Indentured Indian Labourers in Durban, South Africa – their daily bread

Food is the universal intake of energy, however every culture has their own and unique way of preparing and consuming food. When the indentured labourers came to Durban, they brought with them their own methods of cooking and the preparation of meals, which has become famous dishes of local restaurants to present day. Food is used as means of gaining energy for everyday daily activities, the indentured labourers were in constant need of this energy as they engaged in strenuous tasks mainly physical manual labour.

Every day they cooked and consumed fresh food, which could not be stored as fridges were not affordable at that time. The curries always were made with hot spices, which was an eastern trait. The leftover curries were mixed together and braised again and referred to this as a Chundal curry which was basically a thick mixtures and it was served with rice. Hand made bread called rotis was made daily with flour and water. It was simple and a cheap way to gain instant energy. The common foods they used to prepare were Dosa which are pancakes; this was normally eaten as a sweet treat for breakfast. There was mielie rice Kitchidi, that was rice and the lentils Dhall normally made on a fasting day. They used to make Khullie is hard porridge eaten with fish. The fish was caught by the fishermen and they did not buy it from the shops. They also ate samp and phutu known as pap in the African culture. Indians were fond of offals, namely tripe, trotters and sheep head.

On Friday and Saturdays were market days, where fresh chicken and fish were bought and to this day many Indian people still have the tradition of preparing fresh chicken referred to as live chicken on a Saturday. On hot days some of them use to sit under shady trees, having mealie meal porridge, termed sour porridge with hot vinegar chillies, or mango pickles.

Traditions that still exist

Although they were poor, these labourers were united and adopted a communal trait due to a common plight and being of the same kind. In the Barracks they used to exchange some kinds of foods and till this day they still do send over curries to neighbours. In this way there was a variety of food and learnt menus. They formed a diet with their curries mainly as it was a cheaper and convenient way of gaining energy. The tools they used to prepare food were also unique. The grinding stone was used to grind rice and lentils. They used a copper dek to cook curries. The masala grinder to grind masala, a coal stove was used to cook the food. The bowla was a paint drum that was made up of two parts, the upper part had holes and the bottom was open. The bowla was used as a stove, to heat iron, used to heat rods to clean wool off sheep heads and used as a heater in winter because they did not afford to buy coal so they use to fetch coal from nearby dumps or pump houses. They use to use axes to chop wood, they boiled their water outside to have hot water baths and for tea. These practises are stilled followed in poor households and when there is no electricity available.

By: Yoveshnie Pillay
Reference: The Post Newspaper

Leave a Comment