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Boerekos, o Boerekos

Die verskyning van H.W. Claassens se boek (Die geskiedenis van Boerekos 1652 – 1806) , wat sy gegrond het op haar doktorale proefskrif, het ’n klein opskudding veroorsaak in koskringe. Sy het ook ’n striemende aanval op die land se voorste kosskrywers van stalpel gestuur – en selfs Leipoldt het deurgeloop.

Deur Johan Liebenberg

Verlede jaar ontvang die redakteur van DEKAT ’n e-pos van ’n ontstoke leser. Die e-pos (oorspronklik in Engels geskryf en later deur my vertaal), lui as volg:

“Geagte Dame

Ek het dit geniet om die Maart/April-uitgawe van DEKAT te lees totdat ek op die artikel afkom oor erfeniskos. Ek kan dit eenvoudig nie glo dat julle steeds sulke ongegronde stories opdis deur skrywers van die 20ste eeu wat nie die nodige navorsing oor die oorsprong van tradisionele geregte van die Afrikaner gedoen het nie. Bobotie is nie ’n produk – of ’n improvisering op die oorspronklike resep – van die Kaapse Maleiers nie. Ná jare lange navorsing het ek bewys dat die name wat hulle aan Kaapse kos gegee het, hul enigste bydrae tot die ontwikkeling van Boerekos was.

“Lees gerus my proefskrif (Die geskiedenis van Boerekos 1652-1806 ) op die webblad van die Universiteit van Pretoria ens. as u meer wil weet oor bobotie; lees ten minste bladsye 178-181, 391 en 415 in die boek.

“Die boek is onmiddellik aangekoop deur ses van die bekendste Amerikaanse universiteite asook die Library of the American Congress.”

Vervolgens meld sy ook dat sy oor die oorsprong van Boerekos in die boek Cape Winelands Cuisine geskryf het. Die resepteboek is deur Hetta van Deventer geskryf.

Waarom was sy egter so beswaard? Sy was beswaard omdat Neil Stemmet in die uitgawe van DEKAT na Leipoldt se bobotieresep verwys het as ’n Kaaps-Maleisiese gereg van oorsprong.

Sy sluit af met:

“Die belangrikste Afrikaanse skrywers wat so geesdriftig was oor die slawe se bydrae tot Boerekos, is besig om hul boeke te herskryf.”

Net vinnig: Kort ná Jan van Riebeeck by die Kaap aan wal gestap het, moes die setlaars noodgedwonge van slawearbeid gebruik begin maak. ’n Groot groep van hierdie slawe was afkomstig uit Indonesië. Sommige was van Sri Lanka, Indië en ook Maleisië afkomstig. Gesamentlik staan hulle egter bekend as “Kaapse Maleiers”. Dit kan soms verwarrend wees.

Claassens se bewering dat die Oosterse slawe geen invloed, buiten die benaminge, op Boerekos gehad het nie – steun min of meer op die volgende:

Wat getalle betref, was die slawe, volgens haar, nooit ’n dominante groep aan die Kaap nie. Dus sou hulle nooit ’n beduidende invloed op die Kaapse kookkuns kon gehad het nie.

Maar die historici, Nigel Worden, Elizabeth van Heningen, Viviann Bickford-Smith verskil kennelik van Claassens. In (Cape Town, the making of a city), verskaf hulle etlike tabelle wat aantoon dat die teendeel waar is, en hul gevolgtrekking is: “Die grootste enkele kategorie van die Kaap se bevolkingsgroepe was slawe. … In 1731, het die slawe 42% van die stedelike bevolking uitgemaak.”

Claassens beweer ook dat die slawe te arm was om speserye in Indonesië te kon bekostig, so ook die Indiese slawe wat hier aangekom het want hulle was van die “onreines” en brandarm.

Volgens Claassens het die vroue uit Nederland die kombuise gedomineer en sou nie toelaat dat die slawe geregte uit Indonesië voorberei nie.

Maar waar was hierdie vroue? Volgens Cape Town, the making of a city, was daar in 1658 slegs 20 Nederlandse vroue en kinders aan die Kaap. Daar was egter toe reeds 89 slawe in die Kaap. Dit ly geen twyfel nie dat daar veral in die vroeë jare ’n knaende tekort aan Nederlandse vroue aan die Kaap was, soveel so dat daar selfs ’n groep weesmeisies uit Nederland ingevoer is om in hierdie tekort te voorsien.

Waar, wonder ek, sou hierdie weesmeisies die kennis kon opdoen om met speserye te kook? Speserye was te duur vir die gewone man. Die weesmeisies kon moontlik nie eens lees en skryf nie. In elk geval was dit wel die geval met waarskynlik die oorgrootte meerderheid van die lede van die VOC wat gewerf is om na die Kaap te kom. Volgens historici het hulle behoort tot die laagste vlak van die samelewing en was baie van hulle ongeletterd en het hulle hul duimafdruk gebruik om dokumente te onderteken. Maar die resepte wat onder meer in (De verstandige kock) verskyn het, was nie vir hulle bestem nie, maar eerder vir die ryk koopmansklas in Nederland. Natuurlik was almal wat hier by die Kaap aan wal gestap het, nie ongeletterd nie.

