India has fascinated people for centuries. But despite global connectedness, the country and culture is still somewhat of a mystery to most of us. Indian food, on the other hand, has become a favourite around the world. But do you know if you’re getting the real deal, when going out in Cape Town, or do you know how to cook authentic Indian dishes?
If you are like us and love Indian food, here’s a little secret for you: Her name is Gautami Seksaria and she will take you on a culinary journey through India’s kitchens and show you true Indian hospitality. Gautami moved with her family from Bombay to Cape Town five years ago. She is a passionate cook who decided to share her knowledge and love with others by hosting culinary classes in Cape Town and Third Best Exotic Marigold Weekends in Tulbagh – a perfect getaway weekend for anyone who wants to learn how to cook Indian food, experience some real Indian culture and just unwind and take a break from their busy city lives.
We were one of the first ones to experience such a weekend and we loved every minute of it. Apart from having been spoilt rotten with delicious food, we learnt how to cook, wore saris, danced to Bollywood music, learnt interesting bits and pieces about the Indian culture and did some walks in nature and yoga. And Gautami is not only an excellent cook, she also takes hospitality to a whole new level. We arrived as strangers, but she quickly made us feel like part of the family.
On Friday afternoon, we took a leisurely 2-hour drive from Cape Town to Tulbagh, a quaint, little Cape Dutch town in the lesser known corner of the Cape Winelands. As we arrived at the Guinevere Guesthouse on a farm just outside Tulbagh, Gautami and her family who she had brought along for the first weekend welcomed us with opens arms and her husband showed us to our rooms – spacious rooms with king-size beds, a luxurious bath tub and a stunning view of the surrounding farmland and mountains.
Once the other guests had arrived – an American couple and a French girl all from Cape Town – we all socialised with a glass of wine in our hands in the communal area. Later the girls bonded even more as Gautami wrapped us in beautiful saris. Putting one on is actually not that difficult (with a bit of practice) – wearing and not losing it, on the other hand, is a skill on another level (don’t go to the loo unless you have a Gautami to help you later!!). As we got back, the guys were already sitting with a turban donned on their heads around the warm fireplace. Gautami plans to give her guests some henna tattoos in the future too, and if you feel up for it, you can hit the dance floor to some Bollywood music. We were smashed from a busy week and opted for the less involved chilling in front of the fireplace. This was perfect for getting to know each other.
Then the long awaited moment arrived – dinner was served. We got treated to street food Bombayia style; something you won’t find in Cape Town anywhere but at The Third Best Exotic Marigold Weekend. We stood around the kitchen table and were served small portions of various street food morsels. It started with fried Puri bread that Gautami cracked open like a crème brûlée and filled with vegetables, spices and then topped up with a spicy bouillon. In true Bombay custom, Gautami served us one at a time and it crushed delightfully between your gums. Our master chef had also prepared other types of crunchy bread we ate with a divine medley of vegetables, spices and coriander. Then we were treated to deep fried onions. Anna’s personal favourite of the evening and the kind of food you keep having another helping of in spite of your conscious telling you otherwise. All this goodness was washed down with some beautiful South African wine Gautami’s husband generously kept on pouring, much to Alex’s downfall who isn’t used to drinking. Our tummies filled with warmth and happiness, we chatted sitting by the fireplace with some Bollywood music playing in the background. One by one we made an early exit to get some sleep or take a hot bath in our lovely rooms. We wanted to meet early the next morning and start the day full of energy.
Shortly after 7 am, we meet up for our early morning walk. We were welcomed with freshly made Chai tea. And by freshly made I mean grinding the ginger and adding the spices and just a little milk one by one. I must admit that I was genuinely surprise how much ginger is added. I was always a bit more careful with adding spices but here the whole bulb went into the pot and it made a very tasty tea. I can’t eat that early, so I welcomed the morning walk before breakfast. The air was very crisp and refreshing – 1 degree I kid you not – so you can imagine that we walked briskly to get warm and the blood flowing. The sun was on the rise though and warmed our backs while we explored the farm and the beautiful surroundings. It is always amazing how revitalising it feels to leave your busy life behind, even if it’s only for a short while, and find a quiet and relaxing spot – the Guinevere Guest Farm in Tulbagh is just that. Annie Wyatt (who prefers to be called Ann), our Yoga teacher for the weekend, had joined us for the walk and we really were looking forward to practise some Hatha Yoga after breakfast.
Coming back to the house, Gautami had prepared a light South Indian breakfast for us with idli. The dough for this bread made of grinded lentils and rice had actually been fermented overnight and was then steamed. Some of it was fried and sooo crunchy. There was also a semolina dish garnished with coriander and mild chutney on our banana leave plate. The hot food made sure that the banana leave released its oils and made the food taste even healthier. We ate breakfast with our hands and Gautami assured us that making a bit of mess and having some food around your mouth is a sign of good food. She also explained to us that the South Indian cuisine is lighter in taste and texture than its North Indian counterpart, which made sure our tummies were full, but not too full for the upcoming yoga class.
