Curry: Stories & Recipes across South Africa, by Ishay Govender-Ypma. Published by Human & Rousseau, 2017.
An important culinary addition to our indigenous literature was celebrated with the launch of this impressive hardback, its gold design and lettering on the front cover adding decorative gravitas to the contents within. The endpapers inspire with little bowls of spices, pounded and powdered, to be mixed into the aromatic collection that will flavour the veggies, meat, fish and poultry that simmer in a variety of pots across our country.
Journalist Ishay added a note to reviewers that arrived with the book, telling us of the fulfilling year she spent travelling to towns and townships, cities and farms across South Africa in search of every version of curry that is served up by our diverse communities. She enjoyed great hospitality, entered into an exploration of our past, and unearthed an extraordinary collection of stories and recipes to present to readers in this treasury. As is increasingly becoming common with current South African cookbooks, the stories often centre around hardship – from poverty and more often about suffering under apartheid laws, homes lost under the Group Areas act even as family cooks continued to make food, stretching ingredients, and keeping treats for special occasions.
Close to 90 recipes share the pages between the fascinating story of curry, related by cooks and experts, in every corner of the country. Crab curry from KwaZulu-Natal,. Cape Malay chicken curry, curried offal from the Northern Cape, beef from Gauteng townships. You will find Karoo venison curries, lamb for the kerkbasaar, and curries featuring vegetables and fruits that are worth contemplating – and not only by vegetarians.
We follow Ishay’s journey through all nine provinces of South Africa. Indian home cooks predominate, unsurprisingly, in every region except for the Western Cape where we find residents who specialise in Cape Malay cuisine, well-known cook and author Sydda Essop, weskus family cook Lenora Farmer from Paternoster, renowned spice guru Cass Abrahams, Afrikaans creative cook Inez Espost and an English-speaking restaurateur in Knysna who presents the only Thai curry in the book – the final recipe! Also featured is Emily van Sitters of Franschhoek who I met when collecting recipes for a Cape cookbook way back when. She shared her recipe for seafood masala bobotie, still the finest bobotie dish ever tasted.
The many black cooks, mostly women, use fewer spices in their curries, although some, like Lisbeth Mametja, of North Sotho origin, living in Hoedspruit, cooks a mean Indian curry thanks to working at game lodge with a chef from Mumbai. Along with mutton, lamb and many chicken curries, there is a fine selection of meat-free recipes, where veggies, fruit, pulses, soya, nuts and paneer star, along with some interesting seafood curries. The recipes conclude with a selection of side dishes to complement curries, including roti, samp, sambals,pickles and atchars.-
This compilation is set to become a South African classic, and one which even novice cooks can buy knowing that the recipes were all re-tested by Ishay’s husband to make sure they would be in safe hands when trying out a new dish. Now there’s dedication worth acknowledging!