It’s a warm, sunny morning in the Athlone suburb of Cape Town, and Rashaad Pandy’s take-out restaurant, Super Fisheries, is already busy. Pandy speaks to me at the counter, interrupting our conversation to greet familiar customers. People line up under bright green and yellow menu boards, leaving with plastic bags containing their lunch. For the most part, these are long, bulky wrappers wrapped in paper: the famous Gatsby sandwich.
They can take our land, but they will never take our Gatsby!
If you ask Capetonians about a local dish, a common suggestion would be the Gatsby – a tender one-foot white submarine, stuffed with combinations of meat (polony, masala steak, chicken or squid), slap tjips (chips), sauce (piri-piri, tomato), cheese, fried eggs and salad. It’s an intimidating sandwich, requiring two hands and an empty stomach, the packaging arranged to catch the overflowing contents and a resignation to the cheeks and hands smeared with sauce. Don’t be reckless enough to take on one solo; Gatsbys are made for sharing, usually cut into quarters.
The story of the Gatsby – or at least his name – tends to lead back to Pandy.
“It was 1976,” Pandy said. Four men had come to help him clear land in Lansdowne, a suburb of Cape Town. Pandy was born in the nearby suburb of Claremont, but his family was forced to move as part of the apartheid South African government’s racial segregation program.
The White Supremacist National Party, which ruled South Africa from 1948 to 1994, formalized apartheid (“apartheid” in Afrikaans) and race-based status, with the minority white population as the ruling class. Below whites were mestizos (“colored”) and Asians, while blacks had the lowest status. Many have tried to hide their identities to avoid racist policies; Pandy’s Indian grandfather changed his name from Pandey to Pandy, who sounded more English.
Pandy had promised the men food at his store in Athlone – a neighborhood he described as “the heart of the Cape Flats” (a low-lying area in the south-eastern part of town) which has become a center of anti-activism. -apartheid a few years later, In the 1980s. When they came back he picked up what he had: “There were a few crisps left, one of the Portuguese round breads… there was no fish, but I saw the polony [sliced meat, similar to bologna]. I heated the chips, I heated the polony, put some of the house atchar [pickle] over it and cut it into wedges… And the only guy, Froggy, that was his name, Froggy, he said to me: “Laanie, it’s a smash, it’s a Gatsby smash!”. “
Froggy may have been referring to the now-hit 1974 novel, The Great Gatsby – but wherever the phrase came from, the name stuck. Pandy was curious to see what his customers were thinking, so he put it on the counter the next morning. They suggested it was too hard to eat from the round roll, but why didn’t he try a long loaf instead?
“You listen to what customers want,” Pandy said. “From there, he just grew.”
“The only thing I needed was a name and [Froggy] told me it was a Gatsby smash. All I did was put it on the market and see how it worked.
Pandy specializes in fish, so he doesn’t make steak and chicken variations, and still uses his father’s atchar recipe. He sells between 250 and 300 Gatsby a day, as well as fish and chips. The Gatsby Squid sells well, says Pandy, but it’s still the original Polony version – the cheapest – that remains the most popular.
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The price is part of the appeal. Super Fisheries’ Polony Gatsby costs R54 (£ 2.60), split between four. “Money is always a bit tight at Cape Flats, but people always make do with what they have,” Pandy said. “It’s good value for money.”
“A lot of people come from Joburg and come directly from the airport. They want the original Gatsby. Pandy added that with Uber, it was easier for international visitors to travel to Athlone from the city for a take-out meal from “the home of the original Cape Town Gatsby”, as the sign proudly states. Super Fisheries.
The emergence of take-away
There are many similar “sandwiches” in South Africa. Every big city has its own version. In Durban, it’s bunny chow – a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with curry. The AK is the Johannesburg version of the Gatsby, made with the same ingredients and so named because the way you hold the bread in one arm might look like an AK-47.
“[South African takeaways] concern apartheid in the hotel industry, as it concerns the ban for blacks to eat inside the restaurant. You needed a way to take the food, ”explained anthropologist and food writer Dr Anna Trapido (who noted that another possible origin of the name Gatsby was that the bread looked like Robert Redford’s hat in the movie).
Take-out food in South Africa has not been thoroughly analyzed through the lens of breed, but a 2018 thesis by Tazneem Wentzel, a master’s student at the University of the Western Cape, shed light on the origins of Gatsby in a racist society. In her study – which is probably not only the most in-depth study of the Gatsby, but what appears to be the first – she explores the roots and cultural significance of the Gatsby and the Whopper burger, and examines the role of dishes more broadly. to take to the Cape Flats from 1950 to 1980.
Last year, local media picked up on his thesis, curious about “the humble Gatsby” – a sandwich that many Capetonians fondly regard – as an academic subject. Wentzel has appeared on radio shows such as Cape Talk and Heart FM, online outlets such as News24, and on television. “I think food history is an often overlooked and overlooked topic,” she told News24. “We take for granted the kind of stories we… ingest every day.”
Wentzel’s thesis examines the emergence of halal take-out restaurants following “the implementation of the Group Areas Act in the 1960s”. The Group Areas Act, the first of which was passed in 1950, forced people of color outside of South African cities to settle in areas such as Cape Flats. This, she says, resulted in longer trips, which meant there was less time available to prepare food in the kitchen, popularizing take-out.
Additionally, the Gatsby is specially designed for sharing, which Wentzel said represented a “special kind of culinary belonging” in a time of great injustice and political and social unrest. Family-owned take-out stores, like Pandy, have become “a critical self-authored space. [and] autonomy ”in the face of systematic racial discrimination and oppression.
Suddenly, the Gatsby does not seem so humble.
“They can take our land, but they will never take our Gatsby”
Given this story, you can imagine how shocking it is to see the Gatsby reimagined by white chefs.
In a 2018 Food Network video, Chef Sonja Edridge attempted to gentrify the Gatsby with a version that included chopped spinach, curry, homemade mayonnaise, potato wedges, arugula and plum chutney on ciabatta. The Capetonians responded with a mixture of indignation and ridicule. One of them wrote: “That Gatsby went to private school at first sight.”
Pandy said he didn’t care too much. “I’m easy,” he told me, shrugging his shoulders. “[But] most of my clients have responded to him. Bush Radio guy [Yuzriq Meyer] came in and imitated this woman. Meyer ended his dispatch by declaring, à la Mel Gibson in Braveheart: “For they can take our land, but they will never take our Gatsby!”
“Gentrified street food, wherever it occurs, is always horrible,” Trapido said. “You lose the essence of what it is.”
“I’m sure there’s room for a really good Gatsby in a restaurant setting,” she continued, “but I’m not sure the people who do it necessarily understand it from the interior. Because they have a bad flavor. I mean sure they’re wrong about the politics, but they just don’t get the taste, and it’s disrespectful if what you’re doing doesn’t say “Gatsby.”
Gentrified street food, wherever it occurs, is always horrible
Gatsby lovers often recommend the Cozy Corner in Wynberg, which opened in 1973 and is still owned by the same family. Pamela McOnie from Cape Fusion Tours tells me that The Golden Dish in the Gatesville Mall is another popular spot, especially for their Gatsbys steak masala. And Mariam’s Kitchen, which has a branch in the Central Business District, is a long-time favorite for Malaysian and Cape Indian cuisine.
Pandy is happy that other local families are taking advantage of the name Gatsby: “Who benefits? Our community. “
“It keeps people going – that’s what I’m happy about,” Pandy said. “It’s good to think I’ve done something for our community.”
Culinary roots is a BBC Travel series connected to rare and local foods woven into a place’s heritage.
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