It’s early on a Friday morning and Ingrid Jacobs is standing in the kitchen of her Sydney home, stirring a pot of simmering onions and spices. This batch will be the first of many more to follow, and the aroma, which fills the house and wafts out into the street, signals a long day of cooking ahead. Ingrid and her mother Daphne are waiting for the rest of the cooks to arrive.
In various other kitchens across the suburbs, South African families are busily preparing food for the same event – the annual Buffers International Tournament, held in Sydney this year (to find out more about the event, see The name of the game, page 46). All of this home-cooked South African food will be delivered to the canteen at Lily Homes Stadium in Seven Hills, and the usual fare of hot chips, meat pies and lollies will be replaced with samoosas (slightly smaller than Indian samosas), boerewors (South African sausage) rolls and koeksisters (coconut-coated doughnuts). Up to 50 families are also cooking for tonight’s meet-and-greet party.
As the others begin to arrive, Ingrid takes charge, mobilising her small army of cooks. “Sit at the table or stand anywhere you like,” she instructs. Cooking large quantities of food with everyone sharing in the preparation is nothing out of the ordinary for these women. “If we have a party, all the women cook and then we put it all together,” says Daphne. As they begin, they compare jaw-dropping statistics about the mountains of foods that have already been prepared: Esme and Glenda threaded 600 kebabs last night, while Rosalind has made more than 2000 samoosas in the past week. It’s not all hard work, though. “If there are a few of us, we up turn the music and have some wine,” laughs Ingrid.
Originally from Durban in South Africa, Ingrid, her husband, Derrick, and their then young daughter, Lesley, immigrated to Australia in 1981. “We followed our children in 1986,” says her mother, Daphne. While the tournament helps South Africans in Australia to keep in touch with friends and family from home who are now living all over Australia and the world, it is this food which connects them to their cultural heritage.
Daphne recalls that when her six adult children moved to Australia, they missed the food they had grown up eating. “They used to phone me when I was still living in South Africa and say, ‘Mum, how do you make the pickled fish?’ or ‘How do you make your curry?’” Their food also tells the broader story of South Africa’s past. “All the different cultures in South Africa are reflected in our food; there is a bit of everything,” Ingrid says.
Above the chatter and laughter, there are sporadic call-outs, like: ‘Should I make the carrot salad my way?’; ‘Look at how she does that!’; and ‘Do you put tomato in yours as well?’. When the women come together like this, they’re constantly swapping knowledge. Each has her own slight variation on these traditional dishes, which are cooked by instinct and learned from years spent observing and tasting rather than following a recipe. “Everything is to taste in our cooking,” Daphne explains, tending to yet another batch of onions, this lot for her pickled fish. “It’s just a matter of judging the colour and the flavour.” When Daphne is satisfied that she has the perfect balance of sweet and sour in her onions, it’s time to sit down and take a break.
Conversation turns to tonight’s party and the tournament’s highly anticipated opening ceremony. “Everyone knows each other’s families,” Lesley explains, sampling her mother’s bean curry, “so it’s really a chance for us all to gather together and catch up.” This mix of family, friends, food and football certainly proves to be a winning combination – whatever the final score.
Photography by Christopher Ireland.