Last Saturday was a bone-chilling and wet morning. Many have been saying it’s the coldest winter they’ve experienced here in Cape Town. I think this hyperbole must be true. After a long week of turkeying and shivering, suddenly my mind snapped, and I thought, “I actually have lus (a craving) for a warme worsie (warm penny polony).”
There is something so intricate and special about going to a butcher, reaching the glass cabinet, glaring at the various kinds of meat, stating your order, watching the items get weighed and finally paying – in fact, many of us develop strong bonds with our local butchers. I can still vividly picture how every Friday I would be sent to our former Biesmiellah Butcher in the Bo-Kaap to buy sausages, viennas and mini-steaks, because it’s somehow imbedded in us as Capetonians not to cook on Friday nights. And how my father and I would drive off to this butcher to purchase this type of meat, and then jet off to another butcher to get our hands on that other specific cut – agh (ah), you know how we as humans have our quirks. And I’m pretty sure that you have a similar story of how you have connected with your favourite butcher that you have been supporting for years – but this story is not about nostalgia. Instead, this story actually takes place on a whim.
So, last week, as I ran through my mental rolodex, I remembered how my mother has always mentioned “Abassie’s worsies”, a staple in her home as a child. Ironically, she never carried on the worsie tradition with us as I grew up, so, with spiked curiosity and the intense urge to satisfy my cravings – or the “lussies”, as many say – I drove to Adams Moslem Butcher, colloquially known to many as “Abassies”, at 41 Coronation Road, Walmer Estate, here in Cape Town.
As I approached the butcher, instantly the bold and colourful paintings on the outside walls struck me. With interest, I stared at the intricate art. A familiar and nostalgic feeling engulfed me, although I had never been to the butcher before. I entered the relatively quiet space, with my stomach yearning to eat the much-anticipated warme worsies. Finally, as I reached the counter, a woman with kind eyes stated, “Maaf (sorry), we are sold out. We only sell worsies every Wednesday and Thursday.” But before I strolled out of the butchery in disappointment, I turned around, because in my heart I knew that there was a story I needed to tell.
Today is Wednesday, and yes, I’ve returned to Adams Moslem Butcher to officially satisfy my “lussies”! Luckily, I’ve missed the morning rush, and caught the butcher at a quieter time. I enter through the single door frame, and as I step onto the little mat, I’m welcomed to glowing smiles and that distinct butchery aroma. There are two people in the queue in front of me, and as I wait, I imbibe my surroundings. Finally, after not that much waiting time, I edge forward, and Boeta Ashraf Johaadien stands ready to take my order from behind the counter. Instantly, he remembers my face (from the other day), and he returns peace and salutations upon me. But, as I mentioned, I haven’t come back to Adams Moslem Butcher merely for worsies – there is a story that I need to hear before I can place my order. I need to know more about Abassie and his famous warme worsies!
“‘Waar is Abassie? Waar is Abassie? (Where is Abassie? Where is Abassie?)’ is the first thing newcomers want to know,” relays Boeta Ashraf Johaadien, the current head of the butchery, with a slight giggle. No! Boeta Ashraf is not Abassie, a common misconception. Instead, he explains that Abass Adams, rahmatullah alay (God have mercy upon him), was actually his maternal grandfather.
“When new customers come in, just like yourself, it is actually because the parents or grandparents would say, ‘Gaan maar Abassies toe (Go rather to Abassie’s (butchery)).’ Of course, when they first arrive, they don’t know that Abassie actually passed away many years ago.”
Boeta Ashraf then further reveals that his grandfather, Abass Adams, was originally from India. After he settled in Cape Town many, many years ago, he opened a butchery in Hanover Street, District Six.
“Abassie’s surname was originally Dansay, and his father was Adam Dansay. When he came to Cape Town, they changed his surname and he became Abass Adams,” continues Boeta Ashraf, as he recollects his memories of his late grandfather. “Also, Abassie originally spoke Urdu. Would you believe it if I said that he didn’t write or read in English or Afrikaans, but he could write words like ‘chops’, ‘mince’ and ‘meat’?” asks Boeta Ashraf, as he points to the different meat items on display. Eventually, as he stops at the sausages, he comically adds, “When customers ask to buy our boerewors (a popular type of South African-styled sausage), ek sal somtye nonsens praat en sê dat ons het net Slamse wors (I will sometimes joke and say that we only have Muslim (ie halaal) sausage)!” We simultaneously laugh at this comment. Hey, I love being around funny people!
Although Boeta Ashraf has been working in the Walmer Estate Adams Moslem Butcher franchise since 1991 – which accumulates to approximately 32 years now – he takes me back to the good ol’ days, and he starts to reminisce about his childhood.
“Ek is amper sestig jare in dié besagheid (I have been in this business for almost 60 years). As children, back in those years, we had to go work over our weekends and holidays. At first, I had to work outside. Ek het al die skaapkoppe skoon gemaak (I had to clean all the sheep’s heads) –” Boeta Ashraf pauses to think, and after a moment, his piercing chartreuse eyes light up, before he continues, “en al die pens en pootjies (and (I had to clean) all the tripe and trotters)! At that time, it was about five cents an ox trotter; now, it’s a delicacy,” he comments, with his laughter filling the space between us. “I actually enjoyed myself back then. Then, when I became older, I could move inside to mix the meat. Daai tyd het hulle gesê dat jy moet met die oeg steel (back then, they would say that you must rob (and learn) with the eye). So, I would watch how everything was done. Sometimes, when the guys would get tired or go on a break, I would just go and try my luck with the meat and the machines. Finally, when I was maybe about 17 years old, I could work at the front of the butchery.”
