We all have memories of food – the taste, the smell and the texture remind us not only of certain meals but of the place, setting and people we shared it with. For many Muslims in Cape Town a pumpkin fritter, a deep friend daltjie/badja (the Cape Town cousin of the pakora) or a pancake (read crêpe) filled with coconut that is sweetened and flavoured with cardamom and cinnamon, immediately brings back the image and smell of the iftar or fast-breaking table in Ramadan.

Research has shown that food is a trigger of deeper memories, feelings and emotions and this is largely to do with the fact that food involves all five senses. Susana Whitborne a professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts says “Food memories feel so nostalgic because there’s all this context of when you were preparing or eating this food, so the food becomes almost symbolic of other meaning… the whole experience of being a family, being nourished, and that acquires a lot of symbolism apart from the sensory quality.”

Furthermore, family recipes are packed with elements of selfhood. In other words our favourite recipes stir up nostalgic remembrances in the same way that heirlooms do. We inherit recipes from people we love and we leave them behind for later generations, in the hope that they too will derive joy and happiness from them.

And this is where the Boeka Treats comes in.

First published in 1999 by the Boorhaanol Islam Movement, the booklet contains recipes for popular snacks and foods for boeka – or fast breaking. The word boeka comes from the Sunda word buka – a language originating in the Indonesian island of Java, a place from which many Cape Muslims descend. The first Muslims in South Africa were exiles and enslaved peoples from the Dutch East Indies colonies and were brought to Cape Town starting in the 16th century. Many of them were rulers, nobility and learned people and once at the Cape, they continued practicing and spreading the teachings of Islam. They came to be known as the Cape Malays because Malay was the lingua franca of both enslaved and free Muslims, despite their diverse geographic origins. 

The food currently regarded as being typically Cape Malay bears testament to the historical mix of cultures present amongst Muslims in Cape Town, most notably certain foods and spices from the Indian sub-continent. To this day, the best place to experience Cape Malay cuisine is in Bo-Kaap (literally translated as “above the Cape”) the historical Malay Quarter situated on the slopes of Signal Hill above the city centre and famous for its steep cobblestone hills and colourful houses.


It therefore comes as no surprise that the Boeka Treats also has its origins in Bo-Kaap under the auspices of Boorhaanol, an organization committed to “combining religious educational initiatives with pioneering socio-economic upliftment programs” and established by Imam Abdurahman Bassier and Dr. Achmat Davids over 50 years ago. Although both men have since passed on, they remain engraved in the memories of Cape Muslims who knew them as leaders committed to serving their community. ‘Boeta Achmat’ as he was fondly known, was a social worker and later became the the doyen of Cape Muslim history as well as producing significant academic works on the origins of the Afrikaans language and reclaiming it as “the language of our people”.  

Imam Bassier (pictured) was the imam of the Masjied Boorhaanol Islam in Bo-Kaap from September 1962 until his death in July 2004 and spent his life teaching and serving people whether they were in his own neighbourhood or further away in various prisons around the Western Cape. He was in fact the Muslim chaplain that was allowed to visit Ahmed Kathrada, a then political prisoner on Robben Island. His religious services were attended by the likes of Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela, with whom the Imam developed a close friendship. The lives of both of these community stalwarts symbolize the great resilience of the Cape Muslims and writing in his autobiography Born to Serve, Imam Bassier reflected “Yes, we are a minority group in this country, still we can carry the torch and make it shine, as forefathers did… Our history is the distinct proof of it.”


Boorhaanol’s many publications were always more educational and serious in scope, but with the rapid approach of the 21st century, it became clear that the organization’s objective of the preservation of the cultural traditions of the Cape Muslims was becoming increasingly important. Today, the booklet is more than just a publication – it is a staple in most Muslim homes. Despite growing up eating mostly Indian cuisine, we had a few copies of Boeka Treats in our house. It was also the case that every so often at gatherings of extended family, when a dish was complimented, the woman responsible for preparing it would say “It’s from Boeka Treats.”

The popularity of the publication is hardly surprising given that within the first week of the release of the first 1999 edition, the 20 000 copies were sold out. “It was a hit, people absolutely loved it,” Kiyaam Bassier tells me during an interview. Bassier is the youngest son of Imam Bassier and has been involved with producing Boeka Treats since its inception. He says that as an organization, Boorhaanol had always “Expressed an intention to preserve and document the practices, whether they are cultural or Islamic, within our community.” The idea was then formed to produce a booklet which would record the kinds of food eaten at fast-breaking. “So we asked, ‘Who makes the best daltjie (or whichever savory) in our community?’ And then we would ask that woman to make it and supply us with the recipe. So the difference between this book and any other recipe book is that this one comes from the community. It is not just produced by one person, it’s the community’s book.” As more editions began to be published, more people began submitting their recipes for possible inclusion. Bassier explained the three elements of every recipe, “It had to come from the community, it had to be simple to make, and it had to be flop-proof.”

