I had full intent of cooking for a country that has fufu as a prominent member of their cuisine – but since I had the zebra biltong to eat, I felt that it would be cool to cook from a country that makes biltong. So this is how I ended up making food from South Africa.
Talking about the food of South Africa is to talk about two rather distinct cuisines – that of the indigenous peoples and that of the myriad of coloniszers whose foods have all melded together in recent centuries. The two threads have met now and then, but for the purposes of today I have made food from the second culinary thread. If you want to see something from the more indigenous side, see my post for Lesotho, where I made a soup from the Sotho peoples who also inhabit South Africa.
Before the creation of the Suez Canal, the only way to go between Europe and Asia by boat would be to breeze your way by South Africa. Given the money that could be made by owning the ports, the lands of South Africa have traded hands numerous times and have been inhabited by even more ethnic groups. This means that the food in South Africa has seen influences from the Netherlands, India, Germany, France, Greece, Portugal and the UK as well as a number of others.
In choosing dishes to make for South Africa, I wanted to select a main and a dessert that were quite different. For the main I have gone for a Cape Malay classic (a region with an incredibly complex and slavery-tinged history) and for a dessert that feels like an enlarged version of a delicious treat that I had in Lisbon.
Starting off today’s South African dinner was a pleasingly yellow dish (thank you turmeric tinted custard) called bobotie. Some corners of the internet refer to it as a national dish of South Africa, but I don’t think that it’s been given such an official title – so let’s just call it a popular and representative dish. At least of the Cape Malay region.
I made this bobotie following a recipe from The Spruce Eats. The bottom majority is made from minced meat that has been spiced with things like curry powder, chutney and cloves. It also contains milk-soaked bread as a way to bring in extra moisture and a texture difference. The topping is a custard made with eggs, milk and turmeric – which adds more moisture and gives the dish a striking hue.
When making this, the kitchen started to smell a lot like when I made the Turkemistani pie, albeit with a slightly different spice profile. I served it alongside a spoonful of plum chutney and a helping of yellow rice that I had spiced with turmeric and curry powder.
I also had some flavouring help from a certain food item that I got for Christmas:
Honestly, I’m not entirely sure that I noticed the difference in flavour between these specialist bay leaves and the regular ones that I would otherwise use. However, it’s nice to finally have found a use for them after their being sat in the cupboard for two months.
When I eventually get around to cooking Portugal i might need to try my hand at their custard tarts, but until then here is a nice big melktert – or ‘milk tart’ in English. Think of it as a tart with a sweet shortcrust casing and a filling that like a spiced custard that tastes like you made it with condensed milk.
If you had told me a year ago, before I started on this world food quest, that I would be making pies, tarts and pastries from scratch – dough and all – I don’t quite know if I would have believed you. Now, I’m feeling remarkably confident to the point that I’m beginning to know what to improvise when things aren’t quite right (for example, adding an extra half egg yolk when the dough wasn’t coming together).
As with a lot of African food Immaculate Bites gave me an excellent recipe to follow that ended up with something delicious. This really does feel like a massive Pasteis De Nata, but with more of an almond and sweetened milk taste. It’s best when served straight from the fridge, which is good because the pudding-nature of the filling means it doesn’t travel too well in slices.
Next time on the world cooking challenge I’ll be making something from the Americas. It’s been a while since I made something from the American mainland and even longer since I made something from Central America – so with that as a rough guide let’s see where I end up.