Many months later I also needed a clever idea for a Christmas gift for my in-laws. Seeing the opportunity for a fun experience that we'd all enjoy (and finding satisfaction in giving a gift of Islamic culture to honour a Christian holiday), I booked the four of us for a half-day session with Zainunissa "Zainie" Misbach.
Zainie is the undisputed Cape Malay cooking diva in Bo Kaap, although most people come to know her indirectly through the meals she produces in restaurants, for tour groups, and at catered affairs. But those in the know, know Zainie. Andulela works with Zainie for their tours, and the Slow Food movement's Cape Town aficionados also flock to Zainie for her culinary productions.
Zainie has been cooking in and running Cape Malay restaurants in Bo Kaap for 27 years now, including Biesmiellah and her Bo Kaap Bazaar cafe, but for the past 14 she has been making culinary magic at the Noon Gun Tea Room and Restaurant at the top of Longmarket Street high above Bo Kaap, where the family has lived for 3 generations now, and where she and her mother Mariam keep the kitchen in authentically family style and true to its origins.
For R300 per person (4 people minimum) Zainie spends 3 hours with you, introducing the spices - with 2 or 3 names for each - and their various combinations, and giving a personal, historical, cultural, religious and culinary narrative that is worth it for its own sake. That she's also cooking for you is almost too good to be true. For us, she prepared chilli-bites, or dhaltjies as they're more properly known - little savoury spiced fried dough balls with a cake-like texture stiffened with chickpea flour and a bit of onion and spinach. As we snacked on those (dipped in dhania sauce from the local butcher shop), it was on to a staple of Cape Malay cooking, a chicken curry.
Our lessons were not very hands-on at all, but that turned out to be OK. We were alone with her in her own kitchen (bigger groups go to the restaurant kitchen), and the discussion ranged far and wide, including variations on the theme of chicken curry: what the difference is when preparing fish, crayfish, mutton and other meat curries. Grandchildren tottered through now and again, and it was like being part of the family for a few hours - in a good way!
She also revealed her secret combination of spices for her personal masala, and pointed us to the secret sources of ingredients...for spices it's Fargo on Lower Main between Observatory and Salt River (although she also uses Atlas Trading in Bo Kaap)...for rootis and samoosas when you don't have time to make the dough/pastry from scratch the source is Zubie's Foods, not far from Fargo...and her preferred butcher is the one on Pope Street in Salt River (although she also supports both of her local Bo Kaap butchers).
So now I'm testing my new skills and insights, and the improvement is noticeable (as well as a few attempts that have gone awry)...but I confirmed with Zainie that she will teach advanced lessons on request.
Bottom line: Although not as hands on as some may like, you'll enjoy great food, great conversation, a lovely venue, and you learn something to boot - about under-recognized food, culture and history.
For further consideration: Zainie's sister, Shereen Misbach-Habib, runs Tana Baru Tours. Zainie caters lunches at Shereen's house (with help from a collection of Misbach family kids, grandkids, and assorted friends, boyfriends, girlfriends and so on). Shereen is a former ANC Counsellor for Bo Kaap and another powerfully compelling personality!
- I use this one most often (SA via Kalahari.net)
- (SA via Kalahari.net)
- (US via Amazon.com)
- (UK via Amazon.co.uk)