(Originally posted on BrightRock Change Exchange)
There’s a roadhouse out in the middle of nowhere that serves melkkos. I had some on a recent road trip and was instantly transported back to the late ‘80s and a happy memory of my school days at Lord Milner Primary School.
Melkkos is a boarding school staple and it’s best described as a liquid pancake. It’s just flour and milk with a touch of cinnamon. Melkkos is so wrapped up in my childhood that I would honestly include it in my family tree. It’s my family. It’s my heritage.
Or is it? As the name suggests, melkkos is a traditional Afrikaans dish. I’m sure there are other cultural variants, but the one I adore is very clearly the plaashuis, boerekos version – and I am not Afrikaans…okay, well maybe I am one sixteenth Afrikaans. So can I lay claim to it at all?
My family does not have a strong cultural identity. Not in the least. We are neither fully English, nor wholly Afrikaans. We’re a rough and tumble mongrel mix of Scottish, German and a little bit of Scandinavian wanderer thrown in. Not quite Viking, despite our best hopes. Out of that mix, it’s difficult to find and fall in love with a strong culinary heritage. Tripe? Haggis? Schnitzels? Narwhal Kebabs? No thanks.
Surely, with my lifestyle and mixed bag of genetic descent, my culinary heritage is the fast food drive-through. You have your hearty family Sunday lunches, I do Wacky Wednesdays. On Fridays, you serve up fish, and I honour the two-for-one pizza deal. Your weekend ritual is the braai, but mine is a Wimpy breakfast.
Somehow, that seems a little off. There must be some dish that my family can lay claim to, especially with Heritage Day coming up!
National Heritage Day. Or National Braai Day as some call it, to the horror of many others. Can I get away with serving melkkos instead of boerewors? Or should I just splash out on a bucket of deep fried chicken?
Maybe I shouldn’t overthink it…because no matter what tribe or race you belong to, or what language you speak, in South Africa, we come together around the kitchen table to connect as friends and family. We break bread and discuss deep stuff, like rugby, and the neighbour’s scandalous affair.
We share recipes and love, and connect in a million little human ways – not in the boardroom or parliament and definitely not on social media. We do it in the kitchen, over a multitude of dishes from a thousand different cultures.
So maybe our heritage isn’t the braai or the skaapkop or even the stodgy, sweet melkkos – it’s our connection over food. I can still be the obviously-not-a-Viking-descendent and you can be a Zulu king or a boeremeisie and we can all be human as we enjoy good food, good company and each other’s embarrassing family stories.
Please pass the salt.
© Dave Luis for BrightRock