If you know anyone who has been to South Africa, they will probably have visited Capetown, Johannesburg and Kruger National Park, but it is highly unlikely that they would have visited the eastern port city of Durban, the biggest port in Africa. This city, more than any other city in South Africa, is where three major cultures have co-existed side-by-side for 150 years. Zulus in beaded African headdresses, Indians in iridescent saris, and Brits in starched safari outfits have all been long-time residents of Durban. Brightly beaded rickshaws pulled by Zulus in full battle garb have been a fixture here for over a hundred years, affirming Durban's unique mix of the African and the Indian.
I was born in Durban, thanks to my grandmother who settled here in 1909. In her 20s, she set sail from Southampton England to work as a hospital nurse in India. The long ocean voyage from Europe to India took her around the southern tip of Africa, where she stopped to break her three-month trip and met her husband-to-be. She never got to India, but you could say she almost did, as Durban has the largest population of Indians outside India.
So I grew up in my own family’s strange masala: among our own vestiges of Colonial Britain -- its starched white clothing and Victorian ideals -- there were Zulu servants who kept large beaded snuff boxes in their elongated ear lobes, and Indian cooks who simmered curries in our kitchens.
The curry of Durban comes from these Indian immigrants who were brought here from India as indentured laborers to cut the sugar cane around 1860s. Their recipes are now derivatives of the peasant curries that were brought by these original Indian settlers from the provinces of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.
Durban Curry is a spicy red curry, its dominant color coming from the fiery dried chilies used as the major ingredient in the curry powder. In the USA the best equivalent to Durban Curry powder would be what is usually labeled "red curry powder," rather than the one on our supermarket shelves, which tends to be yellow from the turmeric in it. This dish was adopted by British settlers and Zulu inhabitants alike, simplified and streamlined to become a staple enjoyed by all. It is the one dish that every resident of Durban is passionate about.