Wednesday, September 30, 2015

bitter + sweet by Mietha Klaaste, Niël Stemmet #review #foodie

Title: bitter + sweet
Authors: Mietha Klaaste, Niël Stemmet
Publisher: Human & Rousseau, 2015

bitter + sweet, which also has an Afrikaans edition bitter + soet, is the kind of book that simply begs you to pick it up and take a closer look. Not only is it, exactly as it says, a cookbook filled with, as Niël Stemmet names as heritage food, but it also serves as a record of stories about Niël and Mietha Klaaste’s remembrances. Hence the “bitter” to counteract the “sweet” of many of the traditional dishes offered by South Africa’s coloured people.

Mietha was born on a farm in the Robertson district and cared for him from the day he was born until the time that his family left when he was 15. In many ways, it can be seen, she played a bigger role as nurturer in his life than his own mother, and in this book he has had the opportunity, as he says, to “put her memories into words, remember the recipes”.

We are tactile beings, and as we grow older, we also fall prey to nostalgia; therefore the tastes of our childhood become precious. For those of us who grew up during a certain era or among particular people, recipes such as baked sago pudding, dried beans with sugar and vinegar, tomato bredie, yellow rice with raisins or old-fashioned pancakes may conjure up visions of lazy Sunday lunches with relatives or even the church bazaars from childhood, with the taste of cinnamon sugar and lemon juice lingering on your lips.

Mietha takes readers on a culinary journey through the past, offering a glimpse into the historical context in which meals were served. Not only that, but we are offered a perspective of what life was like for coloured people living out in the countryside at time; and it’s important that her voice is heard, to lay down visceral memories of an era in which we experienced great social injustice.

Yet for all the sadness, there is the love – and there is no denying the special bond between Mietha and Niël, as heart-rending as some of the events were that they endured. For all the beautiful stories, there are the darker, painful ones, sustained by the meals.

Mention must also be made of Adriaan Oosthuizen’s photography and the food styling, which together present minimalistic yet lovingly vintage images of a number of the recipes – which work well with the bold, colourful layout.

Even for those who’re not great cooks but have an interest in culture, this is a must-read; for those whose passion involves cooking, you can’t go wrong – there are some timeless recipes included. bitter + sweet will linger in my mind for a long time, for the sadness and its joy.


  1. thank you so much Nerine for your so special and honest review - it is very special

    1. Only a pleasure, Niël. All the best with your future projects.