Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Home-based cooking classes and walking tours are fast becoming a popular way to experience the Bo Kaap, formerly known as the Malay Quarter. If you stumble upon this historic neighbourhood at the foot of Signal Hill, part of Table Mountain, you will know where you are. This vibrant pocket of Cape Town is filled with brightly painted houses and a tangibly lively character.

Many of the residents, today a largely Muslim community, are descendant of slaves imported from Malaysia, Java, Indonesia and other parts of Asia to the Cape by the Dutch in the 1600s. They arrived with the spices and family recipes that have since made there way into the kitchens of top restaurants in Cape Town and beyond.

One such resident is cooking class host, Gamidah Jacobs, who is as colourful a character as her turquoise house, one of the oldest in the neighbourhood. Her Lekka Kombuis (Delicious Kitchen) classes are hands-on, interactive and loaded with anecdotal stories about her family, community, history, and of course the food.

Mingling with locals and shopping for spices

From Gamidah’s house in Rose Street you head down to Atlas Trading on a round-the-block route. This third generation spice shop imports all of its hypnotically aromatic difficult to choose goodies from India. Walls are lined floor to ceiling with a vast array of spices packed in sachets or huge vintage wooden containers. You’ll find everything from pure curry powders, leaf masala (a masala blend with curry leaves), Jeera (cumin) and coriander to chickpea flower, and chilli powder of various strengths and more.

Appearances can be deceiving

Opposite Atlas Trading is the Bo Kaap museum. A little way down the street, you will head past the shoe and leather repair shop that has been around since before Atlas Trading. Around the corner, pause briefly to examine a visual anomaly in the form of a mosque built in 1834. The outer fa├žade looks as though the structure could comfortably accommodate a small group. However, it isn’t uncommon to see 400 to 500 people people walking through the doors to prayer.

The oldest mosque in the southern hemisphere

You will notice how the architecture changes from a row of Dutch inspired houses in one street to Georgian influences in the next. As you walk up Dorp Street back towards Signal Hill you will enter the Masjid Auwal Mosque, the first one in the Bo Kaap and the first in the southern hemisphere. In a glass cabinet is one of three Quoran’s handwritten from memory by the mosque’s first Imam.

The most photographed spot in the Bo Kaap

At the top of Dorp Street you turn right into Chiappani Street. A little further on and you stop to take in a spectacular view that winds endlessly through the Bo Kaap. Framed by The Arch, this is the most photographed spot in the Bo Kaap. From here, you turn right, back into Rose Street and head to Gamidah’s house for refreshments and to hunker down for some fun, relaxed cooking and tasting.

Casual, generous in-home cooking experience

Gamidah’s food preparation style is all about secrets to popular favourites, the real food inspired by the traditions of the local community. Both the ingredients and methods are deliberately broken down for easy replication at home with spice measurements as generous as Gamidah herself. While she doesn’t discourage the use of ghee, oil or butter, Gamidah demonstrates her oil-free chicken curry for instance in such a way that it still contains all the decadent finger-licking flavours you would expect from a spicy Cape Malay curry.

More about the cooking menu

Learn how to prepare, knead, roll and twirl dough for the perfect rotis (pronounced “rooti” in Cape Town) to accompany the curry. Watch and then try for yourself as she deftly pinches, rolls and fries chilli bites to crispy golden perfection. Gamidah will make you feel like a food wizard as she patiently guides you through the art of folding and filling samoosas. The class ends with koeksisters, a traditional Cape Malay sweet coated in coconut, sweet rooibos tea with a piquant kick, and some lively conversation.

Gamidah waves you goodbye with a laugh that lights up her face and a promise to email you the recipes covered in your programme. She will also make a point of reminding you not to feel overwhelmed if she sees you in the street and rushes up to greet you as she would an old friend.

Booking information

Anyone that can hold a spatula, roll some dough and add to the mirth is welcome. It really makes no difference if you are a novice or are entirely comfortable slicing and dicing your way around a kitchen. Classes are held seven days a week and usually at 10:00 in the morning. That said Gamidah is extremely passionate about sharing the Bo Kaap culture through food and she will happily try to accommodate you in the afternoon. While she suggests the menu for the cooking class component she takes into account special dietary requirements.

Gamidah Jacobs
Lekka Kombuis Cooking Classes
+27 (0)79 957 0226 / +27
(0)21 423 3849

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