Claassens wys voorts daarop dat mans meestal die kokke was, maar dat kokke die duurste onder al die slawe was, en nie binne die vermoëns van die gewone man nie. Maar waarom sou die arm, sukkelende burgers vir ’n manlike kok betaal as hulle vroueslawe kon kry om te kook?

Die omgang tussen slaaf en meester was ook in ’n seker sin heel gemaklik – tot die Britse besetting: “Gedurende die vroeë tydperk van slawerny aan die Kaap (1657-1808) was slawevroue ’n integrale deel van die huishouding en het hulle die maaltye voorberei en dikwels ook gedeel … selfs in die 19de eeu was baie slawevroue kokke.” Shell, Children of bondage 1994. (bl. 313)

In sy Echoes of Slavery: Voices from South Africa’s past, skryf Jackie Loos:

“Uit die eienaar se oogpunt beskou, was dit belangriker om die samewerking van die slawe te verkry, eerder as verset, en huishoudelike slawe is by die gesin geïnkorporeer.” (bl. 87)

Omdat ’n mens redelikerwys sou kon aanvaar dat die Nederlanders wat na Nieu-Nederland in die VSA geëmigreer het, tot die dieselfde stand as die Kaapse setlaars behoort het, het ek ’n bietjie gaan rondsnuffel om meer uit te vind oor die kos wat hulle daar geëet het. Daar was g’n teken van speserye in hul kos nie. Hulle het maar “geëet soos hulle in Nederland geëet het – eenvoudige, gekookte kos”. Dit word beaam deur die koshistorikus, Peter G. Rose, wat in die VSA woon. In ’n e-pos aan my skryf sy:

“Ek dink ons behoort aan die setlaars van Nieu-Nederland te dink as mense wat hul lewenswyse in hul land van herkoms wou herskep in hul nuwe tuiste.

“Ek stem saam met jou dat hulle kos nie speserye bevat soos dié van die Indonesiese koskultuur nie en sulke geregte kan nie aan hulle toegedig word nie. Speserye soos neutmuskaat, kaneel, naeltjies, en foelie was bekend aan diegene wat dit kon bekostig, soos mens kan aflei uit De verstandige kock

In The Colony of New Netherland: A Dutch Settlement in Seventeenth-Century America noem die skrywer, Jaap Jacobs, dan ook dat De verstandige kock vir die rykes bestem was en nie die gewone man nie.

Maar kom ons bekyk ’n bietjie die gereg, en die onmin, wat gelei het tot die skryf van hierdie artikel naamlik bobotie.

Claassens beweer dat bobotie sy ontstaan te danke het aan Apicius, die Romeinse kok wat ’n gereg soortgelyk aan bobotie in sy kookboek ingesluit het. Sy meld ook die aantal speseryryke geregte in De verstandige kock, en wys daarop dat baie van hierdie geregte eintlik van Persiese oorsprong is.

Sy skryf ook dat die oorspronklike Kaapse naam vir bobotie in die vergetelheid versink het.

Ek het die Nederlandse koshistorikus en vertaler van De verstandige kock, Marleen Willebrands oor die oorsprong van bobotie genader en in ’n e-pos skryf sy:

“Ek het ’n bietjie navorsing gedoen oor ‘bobotie’ en my navorsing toon dat hierdie gereg in die 17de eeu (of later) via die Kaap de Goede Hoop uit Indonesië (of andersom) na Nederland gekom het.”

Ter inligting het sy faksimileë van ’n handgeskrewe bebotok-resep ingesluit wat van die 18de eeu dateer. Die gereg het bekend gestaan as bebotok wat, dink ek, na genoeg is aan ‘bobotie’.

Hier volg ’n bebotok-resep wat ek op die internet opgespoor het:

“Bebotok Sapi (Indonesiese vleisbrood) is ’n tradisionele Indonesiese resep vir die klassieke gestoomde, speseryryke vleisbrood. Die volledige resep word hier aangegee en ek hoop u geniet hierdie klassieke Indonesiese gereg.

“225 g beesmaalvleis. 1 klein ui, fyngekap, 2 knoffelhuisies, fyngekap: 2 kersneute, gerasper (of 4 gerasperde macadamianeute) 1 teelepel fyngemaalde koljander, ’n knippie komyn of fyngemaalde gemmer; 3 gedroogde rooi rissies, fyngedruk (of na smaak); ’n knippie gerasperde sitroengras; 1 teelepel tamarindesap, ½ teelepel sout, olie, 250 ml kokosneutmelk, 1 hardgekookte eier, dun gesnyde piesangblaar of foelie om te stoom.”

