Lifestyle & Belief

In Cape Town, the Ramadan feast is a mix of cultures — just like South Africa itself

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Credit: Sonia Narang

Faldila scoops up a batter for fried spinach fritters, called dalchi, while her daughter watches in the kitchen.

Muslim families around the world this month are observing the holy month of Ramadan. In Bo-Kaap, a vibrant, historic neighborhood in Cape Town, South Africa, the majority of residents are Muslim.

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For the past month, families and friends have been gathering at sundown to break the fast in true South African-style.

Faldila Abrahams, wearing a light pink apron over her dark red full-length robe and matching head wrap, is grating carrots, and chopping cilantro and spinach for a big pot of lentil soup.

“I’m just adding a little bit more water ‘cause it’s fairly thick. I think I should add the other carrot as well — make it a nice, lighter shade.”

Then, she turns her attention to a bowl of batter that will become plump fritters. She scoops spoonfuls into hot bubbling oil.

This Ramadan break-fast feast is a blend of cuisines and cultures.

“I’m born and bred in Cape Town, and my mother was born in Cape Town,” says Faldila. “My great-grandfather is from Yemen and my great-grandmother is from England. My granny married a man [whose] family came from Java. So, it’s all just a mixture of different cultures.”

Faldila’s husband also has roots in Indonesia. For generations, Muslim families have called this part of Cape Town home. Many are descendants of slaves that the Dutch brought here from Indonesia in the 16th and 17th centuries. During the Apartheid era, the community got the name “Cape Malay.”

Cape Town Ramadan
Credit: Sonia Narang

The Abrahams family breaks the Ramadan fast together with friends. Today's menu: samosas, lentil soup, and pumpkin fritters.

As sunset nears, Faldila is making some traditional Cape Malay dishes, including dalchi, which are Malay spinach fritters, and my favorite, Indian samosas.

The last day of Ramadan will be the busiest for Faldila.

“I never sleep the night before Eid. It’s actually 12 to 16 hours that I will cook non-stop,” she says.

Neighbors and relatives stop by Faldila’s kitchen and leave parcels of sweets, while she sends her 10-year-old daughter, Rushana, to deliver packets of fritters to the neighbors.

“Bo-Kaap is like a whole big family,” Faldila says. “Now, with our Ramadan, the neighbors exchange little sweetmeats, savories, and this goes on for 29 days."

As sundown approaches, the call to prayer echoes through Bo-Kaap, signaling that it’s time to break the fast. The adults sit around a small table and chat, mostly in Afrikaans. Faldila switches in and out of English, especially when talking to the kids.

“We grew up with Afrikaans, and we went to an Afrikaans school,” Faldila tells me. “It was during Apartheid. I speak Afrikaans to my husband, my kids hear us speaking Afrikaans, but they refuse to speak Afrikaans. Even if I speak to them in Afrikaans, they will answer me in English.”

Faldila’s children attend schools outside the Muslim quarter, but she says she hopes they’ll hold onto their Islamic faith.

“All that you were taught as a child, you try to pass it on to your kids. If you have your religion, it’s like somewhere where you can belong.”

Soon, it’s time for the evening prayers at the mosque. Faldila heads back into the kitchen to prepare a late-evening supper, as well as meals for the next day.

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    Credit: Sonia Narang

    Faldila Abrahams and her daughter Rushana sit outside their colorful home in Bo-Kaap, a neighborhood in Cape Town, South Africa that's home to many Muslim families.

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    Credit: Sonia Narang

    Faldila Abrahams prepares a feast blending cuisines from different cultures during Ramadan. She's making a pot of lentil soup with potatoes, carrots, and leeks for the night's meal.

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    Credit: Sonia Narang

    Faldila chops spinach for her Cape Malay-style fritters, called dalchi.

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    Credit: Sonia Narang

    Faldila prepares an assortment of sweet and savory foods for her family's Ramadan feast. Neighbors have also delivered food items, which she includes on this tray.

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    Credit: Sonia Narang

    While Faldila cooks, her daughter Rushana (left) plays with friends down the street. At sundown, all the kids will go inside to break the Ramadan fast with their families.

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    Credit: Sonia Narang

    Faldila Abrahams breaks her Ramadan fast with friends after a hard day of work.

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    Credit: Sonia Narang

    Bo-Kaap is a colorful neighborhood atop a hill in Cape Town. The area was settled by descendants of slaves that the Dutch brought from Indonesia in the 16th and 17th centuries.

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    Credit: Sonia Narang

    Faldila helps her daughter put on a headscarf before going to the mosque for evening prayers.

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    Credit: Sonia Narang

    During Ramadan and the rest of the year, local Muslims pray inside the Auwal Masjid, the oldest mosque in South Africa. The mosque was founded in 1794.

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    Credit: Sonia Narang

    Muslims from the Bo-Kaap neighborhood gather in one of nine local mosques in the area for evening prayers. The men stand downstairs while the women have a separate prayer area upstairs.