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Hot and Spicy in Cape Town: A Malay Cooking Experience

Come dine with our African Safari Experts as they savour the spicy scents and flavours of a Cape Malay curry and try their hands at rolling a perfectly buttery roti (a traditional round flatbread) under the watchful guidence of an authentic Cape Malay cook.  But before you roll up your sleeves and inspire your inner domestic goddess, we recommend a short stroll down Cape Town’s memory lane to dip into a slice of South Africa's history that produced its multi-cultural melting pot heritage. 

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The Cape Fusion Cape Cooking Experience in the Bo-Kaap begins with a drive through District Six, a deserted area at the foot of Table Mountain that was once a bustling, vibrant community of artisans, families, merchants, immigrants and fishermen until the apartheid government forcibly removed the residents and bulldozed the neighbourhood. Bolstered by an excellent cuppa of freshly ground at Truth Coffee, you’ll feel ready to visit the District Six Museum – a deeply moving monument curated from the memories and experiences of former residents. 

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The museum is set in an old church building and in the place of an altar is a column of street signs, secretly hoarded during the demolition of District Six and now proudly displayed. The walls are lined with family photos, recipes and artifacts from daily life from the 1960s and earlier. Your guides are former residents of the area, who bring the images vividly to life. While the tragedy is impossible to ignore, many traditions were preserved and still flourish despite the hardships imposed by the apartheid regime. The overwhelming feeling leaving the museum is one of sadness but a deep awareness of our shared humanity.

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One place where traditions thrive is in the Cape Malay community of the Bo-Kaap, a colourful neighbourhood still steeped in traditional culture. One of Cape Town’s most-photographed locales and a short drive from District Six, the rows of bright houses are still inviting on a crisp wintry day. Your host Gahmieda's warm smile welcomes you, and her passion for the unique fusion of flavours known as Cape Malay is absolutely infectious.

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Roll up your sleeves and jump right in: Gahmieda wastes no time in getting started on a chicken curry, teaching you a few family secrets to achieve a perfect base of brown onions. While sizzling onions make your mouth water, you measure spices, learn how to roll a roti and fold triangular samosas under Gahmieda’s expert guidance, following her invaluable tips on getting these delicacies just right. 

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By this stage the onion, spices, chicken and potatoes are bubbling in the pot and tummies are starting to rumble as the kitchen fills with delicious aromas. It’s the perfect time for an appetiser. Gahmieda deep-fries the spinach and feta samosas to golden perfection and tops them off with spicy chilli bites, hot from the pot - as soon as they are cool enough to handle, everyone digs in to the taste the treats. 

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The starters see you through to completing the curry (once you learn the trick to telling when it’s done), cooking the rotis and whipping up a tasty topping, known as a sambal. After lots of laughter, floury fingers and maybe a few minor culinary mishaps on your part, Gahmieda serves up plates of steaming chicken curry with hot, buttery rotis with a sweet-and-spicy sambal - a heavenly reward for spending the morning in a Bo-Kaap kitchen. 

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One of the thrills of Cape Town is seeing how so many different cultures – African, Malay, Afrikaans, British and Jewish – living in a hodge-podge of neighbourhoods, co-existing peacefully and ‘borrowing’ culinary traditions from one another. It’s the rare Capetonian who turns down a proper Malay curry or a crunchy samosa… and many a visitor who is instantly converted to this flavoursome cuisine!

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Written by Sophie Smith

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