Photography: Craig Fraser
Writing: Craig Fraser
Herman Lategan chats to Craig Fraser, publisher, conceptualiser and photographer of the thoroughly researched book Bo-Kaap Kitchen (Heritage Recipes and True Stories), published by Quivertree Publications.
Somehow, this collector’s item has not received the attention it should have. For readers in the dark, what is it about? What makes it so special?
Bo-Kaap Kitchen is a collection of recipes from residents of the Bo-Kaap, the people who live in the area, those inhabitants who have a history there, a cultural connection to it. It is not a collection of recipes from a chef or a restaurant; this is food of and from the people. Not only is it their food, but it is also their stories, it is a slice of history through personal experiences.
This book is incredibly well researched; the detail and personal stories are exceptional. How long did you work on this book?
The book took about six months to produce in total. Maggie Mouton, the writer, was passionate about the project and meticulous about the facts. We also had the assistance of Shireen Narkedien, whose contribution was invaluable. She is a resident who is active in the community and knows everyone. She also acts as a tour guide and knows the history backwards. The combination of the two made for a fascinating, layered book.
What is it about the Bo-Kaap, its food and people that grabbed your interest?
Over many years I have wanted to do a book on the Bo-Kaap, something more personal, a look into the lives of the people. Other books on the area have left me wanting to know more. I wanted history and food through personal interviews and several voices added together to give a more textured picture of the whole. Over the years I have felt a rising sense of urgency as I watched the city start encroaching up the slope and into the area. It is such an important part of Cape fabric that it needs to be recorded and celebrated.
The photography in itself is a work of art. Can you tell us more?
Through Shireen’s involvement I had unrestricted access to the community. They invited me to weddings, funerals, remembrances, family meals, religious ceremonies, mosques, family homes. It was an incredible experience. I was welcomed and everyone co-operated. The area is overflowing with photographic opportunity. Everything was on my side.
How did you go about finding the inhabitants of the Bo-Kaap in the book?
Shireen Narkedien introduced us to everyone and we went on a journey with her.
Why should readers, even if they do not like recipe books, buy this book?
This book will take the reader into the personal lives and spaces of people in the Bo-Kaap. It is not from a clichéd tourist’s perspective, it is about food, history and culture. It is about real people, ceremonies and what food they eat. It is full of emotion; there are heartbreaking stories and heartwarming stories. It should appeal on so many levels.
What sorts of recipes are on offer?
How to make koesisters, breyani, kumquat atchar, tripe curry, fish frikkadels with tomato smoor, roasted tongue, spicy cottage pie, denningvleis (sweet-sour lamb dish), and much, much more. There are recipes by and stories on people such as Mimoena Saunders, Shireen Narkedien, Jasmina Isaacs, and many others.
The next few questions on a lighter note: What keeps you interested in food?
I love to eat and share food. What we eat tells a story of who we are.
What is in your fridge right now?
My fridge is full of fresh ingredients. I eat as much fresh, whole food as possible, with the odd glass of wine.
What‘s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done in a kitchen?
To clean the braai grid: I heated it up on the fire until it was red hot and then tossed it on to the grass to arrange the coals of the fire. I was barefoot, it was summer time, and without thinking, I stepped on to the red-hot grid. It was so hot it created perfect griddle lines on the sole of my foot. I had been striving for years to create these lines on my steaks.
What dish would you never try to master?
Anything with more than three ingredients.
Who are the most annoying eaters?
Ones that can “improve” everything offered at a restaurant – the ones that say, “If only it had this and that it could be so much better” – know-it-alls.
If you could eat only one food or dish for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Steak, egg and chips.