Food anthropologist Anna Trapido talks to Hilary Biller about the ingredients that make up South Africa’s food heritage in her new publication ‘100+ Flavours’




Arena Holdings PTY


F & D

You’re a food anthropologist, chef and cookbook author. What inspired your career choice? How does the combination work together, and is there a part you enjoy more? I fell into what I do. It’s a jumble of the things I am trained to do. I have academic qualifications in social and biological anthropology and epidemiology. I also studied at the Prue Leith Culinary Institute and my dad was an historian, so I have that influence too. All of these disciplines macerate in my brain and what comes out is a person who likes to look into pots and ask: If we are what we eat/cook/farm/share, who are we? Who were we? And who are we becoming? And then I like to help the cook to make supper. In your work you have highlighted many of South Africa’s humbler ingredients. What inspires you to sniff them out and how do you do it? Good cooking knows no class, race or geographical location. Some people can do it and others can’t. I am equal opportunity greedy. Good cooking makes me happy so I look out for it. Most of the things I “highlighted” were known to most South Africans already. Maybe they weren’t known to the sort of people who read food magazines. For instance, I put xigugu (Tsonga peanut and maize melange) into a media space but it was always on sale at taxi ranks. Your report, ‘100+ Flavours’, comes after the exhibition at Makers Landing at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. The site is significant to South Africa’s food history. Please share more details. The site falls within the area that Khoi people referred to as Camissa (which roughly translates as “sweet drinking waters”). Long before 1652, Khoi communities were trading from the banks of the main Camissa river on the shore of Table Bay with passing Dutch, Portuguese and British ships. Fresh water, meat, fruit, vegetables and even postal services (letters could be left and passed on) were traded. The project was a huge undertaking. How long did it take to put together? Hannerie Visser, founder and creative director of Studio H, came up with the concept for the report. The studio managed the production and publishing, including the food styling, photography, videography, design and editing. I did the research and writing. Collecting all the ingredients was a joint effort made possible by working with communities all over the country. Writing up and collecting the food items for display and photographs was hard work but happened relatively quickly (about five months). Consultation with stakeholders as to what should be put into the exhibition took about 18 months. Even with the extensive consultation we were always aware that the document could only ever be a taster of all the deliciousness in South Africa. It is intended as a tool rather than a definitive statement. What is Studio H? What work do they do? Studio H is a culinary-minded design studio that mainly works with food and drinks brands, designing creative strategies through trend forecasting, product development and sensory design. In addition, Studio H founded FOOD XX Africa, a support network with annual awards for women in food. Hannerie is also the founding lead curator and tenant mentor at Makers Landing, the V&A Waterfront’s Food Incubator. In compiling a list of 100 ingredients there must have been some you had to leave out? We ended up with more than 100 entries (131 to be exact) because there were so many delicious things. Even with that overflow, there were lots more. It helps to say it was a tool inspiring others to add on and make their own lists. Tell us about three ingredients you love from the 100+ Flavours project. I genuinely like everything in the “100+ Flavours” report but if I had to pick my three favourites, I would say marula nuts, thungulifha (edible stinkbugs) and xigugu. But if you ask me tomorrow, I will say three different things. I am very partial to NikNaks. You wrote the best-selling publication ‘Hunger For Freedom: The Story of Food in the Life of Nelson Mandela’. Can you share three indigenous foods Mandela considered his favourites. Madiba’s favourite tastes were rooted in his Eastern Cape childhood. A lot of the things he loved most involved maize — which comes from the Americas and isn’t indigenous but has been in South Africa for so long that it is part of the culinary heritage. He loved umvubo (amasi and crumbly pap). He liked umhluzi gravy to be served in a little mug with his umleqwa (hard body) chicken. He adored Durban-style curries — which, like maize, originated somewhere else but evolved into something uniquely South African. You say that for too long certain local foods have hogged the limelight and keep popping up as the definition of South Africa’s heritage foods. What are they? We all love boerewors and biltong and malva pudding, so it isn’t about excluding those — it is just about making more room on the table for other recipes and ingredients. How can this resource become widely accessible? Our pricing system has different tiers, ranging from individuals to large companies. We have previously sponsored reports for tertiary institutions on evaluation and are open to continuing this. For copies of ‘100+ Flavours’, visit www.studio-h.co.za