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South Africa's Cape Malay Curry PDF Print E-mail
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South Africa's Cape Malay Curry
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by Diana G. Armstrong

Rich golden curry powder is at the heart of  Cape Malay cooking
Rich, golden curry powder is at
the heart of Cape Malay cooking.

Sweet Cape Malay curry is worlds apart from its fiery Durban relative (read Diane's article about Durban curry here); Durban curry is hit-you-in-the-face, red and hot, and its fourth cousin once removed has a subtler taste, which is a complex union of sweet and savory flavors. It is ochre-tinged by its two main ingredients—turmeric and cumin, and its color brings to mind the sand of South Africa's Karoo desert. Here chiles take a back seat. Flavors come from hints rather than fire—it is the mild spices rather than the heat that bring out the charm of this curry. It is like a violin as opposed to cymbals.

About 350 years ago, Cape Town began as the halfway provisioning stop for ships sailing between Europe and Asia.  Farms were established here to provide scurvy-ridden sailors with fresh produce.  The Dutch East India Company brought Muslim slaves from Indonesia and Malaysia to work their farms. These people became known as Cape Malay. Once free, they put down roots in the shadow of Cape Town's spectacular Table Mountain.  With their inherited knowledge of curry spices from Asia, the kind climate of Cape Town, and fertile earth in which to grow exceptional produce, they developed their own excellent cuisine. This enlivened all the local cooking and had a heavy influence on the Dutch pioneers of the area, whose early settler fare tended to be rather bland and uninteresting.

Cape Town, view from Table Mountain 1885.


Two marvelous examples of Cape Malay curry dishes are bobotie and sosaties. Both are stock favorites of many South Africans. Bobotie could be considered a South African national dish. It is a light-textured curried meat loaf seasoned with many exotic spices and made sweet-and-sour by apricots, raisins and vinegar. Just before serving, a savory custard is baked honey-brown onto the top.

Sosaties are skewers of lamb, onions, green peppers and dried apricots that are marinated overnight in a sweet curry sauce. The skewers are placed on the barbecue or under the broiler; the meat is succulent, tender and incredibly good. Today sosaties are a staple of the South African version of barbecue called the Braaivleis or Braai.

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