After some resting time, we met up at the sun-filled room next to the pool (Anna would have loved to go for a swim, but it was just a wee bit too cold) for some yoga with Ann. We both have had some rough weeks with many late nights working, so this was perfect to balance ourselves and give ourselves permission to be in the here and now. Neither of us has much yoga experience but under Ann’s guidance we fully relaxed and even mediated peacefully.
Fully energized, we made our way back to the kitchen where Gautami and her mother-in-law were busy preparing lunch. We got to peek into pots and sniff here and there, ask questions and I felt reminded of my childhood as cooking was such an incredible mystery to me. We could see the little bowls on the silver plates being filled with one dish after another and when you thought nothing else would fit Gautami made sure to add more. The bowls were filled with different gravy-based and dry dishes such as Palak Paneer (Spinach with Indian cottage cheese) and veg Korma. Steamed angel fish with coriander coconut flavours was served wrapped in banana leaves and for dessert we had mango lassi and sweet cottage cheese. I also loved the Halva like sweet treat with cardamom and nuts. To drink (in addition to more wine) we were given a yoghurt drink with coriander and salt, very delicious. Again, we ate with our hands and some puffy bread and Papadums that we used to scoop up the finger-licking good dishes and chutneys. And just like magic, our bowls kept refilling as soon as we had finished anything. In spite of trying to pace ourselves, we were absolutely stuffed and all agreed that we needed a long nap before the evening activities.
At dinner time, we meet up in the kitchen again for our first lessons in Indian cooking. We got to make a very fancy Indian bread that sort of works like a croissant. You gently mix regular wheat flour with water with your fingertips (so the rest of your hand doesn’t get dirty) until the dough forms, then you knead the dough properly and make small egg-sized balls. These you roll out and add some oil followed by roasted cumin, chilli powder and salt on the surface. Once done, you cut the dough on one side like a pie and roll it up. Seal the gap with a bit of water and press the dough flat again. Then you roll the bread to flat discs again and fry them a pan with some oil. While frying the bread you gently massage it with a spatula, so the air pockets inside open up and will make it crispy and very lekker. We had such a blast making the bread that time just flew by. In the meantime, Gautami’s husband had prepared an amazing cleansing shot for us. It was made of lemon juice, garlic and coriander and made us feel instantly better; any feeling of fullness from the lunch feast was gone. Since we had plenty of leftovers from lunch, Gautami gave us the choice between leftovers with the delicious bread we just made for dinner or she would show us how to cook another dish, which we could then eat. Since we felt more in a jol than cooking mood, we opted for leftovers and a Bollywood dance session.
Gautami’s husband turned up the Bollywood music and the two started showing off some dance moves (admittedly after some initial shyness), but they were so cute that we had to join in. Their daughter and the mum also started rocking the floor with us and we worked up some appetite (with the help of some liquid courage aka wine). It was a lot of fun and Anna is now seriously considering finding a Bollywood dancing class in Cape Town; the spirit and energy of everyone dancing was really contagious. Even the guys enjoyed dancing genuinely and we all worked up a nice sweat.
Gautami’s husband then handed out some puffed rice and lentil snacks and opened another bottle of wine to go with it and we went into the dining room ready to have some more of the delicious treats offered. This time, we had milk rice with almonds and cardamom called Kheer for desert. A perfect way to end a great evening!
The next morning we started the day with the reenergizing Chai tea again, which I think I will make part of my morning routine as it is even more invigorating than coffee. We decided to have a late breakfast after the feast from the previous day and went straight into another beautiful Yoga session with Ann which left us prepared for the day (You really need to look her up if you like Yoga or are into juicing: capetownretreats.co.za). Afterwards, a yummy North Indian breakfast made from yoghurt with spices, Puri bread and mouth-watering fried potatoes with Turmeric, Cumin, Coriander and other spices waited for us.
Ready for the day, Gautami split us up into two teams for the cook-off with the reassuring advice that all mistakes can be rectified by adding or reducing an ingredient. My preferred theory in cooking! We decided on a menu and with lots of help from Gautami and her husband, we cooked up a storm. We did surprisingly well. We had clearly learnt a fair share just from watching Gautami cook for us the whole weekend and her many tips along the way. At the end, she had trouble deciding which team had won or perhaps she was simply too kind :). She sent us off with hugs and kisses and some incense as a reminder of this absolutely amazing weekend.
If you need a breakaway with lots of fun, Indian cooking and time to relax or just want to try something new and different than this is perfect for you.
There is an early holy frog special at the moment so check it out on her Facebook page: //www.facebook.com/thirdbestmarigoldweekend/.
For more information about Gautami and her culinary classes in Cape Town and the Third Best Exotic Marigold Weekends in Tulbagh check out her website: www.bombaytocapetown.com.