The History of Boerekos 1652 – 1806
In 1652 a European food culture was brought to the Cape of Good Hope when the Dutch established a revictualing station there. Recipes for soup. fish, meat, eggs, vegetables, fruit, grain products and drinks as well as spices used by this community, were researched. The main contributors of our ‘boerekos’ were the Dutch, German and French speaking people. These cultures had strong roots in Roman, Persian and Arabian cookery. It was believed that the slaves brought to the Cape from Eastern countries brought the art of cooking with spice and certain dishes, such as bobotie to the Cape. It has been proven that these poor people in these eastern countries did not use any spices other than chilli, ginger and turmeric in their cooking. The slaves brought no culinary expertise to the Cape, on the contrary, it was in the kitchens of the Cape that they learned to use spices in cooking.
Many of our local-known dishes were adapted by adding local ingredients and, by using adapted cooking methods, culminated in a new unique cooking tradition – boerekos.
The greatest influence was the spices from the East. What started as a ‘refreshment post’ in the mid 1600’s became a more established colony, as trading posts sprouted, orchards and vineyards planted and, with the sea route to Java via the Cape, many dishes were reinvented to include spices such as cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, eventually evolving into dishes such as bredie, bobotie, melktert, sosaties and melkpoeding.
Spices for trading were a very lucrative cargo, and the Cape of Good Hope, a trading post for the long journey to Europe. Spices were an exotic commodity fetching incredible prices in European markets. People would give spices as gifts. A peppercorn as a gift gave way to the expression ‘peperduur’ (as dear as pepper) and can be traced back to the bygone days of exorbitant prices for spices.
The Cape was the halfway mark for ships on their way back to Europe. Whilst getting fresh supplies often meant that some of the spices they carried would be trading for supplies before embarking on the journey home. In South Africa some of our well known dish were born using these spices. Bobotie and melktert would not exist without these spices.
The Dutch settlers and the boerekos tradition can be infinitely thankful to their Indonesian ancestors. They offered a sense of adventure when cooking using these delicious spices.