You can’t say you’ve been to Cape Town good and proper unless you’ve had a Gatsby.
Forget your fancy sunset cocktails at your glamorous hotels and your twee canapés at cocktail parties; forget your hipster single origin organic lattes and your raw juice bars: Gatsbys are where it’s at if you want the real taste of Cape Town.
Now that the rest of the world is in turmoil and our currency has tanked nicely enough for us to be able to welcome a fresh batch of bright-eyed tourists to our shores, eager to try out our unique cultural offering, I thought it’d be a good idea to introduce you all to the culinary triumph that a good masala steak Gatsby really is.
Because it’s a damn fantastic thing. My kind of sandwich. Heroic in proportions; saucy, spicy, sloppy and messy, made to be shared, it somehow sums up the best of Cape Town’s spirit to me.
It’s all there in the juiciness and the flavour. And the chips! Never forget about the chips.
Or, of course the loaf. The right loaf is crucial. It must be long, capacious, firm and fresh and not too crusty. You don’t want a crispy French loaf: crispiness does not fit into the spirit of a Gatsby at all. Oh no. People with passion gaps can’t bite down hard on crispy bread. (source: Mustapha Achmat)
Of course you can make a very decent masala steak Gatsby at home, like I did today. Except my Gatsby chips weren’t proper Gatsby chips; to be verified Gatsby chips, they must be slap tjips. Vet, en lekker slap. And properly dosed with vinegar and spice, nè?
Slaptjips are basically made from the wrong potatoes cooked at the wrong temperature, but somehow turning out delicious enough to have become a national staple. So if it’s authenticity you’re after at home when making your Gatsby, just remember this little tip: the wrong potatoes, cooked at the wrong temperature will give you slaptjips. (Source: Salvin Hirschfield, former potato farmer.)
To really experience a proper Gatsby, though, you have to stand in a sweaty queue somewhere, between the flotsam and jetsam of Cape Town’s streets; the lost, the poor and most of all, the ravenously hungry. A Gatsby is a filler of note, as they say in these parts. And it doesn’t cost a lot.
As they say: “Dit maak vir jou vol, en dit maak vir jou happy. En jy eet hom nie alleen nie.”
(It fills you up and makes you happy; and you don’t eat it alone. Source: Mustapha Achmat.)
My first encounter with a masala steak Gatsby was as it should have been: dazed and confused at the crack of dawn after a night’s hectic jolling in the clubs, on the pavement outside the Cadiz in Loop Street many, many years ago.
Cadiz was a 24-hour cafe, but no-one ever referred to it as Cadiz Cafe, it was The Cadiz. Or just plain Cadiz, and you always met the most amazing people there. Or not. Depending on what time of the day you went there. (Cadiz was a great leveller and I regret those times are gone…but luckily, Gatsbys are still with us.)
This experience, however, was the perfect introduction to Gatsby culture. Because it does have a culture and strict etiquette is observed when sharing a Gatsby. (See the excerpt below the photos, copied and pasted from the comments on my favourite online Gatsby recipe.)
A Gatsby tastes best when you’re happing one while on that crazy, hazy edge of inebriation just before bewilderment and the mother of all hangovers kick in.
Properly planned, your Gatsby consumption will save you from paralytic incapability once you wake up after your night on the tiles, leaving you refreshed, fortified and ready for a new day of mild wrestling for the TV remote control on your sofa and mulling over the confused excitement of the night before.
Gatsbys are to Cape Town what bunny chows are to Durban. Starch, sauce, heaps of flavour, some spice and a bit of protein. Eat-with-your-hands, workmanlike food. Stuff to keep you on your feet when you are the last soldier, or just super drunk. Or very tired and crazy hungry..
Gatsbys are amazing and popular meals for workmen and teenage boys. I had both in the house today, so I sent my son to Checkers with a shopping list and some cash. (Well, he did ask me for something interesting to do, and seeing as it is now school holidays, I reckoned the lad needed to start finding out what feeding himself entails.)
He returned sadly not with the requested tenderised steaks, but the next best option on the list, minute steaks. Now, as far as I can tell, minute steaks are called minute steaks because it takes you about a minute after purchase to realise you’ve made a giant mistake.
