A CULINARY JOURNEY OF SOUTH AFRICAN INDIGENOUS FOODS [compiled] by Kgaladi Thema-Sethoga and Ursula Moroane-Kgomo. Published by Indiza Co-operative and Modjaji Books. 2015.
Myrna Robins enjoyed the gastronomic trip through our provinces, but questions the fare included in one of the chapters.
Those following western diets may gulp at thought of a snack of salted stinkbugs fried in butter, while others – who spend as little time as possible in the kitchen – may appreciate the Swati dish Indakala,or boiled,salted peanuts. Both can be found in the second edition of a compilation of our indigenous dishes, following on the original, published in 2000 through the CSIR.
The new and intriguing collection of heritage recipes from 11 ethnic groups across South Africa, reveals that much of the fare is also contemporary, as current generations of rural cooks continue to use local ingredients and traditional recipes to feed their families.
IndiZA Foods is a Pretoria-based company headed by MD Kgaladi Thema-Sethoga and Operations Director Ursula Moroane-Kgomo, both high-powered businesswomen with degrees in food science, business management and considerable experience in the food industry. Both are also passionate about the preservation of indigenous culinary cultures, women empowerment and rural development. Their joint enthusiasm resulted in the publication of this worthy addition to our traditional culinary literature.
Women in the rural communities were invited to submit recipes for the food they cook daily: These reveal simple fare using local ingredients, occasionally enlivened by stock cubes, seasonings, and items like margarine. Several high schools were also involved in the project.
The compilers started in North West, with Tswana dishes and went on to Mpumalanga where Ndebele and Swati specialities were hunted down. The Free State yielded Sotho staple fare and the northern province of Limpopo saw recipes collected from Tsonga, Pedi and Venda cuisines. In the Eastern Cape the Xhosa gastronomic heritage was celebrated and Kwa –Zulu Natal presented Zulu menus. From the Western Cape comes a listing described as Khoisan recipes and the final grouping is Afrikaans marked, somewhat strangely, as centred in Gauteng.
The dishes are, as one would expect, simple, largely straightforward renderings of grains, legumes and leaves, gourds and tubers, sparked by indigenous fruits and enlivened by worms and insects. Beef and chicken feature occasionally. There is not a single seafood recipe in this collection.
Perhaps because of their (comparatively) exotic nature, I enjoyed browsing through the cuisines of the northern groups in particular: Among the Pedi recipes is one labelled baobab-fruit yoghurt, a good start to the day, while Venda cooks lift their protein intake with Mashonzha (mopani worms and peanuts) and Thongolifha (stinkbugs fried in butter ). Several species of Morogo, or wild leaves are used, including Pigweed or Amarinth, Blackjack, Spider plant, pumpkin, and wild jute. Breads are uncommon, but the Tswana make Diphaphata, a flatbread using wheat flour, Ndebele cooks use brown bread flour for their steamed bread, while others are based on mealie meal. Desserts are almost non-existent although there’s a Sotho recipe for bottling peaches in sugar syrup.
I contacted the compilers to ask why Gauteng was used as a source for Afrikaans recipes and was told that they invited several groups in the Western and Northern Cape to take part, without success, so eventually resorted to finding them from Gauteng-based Afrikaners. The recipes are authentic Cape cuisine, dishes that have become South African classics.
I gazed, somewhat incredulously, at the pictures and recipes in the Khoisan section, pages where I expected to find items like shellfish, venison, ghaap, sour figs, veldkool, waterblommetjies, and perhaps drinks based on milk. Instead, there’s a Greek-style salad with feta and olives, a caramel pud and a standard white bread recipe. Liver and onions and a mutton potjie (with red wine and packet soup powder) could just pass muster but there is virtually nothing that says “Khoisan” or “Khoi-khoin” in this mini-collection. The recipes were sourced from a group of cooks in Vredendal, and I contacted one of the contributors to ask her how these came to be regarded as Khoisan. Freda Wicomb is the housekeeper at a local boarding school, and is a popular and capable cook, but she had no answer, saying this was how she cooked.
Khoisan, referring to two distinct groups of early South African inhabitants, is a term that should not be applied to their cuisines, as they were very different. The Bushmen, or San were hunter-gatherers while the Khoi were herders. The latter group’s culinary and cultural heritage has been well researched, by fundis such as Dr Renata Coetzee whose brilliant book Kukumakranka presents an exhaustive discussion on the subject. Ingredients used in the past can still be found today, and cooks of both Griqua and Nama descent use veldkos in their potjies, and make askoek, potbrood and vetkoek, as did their forbears.
I suggested that the compilers also contact Chef Shaun Schoeman of Solms Delta’s Fyndraai restaurant, whose Heritage menu includes Khoe-Khoen breads, waterblommetjie soup and desserts starring herbs like buchu, for their next edition.
Kgaladi Thema-Sethoga assures me this section will be more authentic and will also include Cape Malay cuisine. Sadly we will have to wait until 2024 for the new edition.
Meanwhile, this title, illustrated with photographs of many of the recipes, is well-indexed and includes information on many of the ingredients unknown to western cooking. The book is endorsed by the SA Chefs Association and supported by the Department of Arts and Culture.