For the next 20 years, the recipes and Boeka Treats editions grew, finally culminating in the decision, in 2016, to compile all the recipes and split them into four volumes, releasing one volume a year over the next four years. You can now purchase the full four-volume box set.

In researching this article, I remembered that my aunt, Rashieda Booley, was a contributor to the 2002 edition. She submitted her recipe for “Impossible Tart”, a dessert so called because she says “it is impossible to make a flop of it”. My aunt also confirmed that like so many others, she still uses recipes from Boeka Treats such as her famous bollas – small donuts drenched in sugar syrup and sprinkled with desiccated coconut which she makes for our family birthdays and dhikr gatherings. She also tells me that she received her first copy of the 1999 Boeka Treats from a mentor who wrote a note to her in the front cover.

In speaking to various people about the memories associated with this publication, one thing sticks out – the fondness for the booklet and its recipes. “It’s the first thing I see when I open my mum’s top draw in her kitchen, it’s covered in dried flour because my mum would go back to it as she was baking.” says Zainab Petersen, a Capetonian who now lives in Edinburgh and who also asked her mother to send a copy to Scotland. “It gives you quick and easy ideas, that’s why it’s so handy. It’s traditional things that we like to eat that have been simplified. It doesn’t have complicated ingredients and uses things that you would generally have in your cupboard.”

“They’re just amazing with their recipes,” says another woman who has been making use of Boeka Treats for the past 20 years. “It’s an absolute classic, if there’s a home in Cape Town that doesn’t have a Boeka Treats, then I’ll have to raise an eyebrow and say ‘Why not?’ It doesn’t matter how many other recipe books I have, I somehow always end up going back to my Boeka Treats.”

But it is not just Capetonians who have this affinity. A friend from Singapore who now lives in Cape Town says “At first I was skeptical, thinking ‘Will this work?’ but now my favourite recipe is milk tart. It is a go-to book.”

Another friend from the UK who spent some years living in Cape Town, recalls excitedly “I remember being invited to an iftar, it was the first authentic Cape Town iftar that I’d experienced.  And those spectacular half-moons and pancakes from the Boeka Treats! I have this image of someone pulling this thin book from their shelf, it had tattered pages. And from then on, whenever I went for iftar’s at people’s houses, someone’s mum was preparing something from it. I didn’t ever have a copy, but I wish I did now, because I would love to make some boeber.”

Ah, boeber. Arguably the most famous Ramadan delicacy in Cape Town, made after 15 days of fasting to mark the mid-way point through the blessed month. It is a sweet hot milk drink made with vermicelli (pronounced as vurm-ma-silly in Cape Town), sago, sugar and flavoured with stick cinnamon, cardamom and rose water. Growing up, boeber was always prepared by my Nanie, but given the lockdown prompted by Covid-19 and her advanced age, this year I had to attempt it alone. I used the Boeka Treats recipe and despite having some doubts as I stood over the pot making sure the milk was not burning, it was a success. Rich, creamy and not too sweet – it was perfect (you can find the recipe here).

But the joy that I and so many others find in using Boeka Treats is not simply confined to selecting recipes we love – it is all about sharing. For many of my contemporaries who were children when the first editions were published, our memories are not in the kitchen but of taking a plate to our neighbours in Ramadan. Sending cookies away was what we called it, but no one actually ever sent literal cookies. More than likely it would be plates of pies, samosas, koesisters, bollas, snowballs, pancakes, fritters, cakes or tarts. We would cautiously carry paper plates wrapped in foil or covered with a colourful paper napkin from the kitchens of our mothers, aunts and grandmothers and enter into the kitchen of another woman where no doubt, something else delicious was being prepared, ready to be exchanged. We’d have to race back home before the call of the athaan which was sometimes stressful, and some pies and fritters were known to be casualties on the side of the pavement, after sliding off a packed plate. But the result of the food swap was a feast of up to seven different plates of sweets and savories to break the fast. It is this spirit of generosity that is slowly dwindling away –  none of my friends can remember the last time they sent cookies to their neighbours, plus the circumstances of Ramadan 2020 and social distancing would probably have made it impossible anyway. But should we revive this tradition – rest assured, we will have plenty of recipes to choose from simply by opening any edition of Boeka Treats and sharing in a legacy of good food, good company and the spirit of community.