Caribbean cuisine in the Cape

Posted by Christi Nortier on 1 October 2019

Chef Mala Bryan is recreating the taste of the tropics in the Mother City.

Books, Creole seasonings and an aluminium pot have been weighing down Mala Bryan’s suitcase for the past 16 years. Wherever her modelling career took her, from Israel to Belgium, she used these items from her home island of St Lucia to turn local ingredients into a Caribbean feast. Roommates used to tease her, but they’d still tuck in.

Botanik Social House, Cape Town. Image: Christi Nortier.

Visiting Cape Town for shoots, she fell in love with the city, so this is where she chose to open her first restaurant. Kwéyòl, the St Lucian word for ‘creole’ – a tribute to the culture of her grandparents – is in the courtyard of a heritage building in the CBD. It’s been transformed into a tropical oasis of riotous colour, dizzying patterns and reggae beats floating through fronds of palms and lilies. On the menu is the food from home Mala longs for, including her papa’s peanut punch and superb rum-and-raisin ice cream.

She started cooking at age seven with her grandmother, and later helped her cook grilled chicken on busy street corners or at concerts. ‘St Lucian street food is our home-cooked food, served on a takeaway plate,’ she smiles. ‘That’s how I started and it stayed with me.’

Mala was never actually taught how to cook. ‘I had to observe and figure it out on my own. I learnt to use my senses and intuition, not a recipe. I thought everyone could do this, so I didn’t take this talent very seriously.’ It wasn’t until a few years ago that she realised it could be a career.

The cuisines of the different Caribbean islands do overlap, yet each has its own cooking style and signature dishes. Mala sees brown stews and saltfish with boiled green bananas as the hallmark of St Lucian cuisine, while Trinidad does mean curries and Jamaica will always have its iconic jerk chicken.

Kwéyòl’s menu includes the ‘national dish’ of saltfish and green bananas, the typical Sunday lunch of stewed lamb neck and Creole rice and, yes, that roadside snack of grilled chicken wings and fried bread. 

She’s made and served these dishes all over the world – St Lucia, Europe and now at the southern tip of Africa – but her trusty pot and homemade seasonings are still the same. Guests from the Caribbean have told her that eating Kwéyòl’s food makes them feel at home. There can be no higher praise.

Botanik Social House, 54 Queen Victoria Street, Cape Town, 0214245306

Also read: Do chefs cook on holiday?

Chef Mala Bryan of Botanik Social House. Image: Christi Nortier.

Mala’s best of St Lucia

St Lucia has great adventures. You can swim in the sulphur springs of the world’s only drive-in volcano, climb Gros Piton (a World Heritage Site) and see the rare whiptail lizard and racer snake on Maria Island.

My favourite weekend meal is at Rosemadin’s Place in Mon Repos. It serves grilled chicken, dhalpouri and a secret tomato sauce.

Don’t overlook the street-food vendors. Everyone has their favourite, so ‘stall-hop’ like the locals do. You’ll find anything from conch to grilled chicken.

There are street festivals every week – the Gros Islet Street Party and Anse la Raye Fish Fry on Friday nights; the Dennery Seafood Fiesta on Saturday nights.

Although St Lucians adore reggae, calypso and soca, they also enjoy country and western music. Try the Limelight in Micoud.

Creole Heritage Month in October sees a host of events, from music to food. It culminates on the weekend of 27 October with festivities around the island.
The St Lucia Jazz Festival, usually in May, has an international programme at venues all over the island.

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