My fondest vetkoek memory takes me back to the Great Karoo, road-tripping down to the Western Cape with my family on holiday (back in the nineties). We drove from Joburg (yoh!) and pit-stopped along the way, visiting anywhere and everywhere: the Cango Caves, some or other dinosaur park, a farm in the gamadoelas where my mom rode an ostrich (shrieking like it was doomsday the entire time) and, of course, a lekker B&B. It was to the backdrop of dust and fynbos that I was served my first vetkoek for breakfast (by a regte egte tannie nogal). The vetkoek was fat, golden and delicious—crispy on the outside, light and doughy on the inside. I wanted more…
Vetkoek, or “fat cake” if you’re English (although no English South African calls it this), is a deep fried bread dough; traditionally served with curry but it’s also a good conduit for all sorts of sweet and savoury sauces or fillings. The dish dates back to early Dutch settlers, who, in the early 1800s, trekked from tip of South Africa into the interior. The Voortrekkers (as the settlers became known, as they forged on ahead—“voor”) preferred to deep fry their bread as it lasted longer and was quicker and easier to cook than more typical breads, which required time and ovens—neither of which they had.
It’s thought that vetkoek are a savoury version of the Dutch oliebollen, which is a sweet friend bread containing raisins.
Now, imagine pairing two of South Africa’s most scrumptious, delectable, like-no-other food specialities: vetkoek and boerewors. Oh baby! Let me tell you… The only thing missing from this most recent culinary adventure in my life was a campfire and the wide African skies, but I made do with my squishy North London rental and let the taste take me back home, to the fynbos and that tannie on the porch.
Here’s the Vetkoek recipe we used (from RhodesQuality.com):
- 1 kg (7 C) cake flour
- 5 ml (1 t) salt
- 10 ml (2 t) sugar
- 65 ml (¼ C) butter
- 1 packet instant yeast (10 g)
- 750 – 875 ml (3 – 3½ C) warm water
- sunflower oil for frying
- Combine the flour, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl.
- Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles crumbs.
- Add the yeast and stir well to mix.
- Then add enough of the warm water to form a soft dough.
- Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic, cover with a damp cloth and leave to rise until it has doubled in size.
- Knock the dough down and divide it into 30 equal pieces.
- Roll into balls and place on a floured baking sheet, leaving enough space between them to expand and rise.
- Cover and leave to rise in a warm spot for another 30 minutes.
- Half fill a saucepan with oil and heat. Fry the vetkoek over medium-high heat until golden brown on both sides and cooked through.
- Drain on paper towel to remove excess oil.
The trick to the tomato sauce is to reduce it (with a bit of wine, salt, sugar if you like) slowly, to extract maximum flavour, and be sure to let the boerie stew in the sauce (after frying to seal) so that all the meaty yummyness infuses into the tomato.
…smash it in your face.
That’s how we did it.
Author & Storyteller: Andrea Zanin
Andrea is a writer, wife, mother and dreamer; also the author of this website. She moved to London in 2006 to earn £s, travel, see bands and buy 24-up Dr Martens—which she did, and then ended up staying. Andrea lives in North London with her husband (also a Saffa) and five children. She loves this grand old city but misses her home and wishes her children could say “lekker” (like a South African) and knew what a “khoki” is.