Sunday 6 June 2010

A Cultural Potpourri


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! Wonderful book with great South African recipes - click for link.


Janelle said...

eesh. it must be hard sometimes, hey? still. LOVE the pics and LOVE bobotie...weh. nothing quite like a GOOD oh man. keep these posts coming. lots love xxx j

Holly said...

Not the least of what has attracted me to you, is the notion that both of us long for our 'home' while learning to love where we are. And, both of us are having to do this learning because we love our partner more than we could ever miss our 'home'.

I wish we lived closer. Because to date, I still don't like curry...the taste of it. But I would be very, very willing to sit and eat with you and have you convince me otherwise. That would be most ideal!

Love to you from across the pond!!

Anonymous said...

Loved the pictures and the exotic recipes.
I think I would have to try the bobotie before I passed judgement....
We had a little party on the roof yesterday and an English friend bought Scotch eggs and sausage rolls!
Yum yum!
The Americans all looked a bit bewildered......

Ces Adorio said...

This is deliciously beautiful! What an explosion of colors. Food is alwaysa neutral and acceptable option for these difficult choices we have to make. We cannot obviously take the home we love wherever we go and so the flavors that we grew up with are a soothing reminder and companion.

It is amazing how almost sterile those buildings appear in the photographs.

Oh "niggling", "niggardly"'s a good thing you are an African living in England. If you were in the US, some liberals and race baiters will demand an apology for using a "racist" word. I know, I know, you know, but hey, this is America we think we know the meaning of words. Hah!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

So difficult to be away from the land you call home. Funny, even though I grew up here in the southern us, I didn't feel really at home in a landscape until I first went to Scotland. All of my ancestors were from there, so maybe it was cellular memory, I don't know. But now, that's where I always want to be. Achingly so sometimes.

I would highly recommend you read Cutting for Stone this summer. It brought Africa alive for me. It's seet in Ethiopia. Wonderful book.

Cheryl Cato said...

Eee-ho... what a wonderful story. I love the colorful photographs of your part of Africa. I also looked up the cookbook on Amazon in the US & am able to order it.

Natalie said...

I am hearing you, sister. I am homesick for somewhere, I don't know where, but I think it is heaven. I have filled my house with cherubs, married an Angel, filled the house with creativity and light, and talk to God everyday. :)
Loved the images.xx

The W.O.W. factor! said...

Oh my goodness, Tessa, how I've missed your words, your photos...carrying me to places unknown; experiencing the beauty, the flavors and the people without ever leaving my chair!
I am going to do my darnest to not miss a trip, a taste or a view again!!
Missed you so much!
~Hugs~ Barb

Carol said...

What a fabulous post!! I love reading about your home because the way you describe it really brings it to life! It is now firmly on my list of places I want to visit :-)

C x

Linda Sue said...

Tessa! My Beauty! What a gorgeous post! The sun shines differently in cape Town, more vibrant, closer to true! By the time the sun rolls around to England and the Pacific Northwest it has lost its fire, it is weary...I imagine it to be smoking a pipe in an overstuffed chair, just laid back and taking it easy.I am homesick for every place I have ever been- I am homesick for earth...

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

The colours of your home sing. I have lived in our countries and travelled a lot but could not imagine living away from the myriad of green which is home. So different from your vibrancy but another form of lovely.
It sounds as though you have it sorted, as much as anyone can.

Angela said...

My daughter and son in law plan to visit Cape Town in July. I will ask them to take your love along!

Tessa said...

Ja, Janelle...bobotie and a good Cape red. Nothing better. Well, nearly nothing! A wild ride across the Athi plains would be closer to my idea of heaven...

My dearest Hollyness thanks for popping in and those gentle words of wisdom. As for the curry part of bobotie, I don't think you'd notice because the spices and fruitiness of the dish kind of over-ride that curryish taste. C'on over and I'll convert you with my version, okay?

Those Cape Malay dishes are yummtious in the extreme, Elizabeth. I'd go so far as to guarantee love at first bite! (Laughed @ the bewildered Americans and Scotch eggs...although I can kind of empathise. Scotch eggs are a bit bewildering. And fried Mars Bars...and haggis. Eeek.)

Ces - absolutely! Food is a great reminder of good times...old and new. Gosh, it's astonishing how we all perceive things so differently...those Bo-Kaap houses sing to me of life and colour and celebration of heritage. Must be my cropping that makes them appear somewhat antiseptic! Hey, am intrigued as to which bit of what I said could be perceived as 'racist'. I'm lost! Should I have said 'South African-African' in order to tow the PC line, I wonder? Perhaps, to be more precise, I should have said that I'm an 'Australian-Mongolian-Jewish-Scottish-South African-African' Frankly, it's all complete bullshit. Ultimately we all belong to the same tribe regardless of race, creed or colour.

Pamela - how fascinating that you should say that about Scotland. My father, who was born and raised in Scotland, always said that there were many parts of Africa that reminded him very vividly of the land of his birth. Yes, there are places where one feels a kind of visceral connection. Thank you, too, for recommending 'Cutting for Stone'. I went immediately to look for it on Amazon and was suprised and delighted to learn that it is written by Abraham Verghese whose book 'The Tennis Partner' I loved!

Hello Lizzie - glad you enjoyed the post...and the colours. I do miss that kaleidoscope! The cook book is wonderful with the loveliest illustrations and excellent/easy recipes...a real little treasure. I'm sure you'll enjoy it!

Natsy...I think you've found at least part of your heaven, girl. More to come, I'm sure.

BARB! I can't believe it! You're back after your long sabbatical. Hurray and hugs and great whooshes of love to you. Be over there at a gallop to catch up on your

Carol, do let me know if you decide to make the trip. I'd love to be your virtual tour guide. Seriously, I'd been more than happy to let you in on some secret, untouristy must-see places to visit! (So pleased to hear you are painting again...WIP photos please..)

Linda Sue - you are the truest of true poets. Your words make me marvel. "I am homesick for every place I have ever been- I am homesick for earth..." You rock the world, girl, you seriously do.

Elizabeth - you are so absolutely right. There are myriad forms of loveliness and, indeed, your beautiful Wales is one of them.

Oooh Angela, could they take me as excess baggage? I hope they have the most wonderful time...let me know if they need any information on anything. As I said to Carol, I make a good tour guide!

Ces Adorio said...

Tessa, there are controversies about the words niggling and niggardly here in America. Apparently misunderstood by some lower-educated people who consider them as racial slurs.

Tessa said...

Ces - thanks for the clarification! Extraordinary how things are blown out of all proportion...I find that particular sort of drivel deeply and discomfortingly bizarre.

Cindy said...

Tessa, I have been thinking of you often while watching all the recent World Cup coverage! Whether you like football or not, I can't imagine not being proud of the entire world stopping to look at South Africa and its beauty. Then again, I already knew how beautiful it is through your wonderful posts :)

ArtSparker said...

Mouth-watering post.

soulbrush said...

i can absolutely relate to all of this, and although i have been here in the uk now for 24 years, my heart and soul belong in south africa. although born in johannesburg, i lived in the cape for 3 years and love it so much,so i will think of it with you for this short space in time, although i will never return.