The Story of the Cape Curry

Before commercial curry powder was available at the Cape, every cook had his or her own recipe for a curry mix. In the Cape's oldest Dutch and Flemish manuscripts, many curry recipes were documented. We chose three of these traditional curry blends (read more below), which we only slightly adapted for use in the modern kitchen. They are available from the La Motte Farm Shop (R59 each), making it easy to cook a traditional Cape Curry!

Cape Curries are known for their perfume rather than hotness, especially when compared to Durban curries that use more pepper and chilli spice. Cape Curries are milder with a typical yellow colour, as they always contain turmeric. Other popular spices are coriander, cloves, nutmeg and saffron. As recipes usually include a combination of vinegar and brown sugar or apricot jam, the traditional Cape Curry typically has a sweet-sour taste profile. Fruit and dried fruit such as apricots or raisins are often used as part of the curry ingredients, or at least served as a side dish in the form of yellow rice with raisins, stewed dried fruit or preserved quince.

La Motte’s Cape Winelands Cuisine Cookbook shares a host of traditional curry recipes – from the popular Bobotie to curried fish for Easter and winter warming curries for chicken, lamb and seafood. 

*Three traditional curry recipes:

The oldest curry recipe comes from Thomas van der Noot’s recipe book of 1510. In this book, curry recipes such as pig’s tripe and curried fish with saffron were included. He did not give exact measurements, but merely listed the ingredients.

The second recipe was found in a handwritten cookbook by Mary Sanderson. The inscription on the yellowed pages of this cookbook reads ‘1770’.

The last recipe was found in a copy of Wilhelmina Mostert’s cookbook (ca. mid 1800’s), that listed the recipes in her neat handwriting, with reference to their origin.

Cape Curry blends for Meat, Fish and Poultry are available from the La Motte Farm Shop. (R59 each)

What wine? Choosing a wine to complement your curry is not always easy. All depends on the type of curry and according to South African authority on food and wine combinations, Katina van Niekerk: “Just as we now know the difference between a Shiraz and a Cabernet, so we can now also tell a korma from a vindaloo.” For the Cape-style Chicken Curry below, we recommend the 2019 La Motte Chardonnay. The wine is typical of an elegant Franschhoek Chardonnay, offering a combination of citrus and nut flavours. Refreshing, but with ample body to partner a fragrant curry with coconut milk and typical South African dried fruit. 

Recipe for Chicken Curry

(Page 81 from the Cape Winelands Cuisine Cookbook)

Serves 4- 6

Some of the documented variations of this sixteenth-century curry recipe contained raisins or dry figs, and fresh-water fish such as carp or eel were often used instead of chicken. For this recipe, typical South African ingredients – dried apricots and raisins – are used. Although coconut cream was not used in the original, it is included in our contemporary recipe.


3 Tbsp (45 ml) butter

1 whole chicken, deboned and cut into portions

1 onion, chopped

2 sour apples, cored and chopped

1 cup (250 ml) dried apricots, soaked in water and sliced

½ cup (125 ml) seedless raisins

1 Tbsp (15 ml) sugar

1 Tbsp (15ml) salt

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 tsp (5 ml) tamarind paste dissolved in 1 cup (250 ml) water

3 Tbsp (45 ml) La Motte poultry curry mix or your own curry mix.

3 Tbsp (45 ml) white wine vinegar

½ cup (125 ml) coconut cream

1 Tbsp (15 ml) chopped fresh sage or fresh coriander leaves


Heat a casserole or large saucepan. Brown the butter and add the chicken pieces. Cook on all sides until golden brown. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add the onion to the saucepan and cook for 5 minutes. Add the apples, apricots, raisins and sugar and allow to caramelise.

Add the salt, garlic, tamarind water, curry mix and vinegar and dissolve in the caramel.

Add the chicken pieces and cover with the lid. Cook over low heat for 1 hour. (If the sauce reduces while cooking the chicken, ad some chicken stock or water.)

Remove the lid, add the coconut cream and sage or coriander and increase the heat to reduce the sauce to the desired consistency.

Serve with Cape fruit chutney, rice and a glass of 2019 La Motte Chardonnay2019.

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