Scary stories from a lovely place
(This is the first Kwera Kwera post in a long time. Roughly ‘Kwera Kwera’ means foreigner and these posts were a way for me to understand aspects of life in Johannesburg that were particularly unique or hard to navigate.)
It’s no secret that I wasn’t very good at my job in South Africa. I struggled with many aspects, nay, every aspect. I couldn’t get the students to commit to bible study. I couldn’t get the church members to sign up for every roster I thrust under their noses. I couldn’t stop pining for home in Australia and just get on with it.
These confessions conjure some bad feelings in my soul, but this evening I’ve been productive in a way that reminds me of good feelings about South Africa. I’ve cooked dinner for 30+ people. And that’s what I nailed in South Africa. Damn, I could cook.
I cooked it all, all the time, and sometimes in vast quantities – muffins of every possible permutation (my record was 22 dozen for one event), pancakes, carrot cake, spicy chicken, leek and potato soup with boerwors (cos those South Africans love their meat), roast lamb, chakalaka, biscotti, potato salad with boiled eggs (for the protein), lasagna – the list goes on. Sometimes I cooked at home, sometimes at the church, sometimes outside at random, chilly campsites. Sometimes the quantities were spot on, other times the homeless youths of Auckland Park feasted on the excess.
But consistently, everyone loved it. That’s not to say people didn’t complain – oh they did. Like the time I cooked dinner for some students – a nice pasta dish with homemade sauce. But there was no meat in it. Or the time when I baked a leg of lamb on Easter Monday, replete with spanish onion and red wine sauce, but was chastised for not including tomato sauce on the table setting. That’s the other thing South Africans like – condiments. Condiments and meat. No matter the delicious dish I cooked, the spices I ground in my mortar and pestle and the array of flavours, the whole thing would be lathered in a marriage of tomato sauce, mayonnaise and perhaps chilli. And salt. Everything is covered in salt. Salt may be requested before a dish had even been tasted.
At first I found it rude and unnerving. But then I got used to it. I learned that South Africans take hospitality very seriously, especially when they are on the receiving end. Cooking and serving a meal is a big deal, it is a responsibility, a privilege, and so it must be done well for it to be appreciated. And I came to look past the addition of dominating salt and processed condiments, and enjoy the compliments. I was told that I would make a great wife. That I was worth 20 cows (that’s good). Or the night at church when soup was served for dinner and people jostled for a spot in the queue for my leek and potato masterpiece, while the other offerings were ignored. That felt good.
Anyway, tonight I cooked chicken and chorizo gumbo for dinner at church tomorrow night. It’s a bit of a frankensteinian recipe, but it’s smelling good and it should taste nice. It’s pretty hard to go wrong with chorizo and tomato as essential ingredients. But it is woefully short on spice. I can’t overdo it because Australians are pretty soft when it comes to heat or spiciness. I was going to mix it up a bit and make one dish a much spicier one, but I fear it wouldn’t be touched.
While it may be somewhat bland compared to what I used to cook on mass in Johannesburg, it will still be appreciated. I doubt there’ll be any passionate marriage proposals, but there will be the kindness and joy that comes from sharing good food with friends.