If we are what we eat, who are we? 100 iconic SA flavours on show in Cape Town

10 January 2021 - 00:02 By Anna Trapido
Koesisters (bottom) and koeksisters are compared and contrasted at the 100 Flavours Exhibition.
Koesisters (bottom) and koeksisters are compared and contrasted at the 100 Flavours Exhibition.
Image: Cole Ndelu

Curated by Anna Trapido, Hannerie Visser and Ilana Swanepoel, the free 100 Flavours Exhibition in Cape Town highlights Mzansi’s deliciously diverse and ancient edible identity.

Trapido takes us behind the scenes of this fascinating food installation:

Consultation prior to picking the 100 South African flavours was extensive, but such a list can never be comprehensive or definitive. It's merely a tool for discussion and debate. There are no right or wrong answers in the quest for a country's core tastes. It's ultimately about individual epicurean opinions - which is recognised at the end of the exhibition with space for visitors to add their own favourite foods.

So, what made the cut? Sweet tastes include Tsonga xigugu peanut and maize sweeties, Cape Malay tameletjie toffees, KwaZulu-Natal cane juice and Afrikaner brandy-preserved boeremeisie apricots. Koeksisters and koesisters are compared and contrasted.

The sour selection offers up (among others) tingly tart amasi, tamarind balls, ting fermented sorghum, spekboom and baobab.

Seeking salty? Bokkoms, biltong and Baleni sacred salt are deliciously displayed. Bitter Pedi diya tea and Afrikaner moerkoffie are set against the Durban Indian diaspora's spiced pineapples, mother-in-law masala, mango atchar, chakalaka, Mrs Balls and inhloko beef head stew dipped in pelepele seasoning salt.

Bokkoms - dried, salted fish - at the 100 Flavours Exhibition.
Bokkoms - dried, salted fish - at the 100 Flavours Exhibition.
Image: Hannerie Visser

Mzansi's edible past and the role it played in the creation of our species is explored with an archaeological evaluation of ancient cooking on fire at Gauteng's Cradle of Humankind.

The evolutionary importance of prehistoric seafood consumption is presented with Cape West Coast shellfish midden mounds.

The symbolic, spiritual and nutritional significance of honey hunting, bees and termites as depicted in rock art is assessed in a context that not only recognises but also celebrates the significance of the exhibition's physical location within the landscape that was once the pre-colonial Khoi Camissa trading station.

Ancient fire capture and control is connected to current braai and shisa nyama culture. There are boerewors, braaibroodjies, sosaties, potjies and pots of ulusu tripe.

Apricot jam-brushed snoek and pickled alikreukel link the role of sea and shore and what is now to what once was.

Nguni cattle, Cape fat-tailed sheep, Venda chickens and ekukhanyeni heritage maize varieties show South African-specific adaptations in what were once international ingredients.

In every bite of bunny chow, every spread of suurvy konfyt and every sip of rooibos tea, South Africans are explaining their edible identity. There is national pride in each seven-colours Sunday and every mogodu Monday.

From Kalahari truffles to kifyaat kos, through umphokoqo and umngqusho to melktert and malva pudding, the 100 Flavours Exhibition at Makers Landing shows SA's ultimate alimentary essence.

The 100 Flavours Exhibition can be viewed at Makers Landing at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town until the end of February. It's open Thursdays to Saturdays from 10am to 7pm, and Sundays from 10am to 5pm. No entrance fee and fully Covid compliant. Visit waterfront.co.za/makers-landing