Photo credits
Photographer: Jac De Villiers

Huis Kombuis Food & Memory Cookbook
Book Launch and Exhibition

“District Six was a melting pot of religions and cultures and this is what made our food so interesting. We all had our traditional ways of cooking, and families would learn from their neighbours and adopt different ways of preparing food” 

Sheila Rolls

As a prelude to the launch of the District Six Huiskombuis Food and Memory Cook Book, 23 beautifully mounted portraits and hand-made embroidery recipe cloths were showcased at the District Six Museum Homecoming Centre. The exhibition opened on 11th February 2016 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the declaration of District Six as a white group area in 1966. The cookbook was launched on the 26 November 2016.

The exhibition provides a glimpse into the ‘pages’ of the cookbook revealing a rich cultural food practice that centred on the heart of the home – the kitchen. The title, Huis Kombuis (directly translated from Afrikaans, means ’home kitchen’. Here traditional recipes were brought to life in the rituals of cooking, eating and the sensory exchange at the kitchen table. Culinary rituals and home craft practices maintained and reinforced deep significances and connections with District Six as a place of home, family and community

The desire to publish a story cookbook emerged in 2012 out of the Huiskombuis Reminiscent Craft and Textile Design Workshop, which then developed into a more ambitious project. Our focus was to bring together District Six food stories using seemingly insignificant domestic needlework methods like sewing, appliqué and embroidery, giving importance to its handmade authorship. As a result, the recipe cloths were based on family traditional home cooking which led to a 273-page cookbook that dug deeper into the socio-economic challenges and the diverse cultural food landscape in District Six.

The District Six Huiskombuis Food and Memory Cookbook was published in 2016, in the same year it was nominated as the national winner for the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in the category: Culinary Travel –and sold almost half of its total amount of printed copies in less than a year.

Along with the biographies, photographs, maps and newspaper articles, we wanted to emphasize a relationship with the personalised signature that came with each of the contributor’s own handmade embroidery cloths. Featured in the cookbook are 18 hand embroidered traditional recipes – popular inexpensive dishes that were served in many District Six home kitchens; Bobotie, Trotters in Tomato, Snoek and Patats, Bakbrood, Steak and Kidney Pie.

This is not a conventional cookbook; we learn that food memories and stories are inseparable from people’s memories of place, enabling former residents to reclaim a past that was abruptly taken away from them. The cookbook invites us to share in a sensuous journey through recalling these fragile food memories of District Six’s collective social rituals and traditional culinary practices. It reinforces a District remembered as a place of mutual support, sharing, respect and trust; a celebration of the ordinary.

Some of the stories shared in the book talk about District as a helpmekaar community where no one went hungry; neighbours shared their food and gave generously. They spoke about how they could get snoekkoppe, fish bones and keite at the Hanover Street Fish Market for nothing and this made a meal to feed a family. Foraging for food was a common event and places like the Sir Lowry Road market was known for collecting bruised fruit. This was referred to as angel fruit and would be freely available, made into stewed fruit and served with custard – a common dessert for large families.

The cookbook is a rich heritage resource that pays tribute to those who have gone before and who have passed on their extraordinary culinary legacies. We hope that it will continue to feed the imaginations of future generations to come.

The portraits and styled food images where taken by photographer Jac de Villiers.

For more information 

Victoreen Gilbert

Sylvia Gangat

Sheila Rolls

Ruth Jefta

Revina Gwayi

Patience Watlington

Noor Ebrahim

Nomvuyo Ngcelwne

Mogamat Benjamin

Menisha Collins

Marion Abrahams-Welsh

Linda Fortune

Joyce Jonathan

Jean Pretorius

Jawayar Floris

Janap Masoet

Isobel Smith

Fatima February

Doreen Hanning

Aunty Molly

Annie Bam

Abubakar Brown

Anastacia Schouw

Kewpie: Daughter of District Six Exhibition

Kewpie: Daughter of District Six is an exhibition that celebrates the life and times of Kewpie, a renowned hairdresser and drag queen in the queer community of District Six in Cape Town.

The exhibition is open to the public from 21st September 2018 – 22 December 2018 and 7 – 19 January 2019