Some of you know me as that chronically homesick African who was whisked away from her beloved land quite recently by an Englishman to live for a while in his country. What can a girl do but pack and follow? Especially since the Englishman in question in my husband of 30 something years and he feels – probably quite justifiably – that it’s his turn to spend time in the country of his birth after having lived most of his adult life in mine.
Problem is that no matter how hard I try, I just can’t rid myself of that little niggling ache for home. So rather than sit and mope, I endeavour to transport Africa to England as often as I possibly can by bringing the people and places I love so much to life on canvas. With broad strokes of brush and pots of vivid colour, I attempt to recreate moments of a life filled with laughter, love and adventure.
Our current home – now in North Norfolk - as well as being filled almost to ceiling height with a multitude of paintings by artists infinitely more talented than I, is also littered with smile inducing memories of that complex, beautiful and tumultuous continent. There are colourful carved birds perched on table tops, vibrantly painted tin geckoes climb the walls, a wonky wooden zebra teeters on a windowsill beside a chameleon and two outrageously daubed giraffe. There are bowls and sculptures, beads and baubles in abundance. Oh, and books. Books by Andre Brink, Chinua Achebe, J.M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer, Justin Cartwright, Ben Okri, Breyten Breytenbach, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, Alexandra Fuller, Rian Malan and other afrocentric literary luminaries line the shelves.
So you see - it all works perfectly. He lives in his country and we still share mine.
Although I’ve lived in many parts of Africa, Cape Town is where I was born and raised so it seems appropriate that I should take you there first. Please, come with me to that beautiful city nestled in the curve of its famous mountain and allow me to introduce you to the colourful Bo-Kaap area of the city and to the Cape Malay people who live there. And since food is always an important evocation of people and places, perhaps you’d like to share a meal as well?
The Cape Malay Quarter, or 'Bo-Kaap' as it is known locally, sprawls along the slopes of Signal Hill and presents a scenario of enduring historic and cultural significance. With their soft, caramel skins and wide smiles, the Cape Malay people are a beautiful and important part of the fascinating cultural potpourri which makes South Africa unique as a rainbow nation. It is also their food, which introduces exciting mixtures of pungent spices, that has had a heady influence on traditional South African cuisine. Indeed, the Malay-Portuguese words such as bobotie (a curried ground beef and egg custard dish), sosatie (kebabs marinated in a curry mixture) and bredie (slowly cooked stews rich in meat, tomatoes and spices) are integral in our cookery vocabulary.
The Malay influence comes through in the curries, chillies and extensive use of spices such as ginger, cinnamon and turmeric. More Malay magic comes through the use of fruit cooked with meat, marrying sweet and savoury flavours, with hints of spice, curry and other seasonings. The food has a nuance of seductive spiciness, true testament to the culinary capabilities of Malay women world wide. I cannot think of a dried apricot without the image of our cook Lizzie, smiling her heart-warming smile, a wooden spoon in her hand, gently stirring a pot of simmering curry and fruit.
Lizzie’s bobotie is legendary and I still have her recipe in my book of kitchen treasures. Bobotie (pronounced ba-boor-tea) is a curried ground beef dish, baked in a rich egg custard. Some recipes call for you to combine the curry powder with the ground beef, whilst others advise you to fry the curry powder with the onions. The method is really unimportant. Once the custard covering the beef begins to bake, it keeps the meat moist and absorbs the fragrance of the curry and spices. What makes bobotie such a popular traditional South African dish is that it is exceptional served hot with geelrys (yellow rice), but just as good served cold with a peppery green salad with a tart vinaigrette dressing. Oh, and don't forget the blatjang!