Wat die kritiek op Leipoldt betref, wat beweer het die gereg is van Kaaps-Maleise oorsprong, moet mens ook in gedagte hou dat Leipoldt se ouers sendingwerk in Indonesië verrig het. Mens kan tog sekerlik hiervan aflei dat Leipoldt dus oor die kennis en agtergrond beskik het om te skryf dat die gereg van Kaaps-Maleise oorsprong is?

Ek dink Claassens moes meer aandag geskenk het aan die rol van die VOC in die ontwikkeling van sekere geregte. En hul rol, as koloniale besetter, stem in die breë ooreen met dié van die Britse koloniale besetting. Die soldate en offisiere het met sakke vol speserye en veral kerriepoeiers teruggekeer na Engeland toe en hierdie geurmiddels het mettertyd deel geword het van die Britse kookkultuur.

Tussen 1602 en 1796 het die VOC byna 1 miljoen werknemers gehad wat in die Ooste in diens was; by hul terugkeer na hul vaderland, moes hulle op verskeie maniere ’n beduidende invloed op die Nederlandse kultuur gehad het, veral op die gebied van die kookkuns.

Dit was verbode om slawe in Nederland te verkoop en dus moes lede van die VOC hul slawe noodgedwonge in Batavia of aan die Kaap van die hand sit – maar aan die Kaap, waar daar ’n groot aanvraag na slawe was, sou hulle moontlik ’n beter prys kon kry. Die Kaap was in elk geval ’n gerieflike halfwegstasie op pad Nederland toe. Die gevolg sou ’n kruisbestuiwing en wedersydse beïnvloeding wees, veral op die gebied van die koskultuur.

Dis belangrik dat mens vertroue in jou eie werk het, maar dan binne perke. Claassens sit ‘n punt agter haar werk, asof die finale woord gespreek is. Sy looi boonop in haar boek die kosskrywers Renata Coetzee en Peter Veldsman vir hul slaafse napraat van Leipoldt en ook omdat hulle self nie die moeite gedoen het om behoorlike navorsing te doen nie. Hulle het dus, volgens haar, sodoende vir so lank “die Suid-Afrikaanse publiek mislei oor die herkoms van Kaapse kos”.

Dis ook natuurlik onvermydelik dat hierdie nuwe evangelie hom begin tuismaak in ons “hersiene” kosgeskiedenis want in ’n onderhoud van 16 Desember 2012 in Rapportskryf Hanlie Retief: “Dr. Hester Claassens se navorsing het bewys dat die sosatie soos ons dit vandag maak in die Kaap ontstaan het.”

Dine van Zyl, die skryfster van Die groot Boerekosboek, en met wie sy die onderhoud voer, stem saam. Sy spreek haar só uit oor die sosatie:

“Hy kom met ’n ompad van Europa af, waar die Perse dit in suurmelk laat lê het. Maar hier het ons druiwe, wyn – wynasyn.

“Ons sosaties het hier ontwikkel, dis die enigste kos met die aanspraak dat dit ’n egte samevloeiing van invloede is. Dis ons samebindende ding.”

Maar is dit “die laaste woord”, die absolute, volle waarheid? Bestaan daar nie ander moontlikhede nie?

Dr. Tracey Randle, kurator van die Museum van de Caab op die Solms-Delta-landgoed buite Franschhoek stuur vir my die volgende inligting: “Sosatie: Gekruide of gegeurde vleisstukkies wat op ’n stokkie geryg is en gebraai kan word, soms saam met uie, droë vrugte en vet. Waarskynlik uit Ind-Ndl. sateh of Maleis-Javaans sesatech, sateh, satai of minder. Waarskynlik uit Tamil satai ‘vleis’ of moontlik, volgens Mansvelt (1884), uit Maleis soesatoe ‘mengelmoes’. Eerste optekeninge in Afrikaans deur Pannevis (1880) in die vorm sassati en by Mansvelt (1884) in die vorm soesàti. Sosatie is moontlik deur Maleise kokke in Suid-Afrika in gebruik gebring. (bron: Van Wyk, G.J et al, (Etimologiewoordeboek van Afrikaans), Buro van die Woordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal, Stellenbosch. 2003.)”

Ingesluit is ’n afdruk vanuit die Britse Museum van ’n Asiatiese persoon wat sosaties oor die kole braai. Die datum: 1650.

Van dr. Susan Newton-King, professor in geskiedenis aan die Universiteit van die Wes-Kaap, ontvang ek ‘n e-pos. Sy skryf onder meer: “Ek het jou artikel gelees en ek stem heelhartig saam met jou: dit is hoogs onwaarskynlik dat slawe min of geen invloed kon gehad het op die ewolusie van die Kaapse kookkuns.” Sy gaan voort:

Ek kan bevestig dat slawe ‘n konstant teenwoordigheid was in die huishoudings van die Europese immigrante aan die Kaap in die 17de en 18de eeu. Soos die grens geskuif het na die Sandveld, Karoo en suidwes-Kaap het hul getalle afgeneem relatief tot die getalle van die Khoe-Khoe en San, maar hulle het seer sekerlik gehelp om die kookkuns aan die Kaap, Stellenbosch en Drakenstein te vestig.

