Atlas Trading, a spice shop in the Bo-Kaap is a veritable Cape Town institution. Bo-Kaap (meaning Upper Cape Town aka the Malay Quarter) is the Muslim area of the town and is dotted with pretty little mosques and brightly coloured flat roofed homes. I was staying in the area, originally peopled by muslim slaves from Indonesia. The dawn chorus here is the morning call to prayer. Whether they be church bells or the muezzin’s call there is something soothing and satisfying about these ancient sounds, even to an unbeliever. Perhaps we are comforted by the memory of ancient rituals that connect us with our ancestors.
There is nothing soothing about Atlas Trading which is a hive of activity at any time of day. The store is a relic of a bygone era when it would really have been a buzzy trading hub. There are vast vats of peas, lentils, and rice in the back. I am told the vats also contain multiple generations of vermin! Simple glass fronted cases house packets of spices at the front of the store. Chilies from Madras, tamarind from Thailand, lentils from Mysore, turmeric from Morocco, cinnamon from Sri Lanka, fresh curry leaves from Durban. There is a veritable culinary map of the colonies in this store. I bought everything I recognized, my plans for making a simple chicken curry expanding to a multi course banquet. Or more likely my purchases of exotic spices will remain unopened in a dusty cupboard. A serendipitous find for the next Airbnb lodger.
A smiling toothless chap dressed in shapeless blue overalls that appeared to be the staff uniform, helped me with my shopping, patiently pointing out his favorite brands whenever I became confused. A smiling Muslim granny wearing the long end of her saree as a headscarf and sporting an impressive moustache added up my purchases. Atlas Trading is moving to new premises down the street. It will probably be nicer. But you smell the history of the continent and it’s immigrant people in this dusty old place. An English film crew were setting up as I left – there are memories here worth preserving.
Recipe – Curry Leaf G&T
Gin is made from a pure alcohol distillate infused with juniper, coriander, arnica root and other spices. This recipes adds fresh curry leaves to the spice mix. Atlas Trading carries curry leaf (sweet neem) which is a common ingredient in Sri Lankan curries. It can be purchased in most good Indian stores.
The key to a good G&T is lots of ice. Fill a highball glass with ice. Pour in a shot of gin – a straightforward London Dry Gin is best. Since you are messing with spices it’s unwise to use a more complex gin – you’ll find too much going on in your glass. Top with tonic water. Add a generous squeeze of fresh lime juice. Crush a few fresh curry leaves in your palms, tearing the leaves as you do so. Add to your drink, stir and garnish with a fresh lime wedge. As you lift the glass to your nose the fragrance of curry leaves hits you first, adding delicate top notes to your drink. It adds complexity and a dash of the orient to your common or garden G&T. Cheers!