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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

South Africa Offers Tasty Look at Cape Culture

MTSous-chef Rita Borodkina displaying a sample of the South African dishes Cafe Amadeus is serving until the festival ends Oct. 15.
Over the past week, Muscovites have been treated to some of Africa's most vibrant sights and sounds at a festival of South African culture organized by the South African Embassy at the Radisson-Slavjanskaya hotel.

South Africa Week is the biggest cultural event undertaken so far by the embassy, says Anesh Naistry, the embassy's press attach?. It began last week with an exhibition of African art and a concert by South African musicians and continues through this week with a festival of South African food.

The aim of South Africa Week is to break down some of the ignorance of Africa that prevails in Russia, Naistry says, and to expose Russians to African culture and to that of South Africa in particular.

Naistry says that the lack of awareness of African culture has led to a negative image of Africa in Russia -- a perception that it is a continent of war, bloodshed and instability.

"[This image of Africa] is far from the truth," he says. "There is a vibrant culture in Africa and South Africa."

The lack of understanding between Russia and South Africa is largely a result of the apartheid regime in South Africa, Naistry says, under which South Africans were peddled the Cold War ideology that all things Russian and communist were bad.

Even now, 10 years after the demise of the Soviet Union, the South African community in Moscow is small: Around 50 South Africans are registered with the embassy, most of whom are businessmen or professionals working in the services industry. But the community is growing, Naistry says, and South African companies such as De Beers and Bateman are already well established in Moscow.

As part of the South African Embassy's efforts to increase cultural awareness of Africa, a political conference was held during the week to clarify political issues involved in dealing with Africa. This involved an explanation of the philosophy recently embraced by African leaders of an "African Renaissance," a political, economic, cultural and social project undertaken to redefine and regenerate the continent, Naistry says.

The festival of South African cuisine is the final event in the embassy's cultural program. Consisting of a daily hot and cold buffet, the festival showcases a wide variety of South African dishes. For $19, guests can sample such exotic fare as lamb bobotie (lightly curried lamb baked with egg, cream, raisins and sugar) and grilled ostrich steak in a sauce of mixed berries and red sambuca. Chefs are on hand to explain how the food is prepared.

In charge of putting all these dishes together is Craig Backhouse, the executive sous chef of the Toadbury Hall hotel in Johannesburg. Backhouse became involved in the event through the South African Chefs' Association, which organizes overseas projects in partnership with South African embassies abroad.

The diversity of South African food reflects the influence of the various ethnic groups that have settled the country, Backhouse says. National cuisine ranges from local African food, such as mealiemeal (finely ground maize), through dishes introduced by European settlers, such as boerewurst (spiced sausage), to the spicy curries brought over by Indian and Malaysian slaves, known as Cape-Malay food.

Judging by the reaction of the local chefs who have helped him prepare the food, Backhouse has already played his part in the Russian-South African cultural exchange.

"We've gotten on really well with the chef, and we find the food extremely tasty, completely different to the flavors we're used to in [Russian cooking]," says Roman Gvozdkov, a sous chef at the Radisson. "I think South African food will work well in Russia."

The South African Embassy is keen to develop links between the two countries further, and one of the ways it is looking to achieve this is by bringing more South African musicians to Russia.

"Music is one of the best ways of bridging cultural gaps," Naistry says. "When there is an appreciation of that cultural aspect of South Africa, I think there will be more of an appreciation of African culture in general."

The musicians are willing to come, Naistry says, as they see great potential in exposure to a new audience in Eastern Europe and Russia.

The only stumbling block is finance. The embassy has a limited budget and it will have to look for sponsorship elsewhere. However, South African companies have already been very receptive, Naistry says, and many helped out financially with South Africa Week.

A concert given last Wednesday by the M'Lumbo Jazz Artists and PJ Powers highlighted the potential of such cultural ventures. "The concert was incredible," Naistry says. "Russians were on their feet clapping and partying to the music. It's exactly what South Africa Week aimed to do."

The South African food festival started Friday and will be held twice daily until Oct. 15 from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Cafe Amadeus in the Radisson-Slavjanskaya hotel.