But heck, if that’s all you’ve got, just bash the merry hell out of your minute steaks with your kitchen mallet or otherwise the bottom of a wine bottle, sprinkle them with meat tenderiser and go HEAVY on the BBQ spice. Which needs to come from a packet, preblended. Obviously. If you attempt a masala steak Gatsby with fancy sauces or home-made spice blends, you’re missing the point about Gatsbys.
Masala steak Gatsbys are made with tenderised steaks. Cheap meat that has been mechanically abused to within an inch of its life. End of story. And don’t come here with your ribeye-this and your rump steak-that Gatsbys. Please. That’s a steak sandwich. Just get over yourself and go and find a hipster bar and cry into your craft beer, OK?
Gatsbys are also made with slices of fried polony (Don’t ask. It’s Spam of a kind but not to be dismissed in the universe of Gatsbys), viennas, Russians (both sausages of obscure origin but no true ethnic qualification and quite tasty if you’re hungry or reckless enough), chicken, and such. Very much such, as it happens. You can segue endlessly along this line of Gatsby tinkering, and I think you should. Just keep it…basic.
For example: my very unique and completely amazing, super tasty Free State version of the Gatsby (invented when I was totally broke and totally starving) is made with thick slices of battered (as in a dough coating, duh), fried bully beef. Yes! It’s incredibly delicious! In fact, I want one right now.
I have a secret theory that my Bully Beef Gatsby might actually be the solution to world angst, but that’s a story for another day…
My vegetarian teenager daughter got a fried halloumi Gatsby today, which basically qualifies as a major food crime in my opinion. Next she’ll be demanding to vote, as well. Who knows where this will end?
What is essential to understand about a masala steak Gatsby or any other kind of Gatsby, though, is that it is a Celebration of Carbs. Yup. It’s basically a gigantic chip roll, with extra niceness. And a lot of spice. I’ve had many kinds of Gatsbys in my time – I am nothing if not a true gastronomic adventurer – but a masala steak Gatsby: aaaah man… that’s the King of Gatsbys.
The recipe below is adapted from one I found on the internet. It’s a gem. Really. Read it here:
I’d like to add one thing: in this time of Fear of Cultural Appropriation, I feel very strongly that, not only should everyone have a Gatsby and enjoy it, but we should be done with all the gatvolness and complaining and you, yes YOU, should find your inner Gatsbyness and experiment as you see fit with your own perfect filling.
As long as you don’t forget that the basic foundation of a good Gatsby is bread, chips and broederskap.
Make a Gatsby for the folks you love today, or tomorrow. Make it soon, and maak’it smaaklik!
BEST MASALA STEAK GATSBY ACCORDING TO ME
Feeds about 4-6
500 g tenderised steak (some recipes advise using 1kg of meat, I feel that’s pushing it)
2 medium peeled onions, sliced very thinly into rings (this is crucial. Don’t come here with your chopped onions, man, it must be rings or nothing)
leaf masala (The hotter, the better. Use as much as you like. This is a freedom sandwich.)
BBQ spice, preferably a nice cheap mix, like Robertson’s, but you can go Nomu too. Whatever blows up your skirt, as they say on Cape Town streets
meat tenderiser (oh please get over your shock and horror – it’s made from papain, an extract from papayas, a natural meat tenderiser. OK, if you want to be hipster about this, liquidise a cup of ripe papaya and gently bathe your cheap cut of meat in that while you post sunsets and selfies on Instagram)
1 teaspoon of crushed ginger
1 very heaped teaspoon of crushed garlic – let your tastebuds guide you. But you want to be able to tell someone has had a Gatsby recently, so loads of garlic is required
1 heaped teaspoon of paprika
1 + 1/2 tablespoons of brown vinegar
1 teaspoon or a bit more of that leaf masala, the hot stuff
a pinch or a few more of chilli powder
one heaped teaspoon of sugar
2 tablespoonfuls of tomato puree or tomato paste, or just leave it out
1 teaspoon of turmeric
some bay leaves
baguettes (French loaf full or half length, as long as it’s firm, fresh and not too crusty)
2 iceberg lettuces, finely shredded (nou is nie die tyd vir rocket nie)
sliced fresh tomatoes
salt and pepper
1/4 cup (60 ml) brown vinegar with a teaspoon of chilli powder stirred in, to season your chips
any sauce your heart desires
- Face the fact the you have some cheap tenderised steak in front of you. Slap those babies on your kitchen work counter, and get busy. Bash them into submission with your kitchen mallet or the bottom end of a wine bottle and then sprinkle over lots of meat tenderiser and BBQ spice. Yes, do it. Let it mellow for about an hour.