“Ek het nog nooit van elite manskokke gehoor nie….

“Nog iets: die room van die Kaapse gemeenskap is deur die senior amptenare van die Kompanjie, baie van wie (soos Simon van der Stel en Joan Bax) in Batavia gewoon het of ander plekke in die Nederlands Oos-Indiese kolonies voordat hulle na die Kaap verplaas is. Hulle sou gewoond gewees het aan die speserygeure van Asië.

“Dan is daar die kwessie van vroue en byvroue. In Batavia, so blyk dit, was die meeste vroue en byvroue van VOC-amptenare en vryburgers eintlik Asies of Eurasies. Daar was baie min Nederlandse vroue in Batavia. Dit is egter waar dat hierdie Nederlands gebore vroue gesog was as huweliksmaats deur senior amptenare van die Kompanjie.

Die geskiedkundige Jean Gelman Taylor voer aan dat die kultuur van die ‘Europese’ huishoudings in Batavia meer Asies van aard was as Europees. Slegs die man het Europese drag aangetrek vir hul amptelike pligte en by die werk. Tuis, sê Taylor, het hulle waarskynlik Kreoolse Portugees of Maleisies gepraat.

Verderaan skryf sy:

“Europees gebore vroue, of vroue wat gebore is van twee ouers van Europese oorsprong was meer volop aan die Kaap. Desondanks was daar baie gesinne wat ons vandag beskou as ‘Afrikaner’ was eintlik die nasate van mans en vroue van gemengde Eurasiese afkoms.

“Wat my betref het die vroeë-Kaap voorwaar bestaan uit ‘n Kreoolse kultuur, met veelvuldige kulturele invloede uit Europa, Afrika en Asië.” Van slawe gepraat. Die Oosterlinge wat hier by die Kaap geland het, was allermins net slawe. Onder hulle was ook aristokrate. Dit het my geluk om dr. Timothy Visser te ontmoet. Sy voorsate was Nederlanders en Indonesiese aristokrate wat prins Sjeik Yusuf na die Kaap vergesel het. Die entourage het uit 48 lede bestaan – dus nogal ’n beduidende persentasie van die Indonesiese (Kaaps-Maleise) groep aan die Kaap destyds.

Ek het ’n besondere aangename korrespondensie met hom gevoer, en haal graag uit sy e-posse aan my aan. Maar, vooraf, soos hy dit gestel het, hy is ’n mediese dokter, en nie ’n koshistorikus nie, maar ek dink tog sy opinie is van belang. Die geskiedenis bestaan tog nie net omdat iemand dit neergeskryf het nie!

“Wat betref die bobotie-storie. Die slawe was beslis betrokke by die kosmaakproses.

“Om in die Kaap te leef was daar van jou verwag om geure te dupliseer om aan te pas by die Bataafse smaakvoorkeure – daarom is die suur smaak van die tamarinde vervang met groenvrugtesap of asyn, wat volop was vanweë die wynbedryf.

“Toe ek in Indonesië was, het ek gesien hoe mense eet wat ook al beskikbaar is en dus moet ek aanvaar dat dieselfde vindingrykheid aan die Kaap ook geopenbaar is: volop voorraad van vis sou gelei het tot smoorsnoek en kerrievis, met dieselfde tipiese kookmetodes – om ‘te smoor’ is terloops die tipiese kookmetodes in Suidoos-Asië.

“Toe ek Malakka besoek het, was ek verstom toe ek agterkom dat die hoenderkerrie presies gesmaak het soos die kerrie wat ek in die Kaaps-Maleise kombuise van die Bo-Kaap tot in Mitchells Plain tot die Strand aangetref het, wat aansluit by jou gedagte dat die resepte van geslag tot geslag oorgedra is en dat die smaak dus oor ’n bestek van 300 jaar grootliks onveranderd gebly het. Dit is dus beslis moontlik dat deur die Nederlandse resepte te wysig na een wat Indonesiese geure bevat, ’n vorm van ‘verset’ was wat baie algemeen voorgekom het.

“Ek is van Nederlands-Indonesiese afkoms en my voorsate het na Suid-Afrika gekom as politieke bannelinge in 1696 as deel van die Indonesiese adel, wat deel was van die entourage van prins Yusuf. Hulle het hul aan die oewers van die Eersterivier gevestig.

