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Malay heritage in the Bo-Kaap

Also known as the Malay Quarter, this quaint and historic area is tucked away above the edge of the centre of Cape Town and nestled against the steep slopes of Signal Hill. Its pastel-hued houses are single-story homes with flat roofs and Georgian terraces. The narrow, often cobbled streets, gives it a quaint ambience.

The best way to discover the heritage of the Bo-Kaap is by visiting the Bo-Kaap Museum, which is open from 10h00 – 17h00 from Monday to Saturday.

The first houses were built in the late 18th century. An increasing number of low-income families and artisans began to make their homes here, while a large influx of Malaysian, Indonesian and African slaves (who were forcibly brought to the Cape by the Dutch in the 17th century) settled here after slavery was abolished. By the middle of the 19th century the area was already known as the ‘Islamic Quarter’ and a number of mosques are still in use today.

If the sights and sounds don’t inspire you, try a traditional Cape Malay meal in the Bo-Kaap. Owing to its Malaysian and Indonesian roots, typical Cape Malay cuisine comprises a blend of spices such as garlic, ginger, chilli, star anise, fennel, cumin, coriander seeds, bay leaves, cardamom, coriander leaves, mustard seeds, fenugreek, saffron, nutmeg and tamarind. Traditional dishes include curries, bredies (a slow-cooked, spicy stew), smoorsnoek (a local fish cooked over a fire or simmered with onions and tomatoes), dhaltjie (a deep-fried chickpea chilli bite), denningvleis (slow-cooked leg of lamb with spices) and bobotie (a famous Malay meal which is a type of meatloaf with onion, raisins, almonds, bay leaves and spices topped with an egg custard).

Biesmiellah is the best-known authentic Cape Malay restaurant in the Bo-Kaap, serving traditional meals. High up on the hill you’ll also find the Bo-Kaap Kombuis, which serves Malay cuisine that can be enjoyed with spectacular views of Cape Town and Table Mountain.

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