- Heat some oil and fry the onion rings very slowly over medium heat in a frying pan until it starts to caramelise and turns a deeply satisfying, dark brown. Maybe post a selfie or two at this stage. Or Instagram yourself making chia smoothies. I don’t know.
- Scoop out the onions from the frying pan with a slotted spoon onto a plate lined with absorbent kitchen paper. Leave it until later.
- Now the fun starts: turn the heat up hell high and fry the steak on both sides until nicely brown. Just brown. Don’t overcook it at this stage.
- Next stage: Throw all the ingredients up to and including the bay leaves into the pan. Including the onions that you’ve forgotten about.
- Turn the heat to very low, put a large lid over the pan and let it simmer very, very gently for 45-50 minutes. Add a dash or more of water from time to time as it cooks; there has to be enough liquid for the steaks to swim in. Masala steak is something akin to a smoor, as we call it in the Cape – a slow braise.
- Just before your masala steak is done, you get furiously busy deep-frying some fat chips and draining them on a baking tray lined with absorbent kitchen paper, slicing fresh tomatoes, shredding iceberg lettuce like it’s nobody’s business, cutting baguettes in half, lining up all the condiments in the house on the kitchen counter.
- You are not ready yet. Remove the steaks from the pan they have been simmering in, turn the heat up and reduce the delicious sauce to a syrupy consistency. Smear that stuff on both sides of your split French baguette and build your Gatsby step by step, according to the photos below.
- The final, vital step is squishing down firmly on your Gatsby, to blend all the ingredients into a nice, cohesive whole. Without this final squish, all you have is a sandwich. It’s the squish that makes it a Gatsby.
- When you’re done eating, sit back and contemplate the beauty of a universe that meets your needs so perfectly. For you have had a masala steak Gatsby, and that is a truly wonderful thing.
Footnote: to truly understand a Gatsby and the culture of Gatsbyness, please read this:
2. Cut the Gatsby into a maximum of four pieces. Anything smaller is a gross injustice to the Gatsby because there’s no way you’ll be filled by a fifth or less.
3. Any chip falling from any given piece of the Gatsby is considered fair game. The ruling on this is final.
4. When separating the Gatsby, note the point of division: practice absolute precision here to avoid taking the bottom roll of the next person’s piece. Ask for assistance if necessary.
5. You must finish your share. Besides it being a terrible waste, you’ll be scorned by the Gatsby Fraternity for all time for being vesin.
6. Grip is critical. Cup your piece in your hand so that loose bits have nowhere to fall except back into your hands. Avoid the scenario described in Point 3.
7. NEVER leave the Gatsby unattended.
8. It’s best to accompany the Gatsby with a beverage, ie Jive, Frulati or Cabana. Hearty burping guarantees relief.
9. Observe relative silence when consuming the Gatsby. No one likes to talk and eat at the same time. See Point 1 regarding cold chips.
10. Always wash hands with soap and water at the conclusion to avoid getting a spicy finger in the eye, a condition commonly known as Gatsby Eye. The only cure is self-induced crying. No one wants to see that, so just make the trip and wash your damn hands.
11. The bra that contributes the least towards the gatsby gets the smallest piece.
12. The Gatsby is not supposed to be eaten out of a plate, so make sure you ask the BB.Sc (Bra Behind Shop Counter) to doublewrap the Gatsby to ensure enough paper for everyone.
13. Avoid eye contact with anyone not eating the Gatsby for fear of them asking for a “stukkie” or shouting “kap ‘n baat”.
14. When sipping on the Frulati, make sure you only have 2 sips then pass… anyone attempting more than 2 sips forfeit the next round.
15. Nothing on the Gatsby is to be wasted (refer point 5), that includes any salads or sauces still remaining in the paper… lick it up!
16. When the Gatsby is finished, it’s obligatory to finish the ritual with a cigarette, beware though of anyone asking for “‘n skyf”; thus make sure you get some sauce on the filter of the cigarette to avoid having to share your “entjie”.