Katy has a Food Adventure or A Serious Post on Food & Culture
This past week was a clean page, a leaf overturn’d. I was out to learn new things, talk to new people, gain new knowledge and hopefully, begin a new and more involved life. It wasn’t a decision I had been mulling over; like so many New Year’s Resolutions this wasn’t a premeditated change of heart. Perhaps as a consequence I hoped that this New Katy had some more staying power than past years’ resolutions. I was meeting new and interesting people, stretching my body and my boundaries in new and sometimes awkward ways (that was the Yoga!) and really just changing out Rose’s Glasses for Rose Tinted Glasses. This week was a week of detox – which to a foodie like me, on Monday, sounded like a death sentence. Great, I grumbled in my head, I’m starting the new me by killing off my Gourmet Soul. No meat and eggs was easy, no onions or garlic not too hard, no junk food was probably a very good idea, no chocolate also not a bad idea but not easy, and no – gasp – coffee or – sniff – wine! How am I supposed to be a serious Food Writer (with capitals) if I can’t enjoy the fruits of the vine? Suddenly, there was a cascade of delicious meals floating through my mind – Chippies Prego Roll leaped in first (it’s on the list for this week) and I thought, oh dear this meditation business is not going to be easy if I have a camera reel playing in my mind of the most delicious meals I’ve ever eaten. Heston Blumenthal was teasing me with Roast Beef and Yorkshire puddings, Chef Nomu was chuckling as he squirreled away a plate of sashimi and I realise sadly that even my trademark midnight snack of Milo and Ghost Pops was beyond the reach of the New Me.
And then the Food Gods tossed me a PFD (Personal Flotation Device for my non-nautical readers). One of my new friends, Sharleen told me about her favourite Indian Restaurant Baps Shayona, serving only strictly vegetarian meals and selling a variety of Indian Groceries. Sharleen and her daughter, Yashna gushed and raved about the Rotis, and the Paneer (I wasn’t at this stage sure what that was…), the curries and the beautiful sweetmeats. When Sharleen entertains for her Indian Family, she orders from Baps Shayona. My Foodie Soul has learnt than when someone gets glossy-eyed about food, you listen, write it down, draw a map. Ok, so I’m taking notes, Baps Shayona in, wait, did you say Rylands? Oh, I’ve never been there before but I know it’s not too far from my nest here in the Southern Suburbs. Charlene sees the lost look in my eyes. “Don’t be scared, it’s not as bad as you imagine” she says in a motherly, encouraging tone. I’m dissapointed in myself for jumping to conclusions and then, for plastering them all over my face. I take down the directions, Yashna promises to print me a map. This is Tuesday.
Wednesday I think about Baps Shayona and what delicacies they might sell in some imaginary take away restaurant somewhere east of me, in the middle distance between here and the airport (I think…). I’ve managed to dust off all the hidden chocolate bars and sweeties in the house and all that’s left is a bag of Gingerbons.Thursday I realise that I really don’t know much about Indian Cuisine, which is shocking and a bit embarrassing. Welcome to my journey of self discovery. Its wonderful really, to learn the full extent of your ignorance. I think about all the curries I’ve eaten, at home and in restaurants, in Cape Town and in England and I think to myself, how can it be that I don’t have any understanding of authentic Indian Cuisine? Friday rolls around, and the detox is coming along nicely. Armed with my map and Charlene’s directions, I head off into Rylands, into the east beyond the M5, towards Athlone which I’ve heard of but not quite sure where it is. When there were cooling towers still standing along the N2, I knew exactly where Athlone is, but now? I’m feeling a bit nervous, a little anxious driving along unfamiliar roads, swerving around taxis. I have a fair idea of where I’m going, and come on Katy – its broad daylight outside! Get a grip. After taking only one wrong turn and getting a bit lost, I park outside of Baps Shayona Home of eastern deliciousness, and step inside.