“Ek noem dit omdat ek wil net aantoon dat ons nie almal slawe was nie, maar eerder gegoede mense wat dit kon bekostig om fynproewersmaaltye voor te sit. Ons het selfs van die boere van die omgewing wat die nagmaal by die nabygeleë Nederlandse kerk bygewoon het, ná die tyd ruim onthaal met etes van ’n heel paar gange. Die ‘Bali-invloed’ was opmerklik en tot vandag toe het ons nog ’n baie sterk kook-en-bak-tradisie, veral suikerbrood gegeur met nartjieskil en gebak in ’n fluitvormige oondskottel. En hierdie ekstra sitrusgeure is beslis te danke aan die Balinese invloed.”

Ek het vir hom geskryf dat Claassens beweer het dat die Indonesiese en Indiese slawe te arm sou wees om speserye in hul tuisland te bekostig (die Indiese slawe, beweer sy, was van die “onreines”) Hy het sy stamland ’n paar jaar gelede besoek, en hoewel dit 300 jaar later was, is dit tog interessant wat hy daar waargeneem het. Hy skryf:

“Selfs toe ek in Indonesië was en deur die binneland gereis het, het ek in plekke geëet wat my herinner het aan ons informele nedersettings – en ek kan getuig dat die mense daar met speserye gekook het.

“Ek het ook Suid-Indië (Madurai in die staat van Tamil Nadu) besoek en hier het die brandarm mense beslis toegang tot speserye gehad om groente wat andersins maar vaal sou wees, te omskep in die geurigste geregte. Dit is vléís wat duur is …”

Ek het groot waardering daarvoor dat Claassens Suid-Afrika se kookgeskiedenis neergeskryf het. Dis ’n formidabele stuk werk. Maar die uitgangspunt van Unesco wat betref erfenisstudie is dat daar nie net een narratief bestaan nie, maar vele narratiewe wat verweef is in die verhaal van ons verlede. Vat nou maar die geskiedenis op voetsoolvlak van vroue aan die Kaap – of die slawe. Hoeveel weet ons werklik van hulle? En wat van die Koikoi-groeperings? Om dus van die standpunt af uit te gaan dat die Oosterse slawe géén invloed op Kaapse kos gehad nie, klink vir my hoogs onwaarskynlik, en is in elk geval uit pas met die Unesco-benadering. Die Oosterse slawe het nie hul resepte kon neerskryf nie. Hulle het nóg dagboeke gehou nóg joernale want hulle was te besig om hulle af te sloof op die landery, in die tuine, en in die huise en in die kombuise van die vryburgers.

Hulle is reeds eenmaal hul erfenis ontneem. En nou ’n tweede maal?

Ek sluit af in ’n gees van welwillendheid; die gees waarin, myns insiens, daar met kos omgegaan moet word – met Peter Veldsman se inleiding tot Renata Coetzee se bygewerkte (Spys en Drank):

“Solank as wat die geur van geskroeide koljander, kassia en kruie-

naeltjies uit kombuise kom, solank as wat daar rooiwang tamaties sonryp in tuingrond op die plukkerhand van huiskokke wag … solank as boerbokke, dorpers en merino’s vir vetstert en ribbetjies in die bredie sorg, solank, so weet ek, word onsekerheid sekerheid, aards, eie aan ons aard en aan die aard

van ’n nuwe geslag.”

 

Foto geneem deur Johan Liebenberg

 

ENGLISH VERSION 

 

Last year the editor of DEKAT received an email from an irate reader. It read as follows:

“Dear Madam

“I enjoyed reading your March/April edition of DEKAT until I saw the article on heritage food. I cannot believe that you still dish up the unfounded stories that were fed to the public by writers of the 20th century who did not do the necessary research about the origin of traditional dishes of the Afrikaners. Bobotie is not a product –or improvement of the original recipe – of the Cape Malays. After years of research I have proved that the only contribution of the slaves to Boerekos, was the names they used for Cape Food.

Please read my thesis The history of Boerekos 1652-1806 on the web of the

University of Pretoria. ..If you want to know more about bobotie, read at least pp.178-181, 391 and 415 in the book.

“This book was immediately bought by 6 of the most well known American universities and the library of the American Congress.”

She goes on to mention that she wrote on the origins of Boerekos in the recipe book Cape Winelands Cuisine written by Hetta van Deventer.

What is the reason for her complaint? Well, the reason is a food article in this magazine where the food writer Neil Stemmet included Leipoldt’s recipe for bobotie and committed the folly of mentioning that it was a Cape-Malay dish.

She concludes with:

“The most important Afrikaans writers who were so enthusiastic about the slaves as the origin of boerekos (sic), are rewriting their books.”

Just briefly: Shortly after Jan van Riebeeck landed at the Cape, the shortage of labour left the settlers no choice but to make use of slave labour. A large portion of these slaves came from Indonesia while some were from Sri Lanka, India and Malaysia. Collectively, however, they came to be known as “Cape Malays”. This can sometimes be confusing.

