Johanne 14 by Hope Malau: a reader impression

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Title: Johanne 14
Author: Hope Malau
Publisher: Quivertree Publications
ISNB: 978-1-928209-68-3

This reader impression was written and sent to LitNet on the writer's own initiative.

I love the fact that cookbooks these days are so much more than just a collection of recipes and photos of food. They are also a celebration of the author’s life and culture.

Chef Hope Malau, the author of Johanne 14 – a cookbook that explores the secrets of simple, home-cooked meals in South African townships and provides unique insight into culinary traditions – writes:

Seeing the emotions from my gran, dad and mom when they realised that I’ve documented their lives in this book made me feel proud that I’ve done something big for them and the whole family. Let us take pride in our upbringing and heritage, and in our comfort food even when times change.

Malau, deputy food editor of Taste and former food editor for Drum, grew up in Klerksdorp in North West. He loved eating the traditional Sotho food cooked by his father, Elias Mokoena, who oversaw the kitchen of a mine hostel. After studying at the Professional Cooking Academy in Rustenburg, he gained experience at several restaurants in Cape Town. He has won the prestigious Galliova Food Writer of the Year twice.

Johanne 14, according to the book blurb on the large front flap, affords the reader a vital glimpse into South African township life; moreover, it is a celebration of culture, resilience, human spirit, community and family – through the shared meal. I was stoked to learn that in our townships the Bible verse John 14:1 or Johanne 14 (“Let not your hearts be troubled ...”) is another name for cabbage, which is a staple food. “A head of cabbage can be cooked in so many different ways; it is inexpensive and goes with anything. Hence it was dubbed “Johanne 14”: if you have cabbage, you should not let your heart be troubled.

Life in the townships during apartheid was hard, and poverty was (and still is) rife. Malau dedicates a page to explaining the South African township – then and now.

But this book isn’t about that. This book is because of that. ... The ability to make magic with very little, or modest ingredients, is entrenched in the culinary culture of South Africa’s townships. And that’s what this book is about. Like Johanne 14, it’s about simple food made with love – and its power to ease a troubled heart. (14)

In a time in South Africa when we are trying to understand each other more than ever, when we are experimenting with ideas of unity, diversity and forgiveness, while still staying true to ourselves, Johanne 14 is a quiet celebration of the things that really matter, that which lies at the heart of it all – like the perfect cabbage. (23)

Malau’s love for food all started with his father, a professional bodybuilder, who won titles including Mr Klerksdorp (1965), Mr Transvaal (1966) and Mr D&F South Africa (1969). Papa Elias was responsible for the Vaal Reefs #3 single quarters boarding and dining. As a bodybuilder, he had to eat the right kind of food. “Papa’s huge frame demanded a lot of food, and food he loved, and I loved him and all that he loved, and so I got hooked” (22). He also hails his uncle, Kabelo Mokoena, for helping him go to cooking school after matric. The precious family photos (and various others including those of the delectable and hearty dishes) depicted in Johanne 14 are a real treat to look at.

Johanne 14 consists of 196 pages and five chapters. Below, I have jotted down the chapter headings and named three recipes that can be found in each one.

“Snacks, spaaikos (‘fast food’) and uniquely township fare” – Pap with boerewors sauce, Magwinya (Vetkoek) and Mango atchar

“Big events and slow-cooked meals” – Serobe with stampa (Offal with samp and beans), Masapo with bohobe (Beef stew with pot dumplings) and Steak and kidney pie

“Vegetables and salads” – Chakalaka, Creamed spinach and Curried cabbage

“Favourite sweet things” – Trifle, Potch scones and Coconut squares

“Miscellaneous” – Mageu, Pap crust with sugar and Ginger beer

If you’re looking for a no-nonsense cookbook featuring more than 60 recipes of simple but delicious South African food (from mains to treats), look no further. My copy has a special place in my kitchen.

Get your copy of Johanne 14 here.

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