written by my Mum – Val van Wyk nee Ferreira
Just as the Malay influence in South African cuisine has its roots in the colonial history, 1860 saw the first indentured laborer shipped from Madras and Calcutta in India to the Colony of Natal on the east coast of South Africa. They worked on the railways and in the sugar cane plantations , along the way their flavors and spices became part of the culinary history of Natal. Mahatma Gandhi’s political career was to begin here, after unceremoniously being dumped off a train for having the temerity to buy a First Class Ticket. He was responsible for the organisation of the Indian Independence Movement to fight for the civil rights of the Indian people against the British Rule at the time. By 1904 it was interesting to note there were more Indians than Europeans living in Natal. Today Durban is known for being the city with the biggest Indian population outside of India.
In 1943 during the Second World War, my parents Henry and Nel Ferreira (Leanne and Pierre’s Grandparents) took over the management of the old St Lucia Hotel – a well known fishing spot on the Natal coast line. In those days it was remote outpost situated on the banks of the estuary, a wild place filled with wonderful adventure’s for a mischievous and fun loving child like me! From the observant Zulu people I would earn the nickname “izinambuzane” which means flea, a compliment for being a busy child who could never sit still. The coastal forests and eerie mangrove swamps were alive with giant crabs and butterflies , chattering, cheeky monkeys and a multitude of wild bird species , while the estuary in front of the hotel was home to large Crocodiles and chortling Hippos that cavorted in the muddy waters day and night. My Mum loved to work with the three Indian cooks in the hotel kitchen and they taught her various recipes, spicy crab curry , smokey lentil dahl, butter chicken , naan bread and wonderful vegetarian dishes that were the staple of our mealtimes. To this day my sister Jackie has remained a vegetarian – influenced by these early days of our life.
I looked forward to older my sisters Jackie and Lorraine returning home from boarding school , in the school holidays, we would spend hot , humid summer days swimming in the St Lucia Estuary in make shift pools made with branches from the Buffalo thorn tree, this kept us in….. and the crocodiles out! We were looked after by giant Zulu guardian Mbedjane who never let us out of his sight. Once a month we would take off on a shopping trip to the trading post of Matubtuba for supplies – this involved crossing the estuary on an old pontoon with a team of singing , Zulu paddlers. On one such occasion we were half way across the estuary and realized our much loved little wired haired terrier …. Dago had decided to follow us, we looked back to find him swimming with all his heart across the strong estuary currents to get to us. He made it safely to our pontoon, with out being taken by a crocodile and we were all very relieved. Game drives and picnics into the near by Hluhluwe Game Reserve in Dad’s Ford Chevrolet were a real family treat, with Jackie, Lorraine, Peter and I all perched in the dickie seat. On one occasion , a white Rhino , took offense to our noisy car as we rounded a corner and charged us, just missing the back of the open vehicle. Little was I to know I would have many more Rhino experiences in my life time.
Our close family friends were a local Indian family…… We grew up on warm comforting spiced chai tea listening to enchanting stories of life in Northern India . I would like to share with you Namaha’s Chicken Curry recipe which she taught us all to cook. It has been my lifelong dream to visit India.