Spice Route: Colouring the streets

04 March 2015 - 02:00 By Ishay Govender-Ypma
HOME TALK: Narkedien's maternal ancestors have lived in the Bo-Kaap for seven generations
HOME TALK: Narkedien's maternal ancestors have lived in the Bo-Kaap for seven generations

"Don't forget the ginger," she whispers to the woman. They nod in farewell and the stranger disappears up the hill.

Shireen Narkedien returns to us and we amble past the rainbow-hued houses, learning about the history of the Bo-Kaap.

Walking along the narrow lanes, she cuts a familiar figure, having conducted guided tours of the area since 1994. She greets friends and neighbours, hands sweets to children and administers advice on natural remedies.

"My father worked in a pharmacy, and he was always concocting herbal remedies," she says.

Narkedien's maternal ancestors have resided in the Bo-Kaap for seven generations and it is where she has lived most of her life.

She was the first to introduce home stays in 2000 and helped to set up many food demonstration kitchens. Narkedien, I'm told, was instrumental in facilitating the treatise on Cape Malay food Bo-Kaap Kitchen: Heritage Recipes and True Stories by Maggie Mouton and Craig Fraser.

The community is tight-knit and most are devoutly Muslim; without Narkedien's patient introductions and support, the authors say the project could never have materialised. She served as the bridge between worlds.

From the base of Schotsche Kloof, hovering above the Malay Quarter, the roads descend like ribbons unfurling into the CBD.

At Atlas Trading, the spice shop established in 1946, frequented by local families and the city's best chefs for authentic Cape Malay and Indian spices, Narkedien demonstrates an array of biryani mixes, night-black tamarind, wet masalas and fragrant seeds used in Cape Malay cooking.

A few doors up, Zainup Masoet peers from her sister Niesa's house, waving us in. A feast awaits in the communal courtyard. Hot dhaltjies (chilli bites) and samoosas precede bowls of chicken curry, rice, rotis and sambals. Thereafter, cardamom tea and fresh koeksisters, pillowy and fragrant with aniseed and orange zest.

Just the day before, a film crew was hanging out the windows, Masoet tells us. The house sits across Chiappini Street, regularly featured in fashion editorials. The family doesn't mind the disturbance, she says. They can generate a small income from it. "In summer it's Bollywood all over here," she laughs.

Youngsters walk into the house (her son, his girlfriend). This is the generation Narkedien says Bo-Kaap Kitchen was written for.

"We have preserved our recipes and our stories so they never forget their history," she says.

  • For tours, home meals and home stays in the Bo-Kaap e-mail shireen.narkedien@gmail.com