Durban masala. I was in Durban the other day, and it’s such an exciting city to be in. That’s something you don’t often hear from a Capetonian, because we are generally too blinded by the abject beauty of our glorious mountain to realise that there are other cities in this country which some believe to be at least as beautiful. It’s true, get over it.
Durban has an electric sense of something about to happen. It’s like that feeling in the air before a tropical storm breaks. You can sense it coming, Your forearms tingle. Your back tenses. Your senses sharpen. Come on, admit it: when last did you feel like that in Cape Town?
As for the comparative virtues of our respective World Cup stadiums, I reckon it’s a draw. They’re both gorgeous to look at, and they’re both white elephants, both having drawn gasps of praise from a world of soccer fans while the World Cup was on. So right now, I guess the win-win has turned into a lose-lose, and when that happens, it’s better to find a pub and drink a toast to the glory that was than to cry into our Klippies while munching soggy pretzels.
In the meantime, before you all set up a lynching committee to welcome me back home in a week or so, this is said against a backdrop of me choosing to live in “my” Cape Town with “my mountain” giving succour to my every waking moment. I almost live and breathe my home city. But this place, this warm, cloying, muggy thing they call Durban, it really is like being in another country in a way, in another kind of South Africa. And the spices, and the colours, they’re everywhere. I always find a good spice shop on any visit here, and buy all manner of exotic things, much of which I’ll never use, but you can’t just buy a few tablespoons of stuff, you have to go the whole hog, even if some of it will become a tad jaded over the months to come once you’re back home.
With all due respect to the Cape’s own varieties of masalas and other spicy concoctions, the Durban mixes have a particularly mouth-tingling excitement to them. Many Cape spice mixes have a preponderance of turmeric, also known at the Cape as borrie, which is one of the key ingredients that makes a Cape Malay curry so distinctively different from the Durban versions, which have their roots in southern Indian regions.
This is apples and pears terrain … there’s no point in arguing that one style is better than the other, they each have their virtues and appeal, and we all have our own particular palates and preferences.
But it was a couple of generous spoonfuls of a Durban masala mix that I used to make a chicken coconut curry the other night, although the resulting dish had little in common with either a Durban or a Cape Malay curry. That’s how versatile such spice concoctions can be.
Chicken coconut curry
6 chicken breast fillets, cut into 1cm slices on the diagonal
1 large onion, finely chopped
I red chilli, seeds removed and thinly sliced
Handful of mangetout peas, ends trimmed
6 spring onions, sliced on the diagonal
1 can coconut cream (NOT coconut milk)
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 star anise
2 Tbs Durban masala
Fresh coriander to garnish
Start by melting some ghee or butter in a pot and simmering fennel seeds, mustard seeds and star anise until the seeds begin to crackle, and then sauteéing a large onion, chopped finely, with crushed and chopped garlic with the crackled spices, until the onions soften.
Add a red chilli, finely sliced, the sliced spring onions, stir, and then add the coconut cream to which add two tablespoons of your Durban masala or another curry mix of your choice. Yes, Daisy, it will work just as well with a Cape Malay spice mix but will come out tasting a little different but no less delicious.
Mix well, add the chicken pieces, and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, then add the mangetout peas and let them simmer for five minues. Serve with rice or noodles, and garnish with fresh coriander leaves.
Serve it under a palm tree with a view of the Bluff, or just imagine that in your mind’s eye.