A really, really important investigation.
Have you ever eaten straight out of a pot, while being both *coloured and in the presence of a mother, aunty or ouma? If you’ve answered yes to the above question, chances are you’re probably reading this from beyond the grave, OR have somehow managed to escape the often fatal punishment that comes with eating out of a cooking pot while coloured, young and stupid.
Eating directly from a cooking vessel, whilst it’s on the stove, could be considered uncool in any culture or home. Especially when you could’ve just reached for a plate, dished some curry into said plate and enjoyed your meal at the breakfast nook – free of impending violence or hostility.
But what is it about eating straight from a pot, or pan, or pressure cooker that awakens a special brand of fury in the hearts of coloured matriarchs nationwide? I went on the road to find the answers to all my questions.
The Summer of 2009:
In the summer of 2009, Devon Rainer (not his real name), a skinny kid from a small East London neighbourhood, would come face-to-face with the dire consequences of his actions, when he stepped into Aunty Haley’s (not her real name) kitchen and committed the unspeakable.
Aunty Haley was the kind of lady who always had a pot on the go. Whether it was a bomb lamb knuckle curry, soft and tender tripe and trotter curry, a hearty stew or a chunky vegetable soup - there would always be a pot ready for all to enjoy. From friends and family to weary travellers and neighbourhood children, all were welcome to partake in the abundance Aunty Haley so warmly provided. But one unassuming summer’s day something happened that would rock a tiny East London suburb for many months to come: After a day of drinking, Devon and Aunty Haley’s twin sons, who ran in the same neighbourhood posse, had returned to the house to, as the young adults called it at the time, “chill out”. Devon Rainer spotted the pot on the stove. The symphony of delicious aromas must have caused a momentary lapse of judgement, resulting in Devon making that ill-fated decision. He slowly approached the pot, gently lifted the lid, then submerged his hand and picked up a piece of meat. Just then Aunty Haley, who had woken from her afternoon nap, came down the passage, saw Devon and shouted in horror: “DEVON, WAT DOEN JY?!” (“DEVON, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”). The news of what happened spread through the neighbourhood like wildfire. And by the end of the day everyone knew the unsettling tale of pot-picking Devon.
7 years have passed, yet Devon’s actions still haunt him till this day. When asked to comment he simply had this to say: “Ek soek nie kak nie.” – which can be loosely translated to “I’m not looking for any trouble”. Devon and Aunty Haley have since moved past the events of 2009. However, Aunty Haley still holds a certain contempt for straight out of the pot-eating punk-ass kids: “I just don’t like dirty fingers in my pot,” she says sternly. “And besides, eating hot food out of the pot gives you Stinky Thyroid.” Intrigued, I ask Aunty Haley to explain further: “Basically Stinky Thyroid happens when you eat overly hot food, which then burns your oesophagus, and ultimately causes bad breath.”
The next day I head straight for my GP’s office to find out more about Stinky Thyroid Syndrome. The rather bemused Dr Vikesh Ramjee didn’t know what I was talking about . . . nor was he familiar with the term “Stinky Thyroid”. But as I left the doctor’s office that day, I realised that not everything can be reduced to a simple medical explanation or some kind of scientific theory. Because trying to rationalise a woman’s wisdom is like attempting to explain how the pyramids were built, or providing a detailed account, receipts included, of exactly what occurred between Jay Z and Solange in the elevator following The Met Gala of 2014. You just can’t.
Asked if she’s ever committed the grievous action of eating out of the pot, Tiffany Borchards, a perky 24 year old Media Events co-ordinator from Cape Town, replies with a panicked look in her eyes, “Are you mad ... she’d kill me.” – the “she” being her mother of course. I agree with Tiffany, sometimes the punishment and the lingering animosity can feel tantamount to death, or maybe just extreme physical discomfort. Like all the times my own mother, Girda Lackay, would with a wooden spoon, ninja chop a piece of tripe out of my pot-picking hands – leaving me with saucy knuckles and considerable shame. And if the ninja slap fails there’s also quickly grabbing the offender by the wrist, mid heist, and shaking until the piece of stewed lamb falls back into the pot, to re-join the soft carrots and potatoes. My mother is equally skilled at both of these methods.
The deeper I delve, I begin to discover that coloured moms aren’t the only moms who face the daily threat of reprobates picking at their cooking pots. 27 year old receptionist, Sandy Sotshononda speaks from experience when she says, “You can’t do that mos . . . you’ll get beat up. Just ask Mavis, she’ll tell you all about it.” Mavis Kolisi, mother of Sandy, weighs in: “I’ve noticed that this new generation will just come in and put their fingers in your pot – something that we would never ever do in our culture.” She goes on to explain: “It’s like going into somebody’s bedroom, uninvited, and scratching in their wardrobe . . . you just don’t do that . . . I will fucking kill you.”
“Take Heed Unto Thyself . . . for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” - 1 Timothy 4:16
It would seem that women from all across this great nation share Sis’ Mavis’ sentiments. So take heed, and rather err on the side of caution, the next time you find yourself in any woman’s kitchen. Because somewhere in South Africa, right this very moment, there is a pot on the stove, gently and peacefully simmering away. This pot will be bountiful – not only over-flowing with delicious food, but filled to the brim with an incarnation of love that only a woman can summon through ancient cooking rituals, delectably dark magic, and untold sacrifice - prepared with the very same hands that have wiped tears from sons’ faces, clutched daughters from the meth dens of life. Those weathered hands that have raised Nurses, Engineers, Supermarket Cashiers, HIV Activists, Actuaries, Call-Centre Agents, Fitters & Turners, Transgender Rights Crusaders, Bricklayers, Primary School Teachers, Story Writers and Picture Painters. The very same arms that lift men up – when they deserve it, and even when they don’t. From these wide open, upwardly turned palms flow life, redemption and sustenance. All of this is what you will find in that pot. And, intoxicated by smells like coriander and turmeric, the pungent aroma of tripe, the enveloping warmth of umngqusho, a whiff of golden syrup-drizzled sweet-potatoes, dusted with desiccated coconut, or that unmistakeable scent of braised onion and mixed masala that causes your nose to itch - you might be tempted to reach in with your fingers and pick up a piece of meat.
But she will be there. Watching . . . waiting. You have been warned.
Glossary of Terms:
Coloured: In South Africa the term “Coloured” refers to an official race group. The previous oppressive Apartheid Regime made it up, and it just seemed to have stuck.
Lyle Lackay is a writer and an aspiring talk show host.
Photos: Alix-Rose Cowie
This article first appeared in Studio H’s food zine, Chips!