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Leefstyl | Lifestyle > Kos & Wyn | Food & Wine > Rubrieke | Columns > Paul Murray: Murray's Food Trails

The Khayelitsha Trail

Paul Murray - 2007-09-19

Following food trails leads you to places you might not necessarily have gone to in the first place, as was the case one evening when my fancy led me to (certainly for me) to "the road less travelled".

And different it was.

Khayelitsha is a suburb of Cape Town just like any other, having its own selection of places to eat, although getting around might not be that easy. The fact I was accompanied by a local resident must certainly have contributed to the smooth running of the visit.

Khayelitsha is full of culinary surprises.

Eric Mbalan explained the difficulties of obtaining equipment, jerseys and boots for his soccer team as we discussed the menu at Raziya’s, which served the conventional pap and wors and a tomato salsa. "How more South African can you get?!" he exclaimed.

In South Africa boerewors is cooked on a wood fire outside and served on pap, or succulently tucked into a long hotdog-style bread roll, with a smattering of tomato salsa. We got chatting about the prospect of the 2010 Soccer tournament, and you could feel the excitement in Eric’s voice as he anticipated the great event.

The Italians, current World Cup holders, should come and try some of the real South African food, right here in the heart of Cape Town’s biggest informal settlement. They should give up a night of spaghetti-eating!

The splendid aromas that come from braaiing boerewors are irresistible, as we were sure to taste, in between verbal sorties into soccer terrain.

Cooking boeries is as easy as pie. Some cook it too much, Eric said, and for heaven’s sake, don’t prick the flesh, you will let all the nice juices escape.

What about the pap and the tomato? It’s as easy as cooking the boerewors!

Eric emphasised: ss long as we continue the inheritance from our pioneering forefathers who used to mix minced meat and cubed spek (pork or beef fat) with spices and vinegar, all so freely available here, we will continue to have boerewors! Making the pap with mealie meal (ground maize) and adding cooked tomato makes this an all South African dish, obtainable wherever you go.

Khayelitsha is no exception.

The intense dining elegance that we get in Constantia or down at the Waterfront might elude the discerning diner in Khayelitsha, but one thing is certain, service with a smile is on the menu. And, what is more, while you are waiting for your takeaway, why not have your hair cut at the local barber? After Eric Mbalan had escorted the writer of this article through the eateries in the vicinity, he returned to the barber shop in the arcade, where Patrick Gadla was awaiting his regular haircut.

I enjoyed a Coke in the meantime, waiting for Eric to finish, before heading off for the open-air restaurant.

The people of Khayelitsha epitomise Mr Mandela’s words when he spoke on the occasion of the country’s first democratic elections: "I stand before you filled with deep pride and joy - pride in the ordinary, humble people of this country. You have shown such a calm, patient determination to reclaim this country as your own. And joy that we can loudly proclaim from the rooftops: Free at last!"

The spirit of the people seems to reflect the words boldly, and some take it a step further, as is the case with an eager onlooker:

As already mentioned, spices form an integral part of meat braaied in Khayelitsha. Scores of barbecues leave an undoubted smell of spices and meat in the air. Mixing the specific spices in a special way provides the secret of the taste. Getting into the inner sanctum where the chefs are preparing the fare is the way to uncover age-old traditional recipes, such as the spicy sausage and cutlets of pork, beef and mutton.

The kind of wood that is used for the fire matters because of the taste it leaves in the meat. Rooikrantz chopped from the exotic trees from the Cape Flats proves to be the ideal source of energy. These shrubs are the product of the seeds that came in the sacks of manure from the passing cattle-bearing ships from Australia in the 19th century. German farmers farming the Cape Flats more than a century ago, wanting to fertilise their barren, sandy soil, trekked by ox wagon to the Cape Town docks to load sugar bags full of cattle dung to bring back to their farms to cover the sandy soil. The task was arduous.

Port Jackson Willow forests today still provide the wood for Khayelitsha open-air restaurant fires, providing hearty meals for customers, possibly on their way to Mfuleni or to other parts of Cape Town …

Cafés abound in Khayelitsha, although the culture of eating is different from that in the southern suburbs or at the Waterfront. Here you can enjoy a hearty meal using your hands, unlike the conventions in European and Chinese societies where the fork is used. Catherine de Medici introduced this eating utensil into her court in Florence in Italy in the the 15th century and when she married Henry II of France, she took her 150 chefs – and the fork – to the French for the first time.

Another difference noted in Khayelitsha was the small stock – goats in particular – in the open fields and on the tarmacs, perhaps not knowing they might be next to go into the sausage or become a spicy chop. It reminds one of the succulent goat served up in French restaurants. The baby goats are still very baby, though, but the flesh is as tasty and tender.

South Africa’s cooking itinerary is as vast as the land. Much of what we eat in the country has come to us from other places. Khayelitsha has its own special cuisine, lamb chops, spicy chicken, pap and wors, as there are unique dishes in other parts of the continent, such as West Africa, Swahili dishes, Kenyan and Central African dishes. This situates Khayelitsha well in terms of its cookery; while being part of Cape Town and South Africa, it is also firmly on the map as a centre for African cuisine.