The smell is breathtaking: incense and spices fight for your attention, the sacks of rice and lentils have an earthy grainy smell almost like sawdust and I can make out soft Indian love songs in the background. The man stocking the shelves with Poppadoms chats and jokes easily with the Owner Gentleman in a language I don’t recognise. Almost immediately, a beautiful Indian lady, kohl-eyed with jingly golden earrings greets me. I admit to her that I’ve never visited Baps Shayona before, a little sheepishly. I feel like a tourist, in a foreign land where I don’t speak the language. Without hesitation Beautiful Indian Lady seizes the opportunity to guide me through the menu. I get the feeling she’s done the Tour Guide routine before and that makes me feel a little less awkward, although I kill any mental advantage when I whip out a pen and start annotating the menu as she talks. We begin at the hot food section, where everyday Chef cooks up a different vegetable curry and assorted dahls, briyanis and rice.Today’s speciality, Beautiful Indian Lady explains is a dish featuring 9 different beans, pulses and sprouts. I’m not sure I can even name 9 different beans! I can make out mung sprouts, chickpeas, some lentils and I think broad beans but after that, well I’m going to have to dig out my Food Lovers Companion. We move through the menu, and towards the right along the counter. Ah – something I recognise I think as she starts to name all the samoosas. Vegetable, Pea & Potato, Cheese & Corn are the familiars but then we lead onto Puri Patta’s, Bhakarwadi (a vol au vent shaped pastry filled with potato – delicious!) and my new favourite Petis (ball-shaped snacks of shredded coconut, fresh coriander and chilli). She explains that every day there is also a complementary fresh bread –Rotis or Pararthas of various flavours. Sigh. Could this get any more wonderfully confusing and tempting?
Beautiful Indian Lady leads me further down the counter to the glass display fridge filled with, what I can make out from her expression, Baps Shayona pièce de résistance: The Sweetmeats.
Confusingly, sweetmeats don’t contain meat, as sweetbreads don’t contain bread and are not sweet (boy did I learn that the hard way!). I’m not sure why the Food Dons don’t issue an edict to get Sweetmeats and Sweetbreads to swap names? The sweetmeat selection is extensive. Having an Olympic standard sweet tooth, I thought my pursuit of sugary sweets knew no boundaries. But staring at roughly 35 types of home-made sweetmeats, I realise that Turkish Delight was as far east as my palate had travelled. I accept and put aside my ignorance on this path of self discovery, and get down to business. We start with Burfee, squares of a fudge like texture, but not as sickening sweet, with a smoother texture made from a condensed milk base. It comes in 6 different flavours, I took home the bright green pistachio flavour which was delicious, but superior by far was the rich caramel coloured Almond flavour. Similar to the Burfee is the Channa Magaj made from Channa (or chickpea) flour, which is nuttier and a bit grainier. We also tried the Anjeerpak (Fig) and the Khajurpak (Date): squares of chewy fruit and nuts that reminded me of Fig Newtons. Saffron and pistachio feature quite highly, and the bright colours are almost hypnotizing. The flavours revolve around nuts and grains, and the base of most are condensed milk or ghee (eggs are not used at all). The winner of the day by far, and the one we fought over later at home was the Ghari, a round ball with a flavour similar to the Almond Burfee, but drizzled in a condensed milk icing to keep the inside dense and moist. The variation of shapes and colours is mesmerizing and yes, I feel like a kid in a strange and wonderful candy store.
Laden with my 9 Bean curry, samoosas and a box of colourful candies I make my way back to the car and I realise that I am smiling from ear to ear. It was certainly daunting, heading out to a part of the city I’ve never been to based on the recommendation of a (very nice) lady I had only just met, to eat food I had never even heard of and certainly couldn’t recreate in my own kitchen. As I get under way, down Belgravia road towards home, I look up at the beautiful Cape Town blue winter’s sky and I see the mountain guarding over us just as She always has. I realise that we all live in the same city, and that there is so much more for me to learn about my City and Her people. I have driven not 15 minutes from my childhood home, and found myself in a world so very far from my own. Yes the people dress differently, and yes the religion and food are strange to me but as I drive away I feel so grateful for my relatively comfortable home and comfortable life that allows me to do frivolous things such as write a Food Blog. I learned that wherever there is community and love there is beautiful, sustaining food for the soul and that great culinary talent is not always wrapped up in a trendy, inner city bistro.
Baps Shayona 58 Pine Road, Cnr Pine and Murton Rds, Rylands Cape Town 021 637 2132
Closed Mondays, extended hours and menu on weekends