While South African history books are drenched in trauma, our shared food history is a saving grace. It is one of the aspects of our past that can unite us as a nation, say experts.
The recent loss of two food heritage giants has reinforced the urgency of the need to preserve South African food history to safeguard our newfound unity.
Food history should not be buried with older generations or admired in a museum. Instead it should be protected and preserved for future generations and beyond, say students of Mzansi food heritage we spoke to after the recent passing of cooking legend Florence “Flori” Schrikker, from Bonteheuwel in Cape Town.
“Aunty Flori” (67), as she was affectionately known, died just months after her cooking partner, Koelsoem “Aunty Koeli” Kamalie (72).
Together the culinary legends formed part of a formidable, international award-winning cooking duo who made great strides in documenting their community food heritage.
The tannies first rose to fame several years ago on Afrikaans radio station RSG’s drive time show Tjailatyd, hosted by Amore Bekker. She has since become a long-time friend of the duo.
Bekker recalls that it was Aunty Koeli’s son, Riyaaz Kamalie, who contacted the station to make it known that his mother was a true South African home cook with a story to share.
It was then and there in 2016 that Bekker picked up the phone contacted Aunty Koeli. “She was a hit!” Bekker exclaims.
“The people just loved her recipes and her way of speaking. We all grew up eating some of the recipes she would share, which made her honest and relatable.”
Then came Easter. Bekker says that she had asked Aunty Koeli if she had any pickled fish recipes in her arsenal.
“She said, look I am Muslim, Easter is not my thing. I am going to give you the number of a very good friend of mine, tannie Flori Schrikker. She makes wonderful pickled fish. And again, we had another instant hit!”
In their rise to fame the duo continued to make magic in the industry, authoring two cookbooks and co-hosting their very own cooking show, Flori en Koelsoem se Kosse on VIA for two seasons in 2016 and 2017.
In 2017 their show won the ATKV Mediaveertjie-award for best magazine show. The show was based on their cookbook, Kook Saam Kaaps, that was published in 2016. Their second book, titled Soettand, was released in 2017.
Unity and Wellness
The identification and safeguarding of food heritage is slowly being embraced throughout the country. Chefs and home cooks are making it fashionable to cook indigenous food again, says award-winning cookbook author and chef, Nompumelelo Mqwebu.
Mqwebu, a passionate advocate for the inclusion of African food on the global stage, adds that food heritage preservation adds value to the dietary needs of the nation.
It’s vital for our nation and future generations to know our own food history, especially indigenous knowledge systems, she argues.
“It assists us to deal with challenges such as a lack of nutrition, climate change and working on the future of food solutions. You need background knowledge to do the above.”
Preservation can be achieved by, “researching, documenting and constantly celebrating our indigenous food knowledge systems through food heritage events and other activities.”
By preserving and safeguarding she says that the goal is to protect traditional dishes and practices because of the value they add to our culture as South Africans.
Food is common ground
In a country with eleven indigenous languages, it is pretty hard to find common ground, says Bekker.
The one thing that unites us, is food, she believes. “Keeping South African culinary culture alive is the only thing that will propel us forward.”
Flori and Koeli were on a mission to spread their message of food inclusivity.
“They were authentic. They were honest. With our traumatic past they gave us a little sunshine. They were not ashamed of their roots and embraced it wholly. They wanted each South African to be a part of their Cape Flats heritage,” Bekker says.
Bekker’s sentiment are echoed by Huiskok and food commentator, Errieda Du Toit, who says that tannies Koelsoem and Flori had the innate ability to capture an audience. Their work in the culinary industry was not just an achievement for professional chefs, it celebrated the home cook.
“You could feel their passion. I am just happy we have written evidence of their food knowledge. Their books also showed a respect to home cooks. South African food is not about what is served in restaurants; it is about what is served on the table at home.”
It is about time that there is equal representation in the industry, says Du Toit. Central to this is food heritage preservation, which is a vehicle for change.
“By preserving our food heritage, we tell the story of our diversity. This is important otherwise we just become monotonous in our attempts to reach other cultural groups.”
South Africa is diverse, she stresses once more. “We need to respect our food culture by telling its story, documenting it and most importantly making the food to create that appreciation for it. If there is appreciation, that is how it will survive.
“It cannot be that you must visit a museum to learn about your roots, we need to make food a living legacy,” Du Toit says.
Home cook and TV personality Abidah Mohammed remembers tannies Koeli and Flori as champions in the Cape Town community and adds that food history is kept alive by transferring cooking skills. As you climb up the ladder as an elder in your lineage so must you teach and educate generations of your history and familial traditions, Mohammed believes.
“We don’t cook like we used to anymore,” she says, concerned. Young people, she believes, are too busy to make a decent meal.
“They don’t want to make food from the past. I still cook ‘cabbage food’. I will make wortels and ertjies or slow roast pig trotters every now and then to celebrate traditions I have grown up with. I make it so my children know about their food history.”