If we are what we eat, the 100+Flavours digital report is a downloadable statement of South Africa’s epicurean identity. Published by Cape Town design agency Studio H, 100+Flavours serves up some of our nation’s iconic ingredients, recipes, cooking methods and tastes. It is the result of extensive research into, consultation on and consumption of our nation’s diverse edible and quaffable landscape.
Studio H is best known for publishing annual food trend reports but as founder and creative director Hannerie Visser (the eponymous H) observes: “Through our ongoing consultation work and curation of projects over the years – mostly for food brands – we have identified an urgent need for comprehensive, accurate archiving of South African knowledge. 100+ Flavours is the first in a series of reports that will be published on this educational but accessible and entertaining platform.”
Created in collaboration with food anthropologist and Prue Leith Alumna, Dr Anna Trapido, the digital document follows on from the 100 Flavours installation, that ran at the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town in 2021. The display items from the aforementioned interactive exhibition have been photographed and catalogued. Across cultures, ancient and modern, urban and rural, health-promoting and junk food, indigenous, heritage, landrace and fusion foods are offered in alphabetical order from Cape Malay akhni to Tsonga xigugu. Whether you want NikNaks, dried nartjie peel, mother-in-law masala or tee ya thaba there is a flavour for every occasion.
There are also explorations of regional and cultural variations on shared themes. Vetkoek meets magwinya, tšhotlo fuses with fynvleis, and bunny chows embrace their shared traits and history with kota and spathlos. Every regional and ethnic incarnation of ginger beer is savoured.
The report does not shy away from the negative aspects of our food context. How colonialism, apartheid, poverty and dispossession have impacted who consumes what, where and how often in South Africa are described. The removal of the coloured franchise in 1936 and the betrayal of promises made by JBM Hertzog (Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa from 1924 to 1939) are baked into the Cape’s classic brown and pink twee gevreetjie (hypocrite) Hertzoggie biscuits.
The ecological impact of indigenous and exotic edible species is explored. Water-wise, climate change-resilient ancient grains are well represented as are environmentally-friendly edible insects. From madzhulu termites and mopane worms (actually caterpillars), to tsie crickets and thungolifha stinkbugs there is an alternative protein source to suit every occasion.
South Africans adore food puns and jokes. So, if you ever wondered why Potchefstroom Soweto-style scones are so called (because Bara hospital is on the old Potch road and these biscuits are served at funerals – you join the dots) or why the suburb with the first RDP houses in Duduza township became known as ‘eMaskopasini’ – the place where the houses look like skopas’ this report is for you.
“The aim of the report is not to draw up a definitive list of all foods for all times and all peoples, that is not possible because food culture is not static and taste is so personal – but rather to stimulate debate and whet appetites for ongoing investigation. We hope the report is a tool to think with – something that will cause others to identify their own must-have South African flavours,” says Dr Anna Trapido.
This report will be extremely valuable to various members of the food and culture industries, but perhaps most so to chefs who are increasingly exploring their backyards for inspiration and do not have the time or skills to do such extensive research.
The alphabetic approach is refreshing as it extends beyond the divisional rainbow nation approach which boxes local food cultures. Instead, it offers a colourful flavour report reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock painting – where hardbody chicken and Herzoggies sit comfortably next to each other as do konfyt and kota.
To celebrate the launch of the report, Studio H hosted a fantastical wonderland-style feast. Emerald green stuffed parrots sat atop mountains of skopas (multicoloured popcorn), Christmas trees of NikNaks were decorated with sour fig garlands, giant beaded Chappies cubes served as stools and Kliptinis (the Soweto Hotel’s signature ginger beer and vodka cocktail) were paired with umngqusho and sosaties. The street-facing office window (at Tiny Empire, 37 Buitenkant Street, District Six) was lit up with rolling screens featuring foods from the report. The latter will remain, 24 hours a day, for the next month so that pedestrians can stop and stare at twirling displays of jodetert, jaffles, umvubo and baobabs. Coils of boerewors wind around Gatsby sandwiches laden with slap tjips and then spiral off into Durban-style masala sprinkled pineapples, koeksisters or splashes of amasi, boegoebrandewyn and umqombothi.
The 100+ Flavours report can be purchased and downloaded from https://www.studio-h.co.za/100-flavours