Claassens’s claim that Asian slaves had no influence on Cape food other than naming the dishes, rely more or less on the following:

In terms of numbers, the slaves never, according to her, constituted a dominant group at the Cape. It followed therefore that they would never have had any significant influence in the kitchens of the settlers.

But the historians, Nigel Worden, Elizabeth Heningen, Viviann Bickford-Smith differ from Claassens. In Cape Town, the making of a city ,they provide several tables which show that the opposite is true, and their conclusion is: “The largest single category of the Cape population groups were slaves. … In 1731, slaves constituted 42% of the urban population.”

Claassens also asserts that the slaves were too poor to afford spices in Indonesia. The same was true of the slaves that came from India, who, according to her, were not only poor, but also belonged to the ‘Untouchable’ caste.

Claassens writes that it was the women, mostly Dutch, who dominated the kitchens and they would never have allowed slaves to prepare dishes from Indonesia.

But one has to ask: where were these Dutch women? According to Cape Town, the making of a city in 1658 there were only 20 Dutch women and children at the Cape. At this stage the slave population already numbered 89. And I have to mention that it is widely acknowledged by historians that there was an acute shortage of women at the Cape, especially in the early days; so much so that a group of female orphans was imported to alleviate the shortage.

Now where, I can’t help wondering, would these orphans have gained the knowledge of spices? Spices were simply too expensive for the ordinary person. It is also possible that the orphans were not even able to read or write, which was probably the case with the majority of the personnel recruited by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) to come to the Cape. According to historians they belonged to the lowest rungs of society and many of them were illiterate, using their thumb print to sign legal documents. I think one can safely say that the recipes that appeared in De verstandige kock were not aimed at them but rather at the wealthy merchant class in the Netherlands. Of course, this is not to say that every recruit of the VOC that stepped onto these shores was illiterate.

Claassens points to the fact that it was mostly male slaves who served as cooks and because they were highly sought after, they fetched high prices, placing them out of reach of the burghers at the Cape. But why would these poor, struggling burghers want to buy expensive male cooks when they could just as well use female slaves in the kitchens to cook?

During the early period of Cape slavery (1657-1808) “slave women were an integral part of the domestic household and prepared and often shared the meals, although not at the same table as the owner’s family. Even in the nineteenth century many slave women were cooks, and most female slaves had household occupations”. Shell, ‘Children of Bondage’ 1994. Pg. 313.

In his Echoes of Slavery: Voices from South Africa’s past, Jackie Loos writes:

“From the owner’s point of view, slave co-operation was preferable to resistance, and domestic slaves were incorporated into the household…” (pg. 87).

I think one can reasonably assume that the Dutch who emigrated to New Netherlands in the USA belonged to the same class or strata of society as the Cape settlers. I was interested to see what they ate over there in the 17th and 18th century and I found no record of spices in their food. In fact, what I did come across was a reference to their eating very much as they did at home: simple, cooked food. This was confirmed to me by the food historian, Peter G. Rose, who lives and works in the U.S.

In an email to me, she writes:

“I think we should think of the settlers of New Netherland as people who would like to re-create life in the Netherlands in their new land.

“I agree with you that their cooking was not the spiced cooking of Indonesia and those kinds of dishes should not be credited to them. Spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, mace were certainly known and used by those who could afford them as The Sensible Cook (De Verstandige Kock) amply proved.”

In The Colony of New Netherland: A Dutch Settlement in Seventeenth-Century America the author, Jaap Jacobs, mentions that the De verstandige kock was written for the wealthy and not for the ordinary man.

But let’s take a look at the dish which has created such controversy, and which has led to the writing of this article, namely bobotie.

Claassens asserts that bobotie originated in the kitchen of Apicius, the Roman cook who included a dish similar to bobotie in his recipe book. She also mentions that the number of dishes with spices as ingredients included in De verstandige kock , provides ample proof that their origins can be traced back to Persia. She adds that the original Cape name for bobotie has sunk into oblivion.

I wrote to the Dutch food historian and the translator of De verstandige kock , Marleen Willebrands, who lives in the Netherlands, about the origins of the dish called bobotie and she responded as follows:

“I have done a little bit of research about the dish ‘bobotie’, and can only say that this dish came from Indonesia in the 17th century (or later) via Kaap de Goede Hoop (sic) to Holland (or the other way around).”

She attached a facsimile of a handwritten bebotok recipe dating from the 18th century. The dish known by the name of ‘bebotok’ rings close enough, I would say, to ‘bobotie’.