I’ve been learning that the older we become, the more we lose our idealistic view of the world, and the same goes for Boeta Ashraf. Sadly, his childhood memories are interrupted with the damages caused by the apartheid government.
“With the introduction of the Group Areas Act, the District Six branch of Adams Moslem Butcher had to close down. Abassie did manage to open other butcheries in Surrey Estate, one near Strand, in Manenberg and in the town centre (which still operates).”
We stop our conversation for a moment, realising that too much time has passed, and we have actually forgotten about the worsies! Boeta Ashraf asks me for my order, and I kindly ask for R100’s worth. The order is written down on a piece of paper and passed to Aqeelah Johaadien, Boeta Ashraf’s daughter. As I await my order at Aqeelah’s till, Boeta Ashraf steps out from behind the counter to hand me the worsies wrapped in a white sheet. I ask him to explain to me, and most importantly to you, my dear reader, what exactly a worsie or penny polony is – without giving away the secret recipe, of course!
“A worsie is almost like a sausage, but our worsies are already cooked. Meat is, of course, stuffed into a casing. With sausages, we use sheep casings, but with our worsies we use ox casings. Of course, we put dye in the pot to give it the red colour. In other words, a worsie is almost like a vienna, but thicker and with more meat inside.”
There must be something extra special about Abassie’s warme worsies that has made it so popular and sustainable after all these years – the writer in me is dying to know the secret ingredient of Adams Moslem Butcher. Again, without revealing any secrets, Boeta Ashraf instead provides me with a valuable life lesson that he heard from the well-known Abassie himself: “You can rather charge a man a rand more, but don’t ever give him stuff you wouldn’t eat yourself.”
Boeta Ashraf jokingly admits that it is because of age that he cannot remember all Abassie’s exact words of wisdom, but he reveals another valuable life lesson.
“He had this saying printed out – something about, ‘You can work eight hours a day for the boss with no worries; once you become a boss, you work 24 hours with all the worries.’ I can still picture it.”
He laughs. Before Boeta Ashraf and I depart, he stops at the entrance of the butchery with his left hand on the side of the door, and I ask him if he has any final words to share with you, dear reader.
“It’s important for the readers to know that if they can’t make it to Adams Moslem Butcher here in Walmer Estate, they must kanallah (please) support my cousin, Anwar Adams, at the Manenberg branch of Adams Moslem Butcher, or my other cousin, his elder brother, Sameer Adams, in the Mitchells Plain town centre – both continuing the legacy of Abassie and his warme worsies.”
After much anticipation, I return home with a fat parcel of Abassie’s warme worsies. With much excitement, my mother receives the worsies as she prepares the table – the same way her Oemie (grandmother) once did.
“I remember clearly how in the ’60s, when I was a child, each Friday one person had to go buy Abassie’s worsies for all our surrounding neighbours in the flats here in the Bo-Kaap. The worsies used to cost a penny, but in those years, we didn’t refer to the English currency by its proper names; locally, we called a penny ‘’n ôlap’, or in suiwer (pure) Afrikaans they would say ‘’n oulap’. I believe that’s where the name ôlapworsies derived from,” relays my mother, Abieda Soeker, as she looms over our kitchen table.
“The moment the neighbour would deliver the piping hot ôlapworsies to our home, the table would already be decorated and laid with atchar (spicy pickled vegetables), blatjang (chutney), gesmoorde uiwe en tamatie (braised onions and tomatoes) and bread, of course. Oemie would unwrap the ôlapworsies from the layers of paper – remember, the worsies would still be burning hot; and down the middle (length-wise down and not right through), Oemie would cut the worsie. Each one of us, around the table, had a choice of what we wanted to have with the worsies.” With each memory being recited from her head, my mother re-enacts Oemie Gadija’s exact actions. My mother then unwraps the white paper to ultimately and finally reveal the shining red and piping hot bliss! She gently lifts one, and slices the worsie down the middle (length-wise down and not right through), just as Oemie Gadija did, and we all, here in our home, get to choose from the various sauces.
“Every Friday, at the end of every lunch, secretly I hoped that there would be worsies left, because the next day my Ma would make gesmoorde ôlapworsie sandwiches as treats for us to eat at the Saturday matinee at the Alabama Bioscope,” my mother recounts, too caught up in memories even to eat! As she, too, finally takes a bite, she exclaims, “Abassie’s warme worsies taste the same after all these years!” She can taste her childhood.
As we savour the worsies and folktales here at our home, I silently ask the Almighty to grant Boeta Ashraf, the various Adams Butcher franchises and all their employees nothing but success, insha’allah (God-willing). And if you haven’t yet, I humbly encourage, if not coerce, you to kanallah (try) the famous Abassie se warme worsies! Oh, but don’t forget that you must go on a Wednesday or Thursday!
Visit Adams Moslem Butcher at:
41 Coronation Road
Phone/WhatsApp: 021 447 5654 or 078 552 3107