Crestwood Shopping Plaza, 458 Olsen Avenue, Parkwood Ph: 07 5564 8030
Bunny Chow was the winning dish at the Noosa Food and Wine Festival last year. A decrusted loaf of white bread filled with a mild aromatic curry, the loaf container soaking up the juices, it’s a South African dish.
Natasha Naidoo from IdoSpices at Carrara Markets had provided a brief introduction to Bunny Chow and a few other dishes from her homeland, so we were excited to learn that at her new restaurant at Parkwood, My Coffee Café & South African Bistro, there’d be an extended menu of South African dishes.
As a dish, Bunny Chow also revealed a yawning gap in my culinary knowledge. It was obviously fusion cuisine, but where did this dish originate? Who cooked it? Where would it be served?
So many unanswered questions!
Considering the number of South African residents on the Gold Coast, we know little about the diversity of their culture and food, let alone its global heritage: Indian, Indonesian, Portuguese, Afrikaans, Dutch and English, to name a few!
My South African friend, Susan, agrees to join me on an expedition to My Coffee Café to help fill in my yawning knowledge gap.
Besides the baked goods in cabinet displays (sausage rolls and cakes – the legacy of the previous bakery tenant – as well as salad rolls), Susan tells me that the menu is mostly Cape cuisine. Of Indian and Malay influence, it’s the type of food you’d find in South African homes, cafés and restaurants, particularly around the Durban and Cape areas.
I choose a Lamb Biryani as my main. Originally a Tamil Indian dish eaten by cane field workers, the Cape Malay community have made it their own. It’s one of many dishes linked to specific occasions, biryani eaten at weddings. The dish is very complicated to make: eighteen spices are added to the rice, which is cooked then baked. To my taste, it’s a drier, more aromatic and less spicy version of Indian biryani, with sauces on the side to complement the dish. Natasha serves her biryani with Mango Pickle and Carrot Salad, her family’s secret recipe dating back generations, the carrot marinated in vinegar with chilli and fresh garlic – really fresh and tangy!
Susan orders Vetkoek, one of her favourite dishes. It looks really unfamiliar to me: savoury mince in a fried bread cover. It’s of Indian origin, as are the Samoosas. I notice Babotie on the menu, a dish I’ve eaten before. It’s a little like meatloaf with onion, sultanas, almonds, bay leaves and spices, topped with an egg custard. New additions to the menu include Short ribs and Buffalo Wings.
Then it’s time for dessert. We share the Afrikaans Koeksisters, a sweet syrupy doughnut dusted in coconut, a delicious Malva Pudding, of English and Cape descent, (a little similar to Golden Syrup Pudding) and Melk Tart, all of which Susan pronounces ‘excellent’!
“Natasha is a very good cook by South African standards,” Susan tells me.
While some of these dishes would be made in home kitchens, many, such as the Malva Pudding, are restaurant quality. They’re well chosen dishes to appeal to a wide range of people.
There’s an intriguing mix of familiarity and uniqueness to Cape Malay cuisine that leads me to explore the geographic origins further.
Following a brief settlement by the Portuguese (hence the Peri Peri and Lemon Herb sauces), when the Dutch East India Company traded between Europe and Asia in the 1600s, South Africa provided a halfway stop. Many Dutch stayed in South Africa, established farms to supply food to traders, importing slaves from their colonies in Malaysia and Indonesia (Sumatra and Java) to work for them. These slaves brought their own culture and traditions with them. While the men did farm work, the women worked in the household kitchens, bringing their recipes and spices with them, the heat of their dishes was dampened down to suit the palates of their Dutch masters. From these tumultuous beginnings, Cape Malay cuisine was born.
Susan and I talk further about the influences of English, Indian, French and German cultures on South African cuisine. Susan urges me to try Boerewors (on Natasha’s menu, but also available from Springbok Foods).
“You can tell the history of a country by a plate of food,” says Cass Abrahams, one of Africa’s most renowned Cape Malay chefs.
And what did I learn about Bunny Chow’s origins? It’s a Bania Indian dish from the Durban area, hence the name ‘bania chow’ which later became ‘bunny chow’. It’s just one of the many regional dishes Natasha features in her restaurant, the one that led me through the gap to discover just a little more about the intriguing origins of South African cuisine. Next visit – The Gatsby!
Read more of Marj’s reviews on Good Food Gold Coast