When I did a search on the internet, under the entry ‘bebotok’, I came across the following:

“Bebotok Sapi (Indonesian Meatloaf) is a traditional Indonesian recipe for a classic steamed spiced meatloaf. The full recipe is presented here and I hope you enjoy this classic Indonesian dish of: Ingredients: 225g minced (ground) beef 1 small onion, finely chopped 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped 2 candlenuts, grated (or 4 grated macadamia nuts) 1 tsp ground coriander pinch of cumin pinch of ground ginger 3 dried red chilli, crushed (or, to taste) pinch of grated lemongrass 1 tbsp tamarind juice (make by adding 2 tbsp hot water to 1 tbsp tamarind pulp, stir to combine then strain) 1/2 tsp salt 2 tbsp vegetable oil 250ml coconut milk (either tinned or made fresh from 1/2 coconut) 1 hard-boiled egg, thinly sliced banana leaves or foil, for steaming Bebotok Sapi.”

As for the criticism levelled at Leipoldt who referred to bobotie as being of Cape-Malay origin, one should bear in mind that Leipoldt’s parents worked as missionaries in Indonesia. Surely one can deduct from this that Leipoldt must have had some background and knowledge of this dish? I think Claassens should have taken a closer look at the role of the VOC in the development of certain dishes. And their role as a colonial occupier generally corresponds to that of the British colonial occupation of India. The soldiers and officers returned home laden with sacks of spices and especially curry powders.

It is not difficult to imagine the same occurring in respect of the Netherlands and its colonies.

Between 1602 en 1796 the VOC employed nearly one million employees who were mostly posted to Batavia. One can safely say that the influence of these returning VOC employees must have had a considerable influence on cultural life especially on the food culture of the Netherlands and quite possibly the Cape. One should also consider that it was forbidden to sell slaves in the Netherlands. This meant that the VOC employees were forced to sell their slaves in either Batavia or the Cape. The Cape of Good Hope, on the other hand, was the halfway station to the Netherlands and in dire need of slaves – thus conceivably proving to be a more lucrative market, where the slaves of the VOC would fetch higher prices. It stands to reason that cross fertilization, especially with regards to the food culture, had taken place.

Whilst having confidence in one’s own work is a necessary thing, there are limits. Claassens reviles the food writers, Renata Coetzee and Peter Veldsman for their slavish echoing of Leipoldt who, according to her, did not bother to do proper research, and thus for so long misled the South African public about the origin of Cape food.

Inevitably this new, revised gospel has gained traction in our food circles and in die media. In an interview published in Rapport on 16 December 2012 Hanlie Retief writes: “Dr. Hester (sic) Claassens’s research has shown that the sosatie as we know it today originated at the Cape.”

Dine van Zyl, author of Die groot Boerekosboek whom Hanlie interviews has this to say about the origins of the sosatie:

“It arrived here via a detour from Europe, whereas the Persians marinated it in sour milk we here, in South Africa, have grapes – wine vinegar. .

“Our sosaties developed here, and is the only food that can rightly claim to be an authentic fusion of several influences. It connects and binds us.”

But is this the last word; is this chapter in our culinary history to be viewed through such a narrow lens?

Dr. Tracey Randle, curator of the Museum van de Caab on the Solms-Delta Estate outside Franschhoek sent me the following information:

“Sosatie”:

“Spiced or flavoured chunks of meat threaded onto a skewer and can be fried or barbecued sometimes with onions, dried fruit and fat.

Probably: Indian-Dutch sateh or Malay-Javanese sesatech, sateh, satai. Probably from Tamil satai meat or possibly according to Mansvelt (1884), from Malay soesatoe ‘medley’. First recorded in Afrikaans by Pannevis (1880) in the form sassati and Mansvelt (1884) in the form soesàti. Sosatie was possibly introduced here by Malay cooks. (source: Van Wyk, GJ et al Ethymological Dictionary for Afrikaans Bureau of the Dictionary of the Afrikaans Language, Stellenbosch. 2003.) ”

Included was a copy from the British Museum of an Asian person grilling sosaties over coals. The date: 1650.

Dr. Susan Newton-King, Professor of History at the University of the Western Cape, supported, I think, my viewpoint. She wrote: “I have read your article and I couldn’t agree with you more: it is highly improbable that slaves had little or no influence over the evolution of Cape cuisine.” She continued:

“I can confirm that slaves were a constant presence in the households of European immigrants to the Cape in the 17th and 18th centuries.  As the frontier expanded into the Sandveld, Karoo and south west Cape they became less numerous relative to the Khoekhoe and San, but they surely helped to shape Cape cuisine in Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Drakenstein.

“I never heard of elite male cooks ….

“Two additional points:  Elite circles at the Cape were dominated by senior Company officials, many of whom (like Simon van der Stel and Joan Bax) had lived in Batavia or other places in the Dutch East Indies before being sent to the Cape.  They would have been accustomed to the spicy flavours of Asia.

“Then there is the question of wives and concubines.  In Batavia, it seems, most female partners of VOC employees and freeburghers were either Asian or Eurasian.  There were very few Dutch women in Batavia.  It is true, however, that these Dutch born women were sought after as marriage partners by senior Company men.  The historian Jean Gelman Taylor has argued that the culture of ‘European’ households in Batavia was more Asian than European.  This would include cuisine as well as language and dress.  Only the men donned European garb for their official duties and in their working lives.  At home, says Taylor, they probably spoke creole Portuguese or Malay.” And further on:

“European born women, or women born to two parents of European origin, were more plentiful at the Cape.  Nevertheless, many families we now think of as  ‘Afrikaner’ were founded by men and women of mixed Eurasian ancestry.

