Cape Town's Bo-Kaap neighborhood is a place of exotic smells. A local institution is Atlas Trading Company, where colorful spices in wooden containers give off the nostalgic aroma of faraway homelands.
These spices make their way into the curries, whose smell wafts from Bo-Kapp’s kitchens, and the other Cape Malay dishes that are now a distinctive part of Cape Town’s cuisine. My first taste of bobotie, made from curried ground beef, dried fruit and rice topped with savory custard, was instantly addictive.
The best place to eat the food is Kombuis (Afrikaans for “kitchen”), a modern steel-and-glass restaurant with amazing views built atop a guest house run by Yusuf Larney. A stocky, energetic man who says his Cape Malay origins include Irish blood – which might explain his gift for the blarney as well as his name – Larney mirrors the resilience of an oft-embattled community. Apartheid forced him out of Cape Town to a township on the arid Cape Flats, but he bounced back to become a successful entrepreneur and helped win a long battle for council house dwellers to own their homes. Now he is a guardian of Cape Malay culinary treasures. Kombuis serves dishes such as sugar bean curry, meatballs wrapped in cabbage, crayfish curry and potato pudding with stewed dried fruit.
Denningvleis, made with lamb marinated with tamarind, but originally with water buffalo, is sensational. He is shy of disclosing secrets, but he does say: “Our forefathers said that, to get the ‘burst’ of flavor, you must roast your spices before using them in curries and breyani.”
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