In Cape Town, good eating is easy to find, but the best salomie – roti flatbread wrapped around curry – is worth searching for. This search took us to Mariam’s Kitchen, which is attached to the side of St. George’s Mall arcade across from the Cape Times and Argus Newspaper House in Cape Town’s business district. For a feeling of home, many locals tuck into this sit-down and take-away café, which has offered a plethora of halal meals for over a decade. The homemade menu is a masala (mix) of Cape Town’s unique fast-food culture.
Spices like cumin, cinnamon and coriander, which traveled to Cape Town’s shores centuries before, are toasted and stirred into a variety of Mariam’s curries. The blend of fragrant spices is added to a choice of stewed fava beans, chicken, steak or mixed seasonal vegetables. Although some of the components of the salomie originated in countries like Malaysia and India, the combination of its buttery, chewy texture and saucy stew has been adopted as a traditional midday meal in Cape Town.
The lunchtime crowd enters the St. George’s Mall arcade between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. and feasts their eyes upon the long glass display case. The offerings range from homemade dhaltjies, known as “chili bites” and made from chana (chickpea) flour, chopped spinach, crushed red chilies, jeera (cumin) and koljander (coriander), to pepper steak pies, mutton sausage rolls and mini-steak and chicken wraps. The menu, which extends across the back wall, displays over 50 options in black block lettering.
“It’s nice to know that when people walk out of here, they are completely satisfied,” said Yunus Fakhey, co-owner of Mariam’s Kitchen. Many customers are creatures of habit and order fast in a city known for taking its time. The staff, predominantly women, takes over 100 lunchtime orders behind the counter as meals steadily stream from the kitchen to patient patrons. Three cash registers ring up various combinations of salomies – half bean, half steak with pickled onions and freshly chopped cilantro is the most popular.
Inside, at the small, round black marble tables, friends share a Gatsby, a sandwich of bologna, French fries, chopped iceberg lettuce, fresh tomato slices and yellow onion, all on a long white roll. Two police officers dig into a plate of samosas, washed down with fizzy Stoney ginger soda. At the orange booths in the back, students devour the popular toasted sandwich with steak, fries and braised onions, while a young man steps into the salaah room to recite his du’aa (daily prayers). The L-shaped cafe is peppered with framed Arabic calligraphy of Quran verses, and provides Cape Town’s Muslim community with salaah facilities, frequently used by people who work in the area, especially during Ramadan. Early-morning customers find quiet corner tables and affordable prices for cappuccinos, rooibos (red bush) tea, Indian tea and homemade koeksisters, golden-fried dough drenched in simple syrup. Those in need of a heartier breakfast can choose the early-bird platter of two eggs, spiced beef, toast and coffee. Between breakfast and lunch, city goers and travelers can nibble on potato samosas or sit down to small plates of cinnamon melktart, milk custard with a pastry crust, served chilled with filter coffee.
For travelers, a Mariam’s Kitchen salomie offers a taste of Cape Town, but for locals, it’s a taste of home in the heart of the city.