Expatriot South Africans can satisfy their culinary nostalgia.

Everyone who walks through the door of this store specialising in South African and Jewish food asks: "What is that lovely smell?" And for the umpteenth time, owner Barry Borer says: "We're baking kichel."

The word comes from the Yiddish for biscuit, kichlach, and they are micro-thin biscuit squares dusted with copious amounts of sugar. You dip them into chopped herring and get an explosion of sweet and sour and salty.

Eastern European Jewish food has these flavour combinations in many dishes, such as gefilte fish, pickled cucumbers and chopped liver. These delicacies, or acquired tastes for some, feature at festivals such as Pesach (Passover) which begins this weekend.

Borer and his business partner, Brenda Gordon, are gearing up for the Pesach rush. Borer is opening boxes of sweet South African delicacies, such as ingberlach (ginger) and pletzlach (walnut and honey) and teiglach (little plaits of dough, baked and doused in honey syrup). He is stacking the four brands of matzo and matzo meal on the shelves in the room that will have all the Passover products, and calling out to Gordon to check on the kichel.

She runs the (non-kosher) kitchen, supervising the fried fish, fried fish balls, gefilte fish, pickled fish and curried fish balls (is there anything this cuisine can't do with fish?). She has a "wondrous cook", Henry Nguyen, who makes chicken and vegetable soups, and kneidlach or matzo balls, the three kinds of herring salads and the haroset (grated apples and cinnamon) for the Pesach plate.

A former cookery teacher in Johannesburg, Gordon is also Borer's mother-in-law, which makes their partnership sound like a Jewish joke. Borer smiles and says: "She is a great cook and loves to feed people. I told her when I bought the business, that you can either live with me or work with me, but you can't do both."

That was three years ago and they seem to get on very well. The deli counter is very much Gordon's domain and she makes a nice display with olives and salads, cheese blintzes, chicken pies and pirogi.

Borer is the stock controller, ordering the breads (not kosher) and the meats (kosher): brisket, pastrami, sausages, chops, chickens and scotch fillet.

But the big seller is biltong (dried beef), made on the premises; Borer estimates that 90 per cent of his clients have migrated from South Africa.

The nostalgic come in looking for Nando's curry and satay sauces, Sheer's marinades, Five Roses tea, Ouma rusks (biscuits) and three kinds of Mrs Ball's chutneys. They can buy chocolate and the confectionary of their childhood and the soft drinks of their youth, all imported from South Africa.

As Borer and Gordon are packing up for the day, heads are still poking through the door, asking: "Is it too late?" and then: "What's that lovely smell?"

Courtesy of
Sydney Morning Herald 2005

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