“What’s that buzzing sound?”, we asked each other within the first few minutes of the first football (soccer) match in World Cup action last month. Not to be outdone by any other nation in WC history, the spirit of native South Africa rang through vuvuzelas – the long plastic instrument evocative of kudu horns used by tribal leaders to announce meetings. The unmistakable droning sound led me to believe that a plague was imminent and the stadium was about to be attacked by a swarm of bees!
Congratulations to the country of my childhood for setting the standard for other African nations. The South African team of Bafana Bafana (“the boys” in Zulu) captivated the world by showing that they can compete on the world stage. Troubling issues in the shadows of the state-of-the-art stadiums temporarily took a back seat as the world watched the biggest event in sporting history unfold for an entire month. Who can forget Landon Donovan’s winning goal against Algeria, the drama behind Ghana’s painful loss to Uruguay in penalty kicks, and Puyol’s header that took Spain to the finals?
Sadly off-the-scale ticket prices made it impossible for many locals to attend. Horrendous refereeing – particularly during USA vs. Slovenia - and the unpredictable Jabulani ball revealed the pros and cons of technology. An extraordinary octopus named Paul predicted the outcome of all of Germany’s games and in the end favored team Spain walked off with the gold-plated trophy.
It was an interesting month for me because I had a connection to several participating countries: Serbia because it is my birthplace; USA because I am now a proud citizen; and South Africa because it provided my immigrant parents the freedom to succeed and therefore offered us kids a wonderful childhood. I spent 16 of my formative years in South Africa, oblivious of the racial tension that would erupt after our emigration.
My beautiful mother, Emilija with me (in the back) and my brother and sister, Božidar and Vesna on Durban beach
Because we rarely ‘ate out’ back then, we experienced new foods during family trips. During our holidays in Durban, we stayed at the Killarney Hotel where there was a curry dish on the menu every day. We fell in love with Indian food and were mesmerized by the brilliant spices at the Victoria Street Market. We also enjoyed Bobotie, a definitive South African dish which is believed to have originated with the Cape Malay slaves. Settlers, beginning with the Portuguese and followed by the Dutch, French, English and Indians, brought spices from their homelands and incorporated them into the local fare. The Dutch East India Company managed trade between Europe and the Far East and brought many slaves to the Cape Province from Malaysia and Indonesia. The addition of sweet components to meat dishes is common with the Malay. In Bobotie (hear bobotie pronounciation) the egg custard sets the spicy, sweet meat, crunchy almonds and plump golden raisins. It is typically finished with fresh sliced banana, grated coconut and eaten with chutney and yellow rice (plain basmati below).
Bobotie adapted from African Cooking by Laurens van der Post
1 slice wheat bread, broken into small pieces
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 pounds coarsely ground lamb, beef or a combination of both
1½ cups finely chopped onions
2 tablespoons curry powder
1/2 - 1 teaspoon spicy masala (I used a home made masala brought to me from India by a friend)
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 medium-sized tart apple, peeled, cored and finely grated
½ cup golden raisins
¼ cup almonds, coarsely chopped
4 small fresh lemon, orange, or bay leaves
To finish: grated coconut, freshly sliced banana, chutney and basmati rice
Preheat the oven to 300º F. Combine the bread and milk in a small bowl and let the bread soak for at least 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a heavy 10- to 12-inch saucepan, melt the butter over moderate heat. When hot, add the ground meat and cook it, stirring constantly while breaking the meat up until the meat is completely cooked. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat into a deep bowl.
Discard all but about 2 tablespoons of fat from the saucepan and add the onions. Stirring frequently, cook for about 5 minutes until the onions are soft and translucent but not brown. Add the curry powder, masala, sugar, salt and pepper, and stir for 1 or 2 minutes. Then stir in the lemon juice and bring to a boil over high heat. Pour the entire mixture on the meat.
Using your hands, squeeze the bread until the milk runs dry. Reserve the drained milk. Add the bread, 1 of the eggs, the apple, raisins, and almonds to the meat mixture. Mix with both hands until the ingredients are well combined. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, curry or masala if desired. Transfer the meat mixture loosely into a 3-quart oven-proof dish and smooth the top with a spatula. Tuck the lemon, orange or bay leaves beneath the surface of the meat.
With a wire whisk or rotary beater, beat the remaining 2 eggs with the reserved milk for about 1 minute or until they are frothy. Slowly pour the mixture over the meat. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the custard is set and the top is light golden brown.
Lemon leaves are tucked into the meat and the custard is poured over the mixture and baked
Serve hot with yellow rice, fresh banana slices, grated coconut and chutney of your choice