice Shop, directly across the road (as Zainie points out). It’s our next stop and the starting point of our Cape Malay food experience. All good Cape Malay dishes start with the right spices, and Zainie is on hand to show us just how to select the right spices and curry leaves. Touching, rubbing and smelling the fresh leaves is our first lesson, long before we reach the kitchen.
With that, we’re off again, walking the streets of Bo-Kaap with Zainie leading the way. As a lifelong resident of these streets, she takes us through the years of Apartheid, bringing up her children as a single mother, starting and running her restaurant businesses to support her family.
Some of the views from the Bo-Kaap.
We head to Zainie’s house and we are welcomed in by her daughter-in-law, Zoelfaa, who is just as warm, kind and bubbly as Zainie. You immediately feel welcome and at ease in this home, like you’re visiting family.
We hit the ground running and Zoelfaa is ready to show us how to make rooties from scratch. Zainie shows us how to mix our own Masala from the spices you can buy at Atlas. With everything that happens in this kitchen, a history lesson follows about the heritage of the Cape Malay cooking style and the people. Cape Malay cooking is not about the heat, but the mixture of spices and flavour, and these two are willing to share all of their knowledge. No question goes unanswered.
Zainie giving us the rundown of mixing a good Masala.
Zainie makes it look easy!
Zoelfaa explaining the ins and outs of Rootie dough.
Rootie dough ready to roll.
It's not as easy as it looks!
Braiding our Rooties.
Our group learns the ins and outs of making a good chicken curry. Turns out, like me, you’ve probably been doing it wrong the whole time! The techniques that Zainie shows you are the kind they leave out of modern cookbooks. She reiterates the value of seeing the process firsthand, and I have to admit, she isn’t wrong.
Next on the menu we’re making daltjies, these little chili bites can be served as a starter and they pack a massive flavour. Zoelfaa takes us through the process of making daltjies and the smell of the spices is mesmerizing! The amount of passion this pair puts into each dish is contagious.
The yummy mixture for the daltjies
Getting the daltjies crispy and golden brown.
Once the daltjies are done, it’s finally time to eat and I could not have been more excited! The daltjies are served with an apricot or coriander chili sauce. Zoelfaa recommends that we first try the delicious chili bite on its own, then with the different sauces. Never have I tasted a fried ball of delectable deliciousness quite like this! The daltjies are so light, fluffy and scrumptious that I could have devoured the bowl myself. Zoelfaa and Zainie watch our faces each time we try something new, searching for signs of approval. As your face lights up each time you taste their food, they smile.
Ready to eat with two sauces.
The best crispy chips you have ever tasted!
More traditional Cape Malay dishes follow. Next up are the Samosas, and again, you’ve been doing it all wrong. There’s definitely technique that goes into these little triangles, and Zoelfaa is on hand to show you how it’s done, Bo-Kaap style!
The samosas that our group folded.
Frying the golden triangles.
The finished product.
When the curry is ready, we are ushered through to the dining room where a table has been set for the seven of us in the group. Again, you feel like you’re with family. The chatter quickly subsides as the group is immersed in the delicious flavours of our curry. We take a moment to enjoy the flavours exploding out of each mouthful.
The finished product of our rooties.
Our stunning meal waiting to be devoured.
My first helping!
I was completely blown away by Zainie’s humility and strength. How she raised her four children alone as a single mother, keeping her family together through her passion for food. I remember her stories, how she told us how she started her first restaurant on her verandah outside her front door so she was at home when her children arrived from school.
Zainie’s passion for life, food, family, her heritage and teaching people is palpable. She says that she never thought she would be able to teach people how to cook, but when she realized she could, she fell in love with it. Her drive comes from her commitment to bringing back this “outdated” way of cooking and teaching people how to do it properly because it’s something she loves so dearly.
After 30 years in the industry, this incredible woman is still going strong and always working on new ideas, new recipes and ways to teach people. She laughs and says her brain never rests and often she’s up at three in the morning because she has an idea she has to write down.
My Bo-Kaap Cooking Tour is done and it’s one that I will never forget. Not just because of the journey that Zainie and Zoelfaa took my taste buds on, but the warmth and hospitality that they showed our group. As I leave this wonderfully bright and welcoming home, Zainie gives me some of her golden cooking tips. But I won’t share those, for now, I’ll leave a few secrets behind in the cobbled streets of the Bo-Kaap, undiscovered until you experience the tour for yourself.