Despite the digital takeover on most fronts, an actual real-life cook book still ranks as top loot. The default choice for most time-poor present buyers, is the sure bet – the international rock-star chefs and restaurants. But here are my suggestions: a bunch of local books all written by our own food-universe rock-stars.
1. HUNGER FOR FREEDOM – THE STORY OF FOOD IN THE LIFE OF NELSON MANDELA (Jacana, R250)
Hunger for Freedom – The Story of Food in the Life of Nelson Mandela, by anthropologist food writer Anna Trapido, is a book that should reside in every home. I say home rather than kitchen, because while it’s a recipe book, there’s more story than recipe between the covers.
Examining Madiba’s life through food – from the traditional dishes of his rural childhood to the menu at his presidential inauguration – the book provides unique insights, in a way which few other, more narrowly political or formal autobiographies ever could.
We learn, among other things, of the monotony and nutritional insufficiency of the Robben Island diet, which gave prisoners bleeding gums, (a vegetable garden was later established), and the bizarrely petty racialization of food on the island prison. As just one example, ‘Bantu’ prisoners were allowed one teaspoon of sugar in their porridge, while Coloured and Indian prisoners were allowed two.
Recipes for Madiba’s favourite dishes, such as Graca Machel’s Caranguejo Recheado (stuffed crab), will get you and your book into the kitchen. Hunger for Freedom is a glorious and important work.
2. STAR FISH (Quivertree, R385)
Star Fish by Cape based journalist Daisy Jones, is another book which should be in every kitchen, now even more than when it came out in 2014. Daisy’s aim with Star Fish? To get everyone on the move towards a sustainable seafood diet.
There are detailed explorations of the problems and possible solutions around the issue, and recipes for the top 10 local ‘green’ species. While going green can often feel like punishment, Daisy has the wonderful knack – which infuses both her densely informative but often funny stories and her luscious recipes – of turning the project into a delight.
From yellowtail escabeche to masala hake, it’s a happy and delicious journey, which will allow you to leave your old life of prawn cocktails and salmon sashimi far behind.
3. DIJO (Jacana, R345)
With Dijo, well known Sowetan-born chef Lesego Semenya shares his journey from the corporate world to the cheffing one with honesty, humour and charm.
His cuisine – a fusion of township tradition and French fine dining, which reflects both his growing-up years and later, his food education at Prue Leith – is nicely uncomplicated, and feels very personal.
I’ve only tried his chakalaka and his guava granita so far, but both were stupendous.
4. JOHANNE 14 (Quivertree, R278)
Johanne 14 is the ultra-cool baby of ultra-cool food writer and chef, Hope Malau, whose roots are in the North West Province.
There are other books which celebrate South African township food, (though of course that’s a generalised description for cuisine that’s very different depending on whether you’re in Khayelitsha or Tembisa), but this one is especially seductive.
Hope’s stories behind the recipes add context and richness that only his beef stew with pot dumplings can equal, and Craig Fraser’s food photos are so beautiful that even Johanne 14 (aka cabbage) looks quite bewitching.
5. THE SOUTH AFRICAN MILKTART COLLECTION (Human & Roussow, R258)
It may seem niche and even a little daft, but The South African Milktart Collection, (yes, a whole book of the milky little buggers!), is a seriously lekker book for any geek-level baking fan.
And sibling authors Callie Maritz and Mari-Lois Guy are famously gifted bakers, so you can relax: from classic milktart recipes to deliriously off-piste versions, they’re all going to work out brilliantly.