Dynamite comes in small packages, especially when it comes to Hallelujah. Its tiny interior is a welcoming surprise, bursting with pink flamingo wallpaper and quirky decor. It's all about small bursts of flavour, too, on the Asian Pacific-style menu that should ideally be shared.
This is not only the philosophy of chef Emma Hofmans, who grew up in Switzerland in a family that considered daily gatherings around food of the utmost importance. It's also a growing trend in restaurants, catering for a new generation of consumers seeking exciting new flavours and shared experiences to Tweet about. Emma worked at The Greenhouse at Cellars-Hohenort and The Pot Luck Club before joining Hallelujah just over two years ago.
Your earliest memories of food? My family has always been very food orientated. Family dinners every night, breakfast with my parents and birthdays were a big thing. There were always discussions about food: “What are we going to eat tonight or where are we going to go?” My mom was a great cook, so she taught me a lot — my grandmother, too. Being Swiss, there was a lot of cheese and fondues, of course. That's probably one of the first things I can picture: my family and I eating and sitting around the table with a cheese fondue.
How has this influenced your style of cooking? It's quite difficult to say that what I'm doing now comes from my background. I've travelled around a lot because of my father's job. My mother is South African, my father is Dutch and I was born and raised in Switzerland. I came to South Africa on holiday to visit my grandparents and we had bobotie, braais and all that very South African food. Through my own travels, I've developed a very big interest in Asian cuisine. When I'm cooking at home, that is often the direction I go in, but I've never had any proper Asian training. I like the sharing style of dining. When we'd go out for dinner as a family, we'd always pass forks of food around the table so everyone could taste each other's food. At Hallelujah, you can order more food and try more of the chef's creations. If you come with three to six people, you can try everything on the menu. I see more restaurants are trying that, bringing in interesting, new flavours and showcasing their chefs' talents in an accessible way.
What's on the menu? My newest dish is a beef rice bowl, which is a play on Korean bibimbap — braised beef with a boiled egg, some kimchi, cabbage and such. We have prawns or pork with the steamed buns. The lobster roll is probably one of our most popular. Our braised duck is served in a taco with a nut-style hummus — blended almonds and fresh orange — and salad. And then I've got a pok. dish, which is what I'm making for you.
What is a poké? A traditional Hawaiian-style ceviche. We plate it with braised octopus. The one half is fresh angelfish with salt, lemon juice and a fresh coconut salsa. The octopus is in a wasabi-jalape.o pickle and then braised. It's served on a bed of noodles and with a fresh salad with some peanuts on top — a lovely summer dish.
SURF AND REEF POKÉ
300g fresh angelfish
Maldon salt, to taste
Fresh limes, to squeeze
1 cup fresh coconut, grated
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
Slice angelfish thinly, sprinkle with salt and squeeze fresh lime juice over it.
Mix coconut, fish sauce, lime juice and chopped coriander together.
Serve coconut salsa sprinkled over angelfish. Coconut salsa can be prepared a day before. Lime and salt should be added to fish when ready to serve. Plate with pickled octopus and noodles.
250g soba noodles
Olive oil, for dressing and frying
Lemon, for dressing
1kg octopus tentacles, headless
½ white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3cm ginger, chopped
1 tsp coriander seeds
80ml white sugar
80ml rice wine vinegar
4 green jalapeños, peeled, deseeded, chopped and charred
2 tsp wasabi powder
Salt, to taste
½ cup peanuts, crushed
2 red chillis, chopped
3 spring onions, thinly sliced
Small handful of fresh coriander
Cook soba noodles to packet instructions, cool and dress lightly in olive oil and lemon juice.
Preheat oven to 140°C. Submerge octopus tentacles in lightly salted, rapidly boiling water for 30 seconds.
Remove and place in a small ice bath. Put on a tray, cover with foil and steam in the oven for one to two hours until tender. Strip off outer membrane, allow to cool and slice into rings.
To make the pickle, heat some oil in a saucepan, add onion, garlic, ginger and coriander seeds (wrap the coriander seeds in a small muslin cloth or kimcloth — this makes them easier to remove after making the pickle). Once ingredients are soft and cooked through, add sugar, vinegar and water. Bring to the boil and reduce by half until the mixture is thickened.
Add jalapeños, wasabi powder and seasoning. Allow to cool and add octopus.
Serve the pickled octopus over cold soba noodles topped with peanuts, chilli, spring onion and coriander.
This is an extract from ‘Cooked in South Africa’, an initiative of Wish Upon A Star, a non-profit fund-raising charity (Reg. No 2013/038478/08). Cooked in South Africa is about memories and journeys around food and will be on sale in leading bookstores from mid-November with all profits from the sales going to children living with disability. Photographs courtesy of Felix Seuffert and Cooked in South Africa.