One of my favourite areas in South Africa is the Tsitsikama Coast. This protected piece of paradise, on the so-called Garden Route between Cape Town and Durban, is a lush belt of verdant forest said to harbour the illusive Knysna elephants. Featuring several magnificent beaches, it is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. Nature’s Valley, Plettenberg Bay and Knysna lie in this Tsitsikamma region – picturesque seaside towns with their own unique atmosphere and character. The word “Tsitsikamma” comes from the Khoehkoe word tse-tsesa, meaning “clear”, and gami, meaning “water”, probably referring to the clear water of the Tsitsikamma River. Other meanings could be “place of much water” and “waters begin” (more information here). The National Park includes Storms River Mouth and the impressive Bloukrans Bridge over the mouth of the river where it connects with the sea.
Holidays in “Plett” usually include a scenic drive to Knysna, where visitors can browse through the quaint little shops, enjoy coffee and cake in picturesque coffee shops, or indulge in lunch at the “Heads Restaurant.” The latter has changed hands many times over the years, with each new management bestowing a different name. These days it is the East Head Café, a name that derives from one of the two characteristic headlands guarding the mouth of the Knysna lagoon.
It was here that I recently enjoyed a typical South African meal: Cape Malay seafood curry, the recipe of which head chef Greg generously shared with me.
The Malays came to the Cape Colony during the 17th century, brought as slaves by the Dutch East India Company merchants and shipping magnates mainly from Java in Batavia (now Indonesia), to work in the vegetable and fruit gardens. Cape Town, which rapidly expanded with immigrants from both Asia and Europe, was originally conceived as a refreshment station for the trade ships travelling to and from Holland and Batavia, a lengthy voyage which necessitated rounding the southern tip of Africa.
The Malays brought with them the many colourful elements of their culture, including Islam and their delicious spicy cuisine.
It was this taste of Southeast Asia that I enjoyed in the bright and cheerful setting of East Head Café, overlooking the choppy Knysna lagoon mouth.
An outdoor area protected by a large tarpaulin accommodates additional patrons on the veranda.
Greg’s Cape Malay Seafood Curry (8 servings), edited by Jenny Sharland
Fish and seafoods:
800 g – 1 kg fresh white fish fillets (or any firm white fish, e.g. cod)
700 g fresh mussels (or clams)
1 – 1.25 litres of curry sauce
800 g cleaned calamari or squid
For the sauce:
60 g coconut oil
2 kg onions (peeled and sliced or diced)
5 kg tinned whole tomatoes (the large catering-sized tins – reduced for at least an hour to intensify flavours and to thicken the sauce)
40g (1.5 Tbsp) garlic, crushed
60g (2 Tbsp) ginger, grated
a small handful (about 10) fresh or dried curry leaves
100g Bo-Kaap Spice (below)
3g (or 1 tsp) pickling spice or cloves
30g (1 Tbsp) whole coriander
8g (1.5 tsp) fennel seed
10g (2 tsp) mustard seed
30g (1 Tbsp) fenugreek seeds
20g (2 tsp) whole black peppercorns
13g (2.5 tsp) chilli powder
20g (2 tsp) cumin seeds
25g (1 Tbsp) cardomom
40g (1 Tbsp) turmeric
6g (1 tsp) ground ginger
N.B. Not all of the sauce is needed for the 8 people dish, so the remainder can be frozen.
Simmer the fish and seafood and spicy sauce together for about 2 minutes.
1.2 kg cooked rice – infused with saffron or turmeric
“Sambals” (side dishes): several small bowls each containing plain rich yogurt (Bulgarian or Greek), desiccated grated coconut, finely chopped tomatoes onions and green pepper, sliced bananas (with a squeeze of lemon juice to prevent them from going brown), and chutney.