Saturday, May 5, 2012

Bobotie Beneath Table Mountain

Situated near Africa’s southern tip, cosmopolitan Cape Town is a city of singular natural beauty. Rising from a gorgeous natural harbor to the footslopes of iconic Table Mountain, it is also the home of bobotie, the definitive dish of the Cape Malay community, whose fusion of Indonesian, Dutch, and indigenous elements has created a unique cuisine emblematic of the city itself.

Boasting world-class restaurants that represent every conceivable global cuisine, Cape Town is Africa’s culinary answer to London or New York – but with the added advantages of a warm climate, a tourist-friendly exchange rate, and one of the world’s top winelands on the doorstep. It’s ironic, then, that you could spend quite some time in Cape Town without realizing that it boasts its own distinctive cuisine; but possible, because Cape Malay cuisine, like the community, stands slightly outside the South African mainstream.
The Cape Malay are an anomaly. In a land whose history is dominated by the clash between indigenous Africans and European settlers, this tightly knit community is descended from Indonesian slaves and religious dissidents brought here by the earliest Dutch settlers. The community retains a strong Islamic identity, despite South Africa being predominantly Christian, yet its mother tongue is the Dutch derivative called Afrikaans, while the famously sentimental songs performed by its choirs are called Nederlandsliede (Dutch Songs).
Unsurprisingly, Cape Malay cuisine is a curious mixture. The curries are sweeter and milder than their Indonesian forerunners due to the use of fruit preserves. Sosaties – kebabs soaked in a sweet, spicy marinade – are a linguistic fusion of the Dutch saus (sauce) and Indonesian satay (skewered meat). And the inclusion of Cape pondweed in a lamb dish called waterblommetjiebredie (water-flower stew) is borrowed from the indigenous Khoikhoi. The national dish of South Africa, bobotie, was probably introduced to the Cape by early Dutch settlers before being re-adopted by their Indonesian slaves. Rather like a spicy moussaka, it comprises a fruity, curried ground meat base, topped with an eggy sauce that forms a crust when baked.
Cape Malay culture still thrives in the Bo-Kaap (Upper Cape), a residential district of brightly painted houses that offers superb views across the city bowl to the unmistakable flat top of Table Mountain – accessed from downtown by a thrilling revolving cable car.
Farther afield, Cape Town offers limitless opportunities for memorable expeditions, including whale-watching in False Bay, a hike to the clifftop Cape Point Lighthouse, or a boat trip to Robben Island.

In 1954, the curried bobotie was declared the national dish of South Africa by the United Nations Women’s Organization

The lines of colorful houses in the Bo Kaap Malay quarter are occasionally broken by kramats (Muslim saint shrines) and mosques 

Cape Town sits at the foot of the spectacular Table Mountain, which dominates the city skyline; the summit can be reached in minutes by cable car

Best Places to Eat Bobotie
Jonkershuis Restaurant moderate A historic setting in suburban Groot Constantia, South Africa’s oldest wine estate, is just one of many reasons why a relaxed lunch at the Jonkershuis ranks among the Cape Peninsula’s most iconic dining experiences. The setting here really is lovely, with long leafy rows of vines sloping up to the base of the ragged peaks of the Constantia Mountain, and the option of dining alfresco in the oak-shaded gardens. If this doesn’t appeal, you can eat inside the period-furnished main building, a thatched and whitewashed Cape Dutch edifice dating to the 18th century. Owned and managed by a team of the Cape’s most experienced restaurateurs, Jonkershuis prides itself on its Cape Malay menu, which includes bobotie – here served with an accompaniment of sambals (chili pepper sauces) and almond-flavored yellow rice.
For those seeking a one-stop introduction to the local cuisine, the restaurant produces a sumptuous Cape Malay “tasting plate,” a kind of mini-buffet featuring bobotie alongside a rich lamb curry, a lighter chicken curry, and cinnamon-flavored roast butternut. There’s a great choice of Cape whites, including the estate’s own oaked Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, and the dessert menu includes Cape specialties such as melktert (milk tart) and malva pudding, a spongy, apricot-flavored dish of Dutch origin.
Off Constantia Main Road, Cape Town; open 9 AM–10 PM Mon–Sat; 9 AM–5 PM Sun;
Also in Cape Town
The Noon Gun Tea Room & Restaurant (; inexpensive) dishes up excellent bobotie along with the likes of deningvleis (a hearty sweet-sour lamb stew), chicken breyeni (a spicy rice-based risotto-like dish), and a good selection of characteristically sweet desserts to finish.
Set in the world-famous Kirstenbosch
Botanical Garden on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, the Silver Tree Restaurant (www.; moderate) is famous for its picnic hampers, but it also serves a good bobotie – made with super-lean ostrich meat in a traditional potjie (black pot) – and tasty Cape Malay curry.
Also in South Africa
Gramadoelas (; expensive) in Johannesburg has played host to luminaries as diverse as Queen Elizabeth II and the actor Danny Glover. Bobotie is a firm favorite on the menu, alongside other Cape dishes such as waterblommetjiebredie (water-flower stew) and piping hot, grilled sosaties.

Cape Wines

Viniculture in the Cape dates back to 1659, when the colony’s founder Jan van Riebeeck produced a small amount of doubtless rather rough wine.
The subsequent arrival of French Huguenots prompted the fledgling industry to spread inland to Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, and Paarl, the site of historic vineyards such as Blaauwklippen, Boschendal, and Vergelegen. Today, South Africa is the world’s seventh-largest wine producer, with about a dozen different grape varieties.
Cabernet Sauvignon, the most widely planted red, produces heavy wines that complement red meats. Pinotage, a uniquely South African cultivar, makes a fruity, purple wine that often represents the best value among the reds. Of the whites, Sauvignon Blanc provides a crisp, zesty complement to Cape Malay dishes and seafood.
Three Days in and around Cape Town
Cape Town and its immediate environs could easily keep you busy for two weeks.
It boasts iconic mountains, rustic wine estates, colorful botanical gardens, modern shopping malls, windswept oceanic cliffs, and superb swimming beaches, all set against the craggy spine of Table Mountain National Park (TMNP).
DAY ONE : Head to the summit of Table Mountain, which is most easily reached by cable car. It has interesting wildlife and offers breathtaking views in all directions.
After lunching at Noon Gun, head to the Company’s Gardens, founded by van Riebeeck and encircled by historic landmarks such as the Old Slave Lodge, National Museum, St. George’s Cathedral, and House of Parliament.
DAY TWO : Take off for the Western Cape Peninsula and the Constantia Winelands, taking in the spectacular Cape of Good Hope sector of TMNP and the penguin colony at Boulders. Lunch at Groot Constantia’s Jonkershuis Restaurant, then enjoy an afternoon stroll around Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden.
DAY THREE : Visit sedate old Stellenbosch, famed for its wealth of Cape Dutch architecture, then go wine-tasting in the surrounding Cape Winelands.
Most international flights land at Johannesburg, two hours by air from Cape Town; trains and buses connect the cities. There are also direct flights from Europe to Cape Town International Airport, 30 minutes from downtown.
For a cozy bargain, the Lord Nelson Inn (inexpensive) in historic Simonstown is hard to beat.
Cape Town Hollow (moderate) is a conveniently central hotel situated opposite the Company’s Gardens.
The Cape Grace (expensive) is the epitome of contemporary five-star chic.

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