“In my opinion, the early Cape was a truly creole culture, with multiple cultural influences from Europe, Africa and Asia.”

Talking of slaves. The Asians who stepped ashore here at the Cape were hardly all slaves. Among them were aristocrats. I had the good fortune to meet Dr. Timothy Visser. His ancestors were nobility from Indonesian and Dutch origin and formed part of Sheik Yusuf’s entourage who eventually settled on the banks of the Eerste River. The entourage consisted of 48 members, quite a considerable number to help swell the Indonesian (or Cape-Malay) presence at the Cape.

I had a very pleasant email exchange with Dr. Visser and I would like to quote from some of them. But first, he made it clear to me that he was a medical doctor and not a food historian. Nonetheless, I think his opinion is of importance. History is not only created by those who write it down, is it? He writes:

“As regards the bobotie story. The slaves were definitely involved in the kitchens.

“Living at the Cape you were expected to duplicate the flavours savoured at Batavia. That is why the sour taste of tamarind was substituted with verjuice or vinegar, which was plentiful at the Cape on account of the wine industry.

“When I was in Indonesia, I saw people eating whatever was available and I assumed that the same ingenuity was employed here at the Cape. An abundant supply of fish would have resulted in ‘smoorsnoek’ and curried fish, following the same cooking methods as in Batavia. To ‘smoor’, by the way, is a typical cooking method in South-East Asia.

“ When I visited Malacca I was amazed to discover that their chicken curries are prepared in exactly the same way as those I tasted in the Cape-Malay kitchens from the Bo-Kaap to Mitchels Plain to the Strand. This of course underlines your comment that these recipes were handed down from generation to generation and that the taste has remained relatively unchanged over three centuries. It is also quite possible that a Dutch recipe was altered to one resembling an Indonesian dish. This was an act of resistance that was quite common in those days.

“My ancestors came to South Africa as political exiles in 1696 as members of the Indonesian aristocracy, and as part of the entourage of Prince Yusuf who had been banished here. They settled on the banks of the Eerste River

“I mention this because I’d like to point out that not all those who came here were slaves but rather people of means who could entertain and cook lavishly. Some of the Dutch farmers in the area were even entertained after Nagmaal.(communion) at the church. It would be, as I said, a lavish affair with the ‘Bali influence’ much in evidence in the cooking. To this day we have a strong cooking and baking tradition in our family, especially suikerbrood (sugar bread) flavoured with nartjie (tangerine)-peel and baked in a fluted cake form. And this added citrus is certainly NOT devoid of Eastern influence.”

I wrote to him that Claassens claimed that the Indonesian and Indian slaves would have been too poor to afford spices in their homelands (the Indian slaves, she asserts, were ‘untouchables’)

He visited Indonesia a few years ago, and although it is 300 years later, it is interesting to note what he observed there. He writes:

“I am of Dutch-Indonesian descent and when I was in Indonesia and travelled through the hinterland, I ate in places that reminded me of our informal settlements – and I am able to attest to the fact that the people there cooked with spices.

“I also travelled in South India (Madurai in the province of Tamil Nadu) and here the very poor definitely had access to spices to liven up their vegetarian dishes which otherwise would have been desperately bland. These dishes were transformed into delightfully flavoursome dishes. It is meat that is unaffordable ….”

I have great admiration for Claassen’s contribution to South Africa’s culinary history. But the approach taken by UNESCO with regard to heritage study is that there exists not only one narrative, but several that are threaded into the tale of our past. Take the history on grass roots level of the slaves or even the women at the Cape. What do we really know about them? And what about the Koi-groups? To claim that the slaves had no influence on Cape cuisine (aside from naming the dishes) seems to me highly improbable. It also does not conform to the UNESCO approach. And to put a rather a fine point on it, the Asian slaves were not able to write down their recipes. They were not able to keep diaries or journals because they were too busy toiling day after day in the fields, the gardens, in the homes and in the kitchens of their masters and mistresses.

I’d like to conclude in the spirit of generosity and goodwill, the spirit in which, I think, one should approach food. I quote from Peter Veldsman’s introduction to Renata Coetzee’s revised Spys en Drank:
“As long as the aroma of burnt coriander, cassia and cloves fill the kitchen,
as long as there are blushing, sun-ripened tomatoes in gardens waiting to be picked by house cooks …
as long as boerbokke, dorpers, and merino’s offer fat tails and succulent ribs for bredies, as long as we are one with the soil, true to nature and in communion with the new generation …

This I know: As long as it takes for uncertainty to become certainty. “

 

 

 

 

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