Renowned journalist and author Harald Pakendorf has always marched to the beat of his own drum. Pakendorf says while South Africans may be different in skin tone and language, there is a true sense of unity in how we prepare our food.
The 80-year old legend of South African journalism believes that there is an illusion that Mzansi cultures cook differently, but the great deal of overlap between, for instance, Cape Malay cooking and Afrikaans cooking attests to the unity in South African cuisine. “It’s much of a likeness, they influence each other. Afrikaans cooking is influenced by the Malay cooking and a bit the other way around.”
Highly revered in the South African media sphere, Pakendorf served as editor for two national newspapers under the apartheid regime, Die Vaderland and Oggenblad. His opposition to the system of minority rule meant a premature end to that part of his career.
Besides his long-standing career Pakendorf is also a dedicated foodie whose passion led him to open his own restaurant in Boskruin called Ullala-Die Kuierplek, named for his co-owner and daughter – chef and journalist Ulla Pakendorf-Loubser.
Pakendorf says the concept of Ullala-Die Kuierplek came about after he was discharged of his duties as editor of Die Vaderland in 1986.
“What is nice way of saying ‘fired’?” he asks. “I was relieved of my duties for my political views.”
He explains that during Apartheid, working for an Afrikaans paper, he advocated for equal voting rights for black South Africans and for then political prisoner Nelson Mandela’s release. “In the end my bosses said ‘now you are going too far’ and they fired me. I was functionally unemployed, but I made my life by becoming a public speaker.”
Pakendorf was also a columnist for the Sunday Times for a while, and after this period he started the restaurant with his daughter. “That must have been around 2004 to 2006,” he remembers.
Born in Middelburg in Mpumalanga, Pakendorf was raised in a traditional Christian home with both of his parents actively participating in the church. The wordsmith says his culinary journey only started later in life. He lightheartedly says he never had interests in the kitchen as a boy. He led an active life, playing with his friends, pets and siblings on the mission station just outside of Middelburg where he grew up. His wife later molded his avid interest in cooking.
“My wife Aletta fortunately was and still is a wonderful cook. She was also a journalist. Gradually over the years I learned to cook from her.”
On the mission station where his parents served earlier, near Lydenburg before World War Two, shops were situated very far away. The women who took the reigns as homemakers had to make their own necessities, like bread and butter.
His mother, who was German, was taught by Afrikaans women to bake loaves of bread – a recipe Pakendorf still uses.
“That for me is a wonderful memory to this day. Last Saturday I baked one of those loaves of bread and the whole house smelled of fresh bread. We actually sold the bread at the restaurant and it was very popular.”
Coming from a German/Afrikaans home, Pakendorf says it has always been interesting to see how close the correlation between South African cuisines are.
He also notes similarities between the cooking of Tswana and Afrikaans people in the North West province, which is the result of historically close relations. “I had a completely Afrikaans restaurant. I mean the food was Afrikaans, the music was Afrikaans, the menu was Afrikaans, you could only read Afrikaans magazines. And then we had a Tswana couple from Mahikeng who came to eat there, and they ordered a “bord of boerekos.” To his surprise, the couple said that the dishes were exactly what their families have on Sundays. “That was an eye opener for me.”
The Harvard Alumni is currently a political consultant and writer for public relations company Meropa. The political activist says in his era cookbooks from different cultures were not as readily available as they are now. Even as a veteran journalist he says he is still open to learning more about South African cooking.
“I cook basic staple food. I am not a fancy cook. I make a skaapboud or braai chicken and do some vegetables like a sweet pumpkin with lots of butter and its quite boring, but for me it’s very tasty.”