What’s in a name, asked William Shakespeare, as he reasoned that a rose called something different (a smurgunkle, for instance) would still essentially remain the same sweet-smelling flower. Clearly, Billy-boy was not in my home town last week to witness the drama, laughter, tears, celebration, memes and confusion that greeted the city’s name change from Port Elizabeth to Gqeberha. Granted, to the English eye there seem to be too many consonants in the word, and combined in ways that don’t make sense under the rules of English spelling or pronunciation. But South Africa has eleven national languages and to isiXhosa speakers, there is nothing untoward about it.
Let’s backtrack for a little history lesson. Port Elizabeth, despite what many people seem to think, was not named after any member of the British royal family (Queen Elizabeth II is old, but she was not around in the early 1800s!!). The city received its name in 1820 when the acting British Governor of the Cape Colony Sir Rufane Donkin, grieving for his young wife Elizabeth who had died shortly after childbirth in India, named it in honour of her. He also erected a monument to her memory in the form of a stone pyramid which remains one of the city’s most prominent historical sites today. But before the arrival of South Africa’s two colonial powers (the Dutch and the British), the indigenous San (nomadic subsistence hunter-gatherer tribes) and the Khoikhoi (nomadic pastoralist tribes) freely roamed the area but as nomads, they never established permanent settlements. Both peoples were decimated by disease and genocide during the colonial rule (shockingly, it was authorised to “hunt” San tribes as they were considered cattle thieves). Their rich culture was further eroded by private land ownership encroaching on their traditional nomadic way of life and intermarriage outside of their tribes so that today, they are a marginalised and often poverty-stricken people. Not one San or Khoikhoi language is recognised as one of South Africa’s 11 national languages. One of the few significant ways that they have left their mark on the Eastern Cape (other than incredible rock art) is in the names of geographical features. Kragga Kamma is a suburb of Port Elizabeth and is derived from the Khoikhoi word for “sweet water”. The nearby Outeniqua mountains are named after the Khoikhoi tribe that once inhabited the mountain forests and means “people who bear honey”. The Tsitsikamma region along the south-eastern coast is from the Khoi word meaning “place of abundant water”.
One of the reasons that Port Elizabeth was settled in the first place was because of the presence of fresh water that fed into a sheltered lagoon. Portuguese explorer Bartolomeo Diaz in 1488 was forced by a crew mutiny to turn back to Portugal when his ship reached a rocky island off the coast (now St Croix Island, named after the cross Diaz erected), and he simply named the bay Agra de Roca or “bay of rocks”. Nearly a century later, in 1576, Portuguese navigator and cartographer Manuel de Mesquita Perestrelo renamed the bay Baia de Lagoa (“bay of lagoons”), which was eventually corrupted to Algoa Bay. This alludes to the fact that for many years, seafarers noted it on a map only as a place to anchor and replenish fresh water supplies. This fresh water took the form of a stream that rises in marshland about 23km from the shore and winds its way through the city suburbs until it flows into the sea close to the modern harbour. In 1752, ensign August Beutler, an employee of the Dutch East India Company, led an 8-month reconaissance voyage along the eastern cape coast, setting up stone beacons in various places to denote Dutch ownership. One such beacon was set up at the mouth of this stream, and subsequently the Dutch colonists started referring to the river as the Baakens River, or “beacon river”. But long before their arrival, the river was was known to the Khoikhoi people as the Kabega river, meaning “abundance of reeds”. And although the spelling of Gqeberha is isiXhosa, this itself is a corruption of the original name and the click at the start that has people’s tongues (and knickers!) in a twist is a characteristic sound of the San and Khoikhoi languages.
Over the past two weeks there has been much written about the name change. Some arguments are financial – when there is so much unemployment and deprivation in the region (worsened by the Covid-19 lockdowns), is this a good time to be changing the city’s name and necessitating the expense of changing road signs, official literature, websites etc. referring to the old name? Others are cultural – those who support the retention of the old name point out that it did not glorify a politician or monarch and in fact preserved a quirky, if sad, part of the city’s history; while those who support the new name feel that the old name is a colonial relic and does not reflect the indigenous heritage of the city. And I can see that each of these arguments has merit, depending on your perspective. But the one argument that has me rolling my eyes is “the new name is too hard to pronounce”. To be sure, to speakers of a particular mother tongue, words in other languages can be a challenge as they use sounds that simply do not occur in the speaker’s language. I am told the “th” sound in words like “this” is a bafflement to non-English speakers, in the same way as the double L in Icelandic or in Welsh is a struggle for English tongues. But that does not stop people travelling to Llanelli, and you may all recall the speed with which English newsreaders learned to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull when the Icelandic volcano dramatically dramatically erupted in 2010. In the same way, the 3 basic clicks of isiXhosa (c, q and x) may be unfamiliar to many English speakers. But they are certainly not impossible to learn and those who are clinging to the old name without even really trying to pronounce the new one do themselves, their city and its people disservice. And those who fear for the collapse of tourism because of the name change would also do well to remember Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, the town in Wales that has practically built its brand on its hard-to-wrap-your-tongue-around name.
A Welsh dish that is far, far easier to wrap your tongue around – but which coincidentally also underwent a name change – is the classic Welsh rarebit. Like many others, I grew up thinking it was Welsh “rabbit” and I dreaded the day when somebody might offer me a bunny to eat. It turns out I was right insofar as the dish was initially called Welsh rabbit, but just like a toad-in-the-hole contains no amphibians and langues de chat are free of felines, rabbits have never been harmed in the making of this dish. The name is thought to have originated in 1725 as a dig by the English at their cheese-loving Welsh neighbours, suggesting that “only people as poor and stupid as the Welsh would eat cheese and call it rabbit”, or that the closest thing to rabbit the Welsh could afford was melted cheese on toast – much like Rocky Mountain “oysters” are in fact bull’s testicles and Scotch “woodcock” is toast spread with anchovy paste and scrambled egg. But by the 1780s, possibly to avoid confusion as to the ingredients or possibly to upcycle the dish, rabbit had been corrupted to “rarebit” and that is how it is still referred to today.
It really is classic poor man’s food, made with simple ingredients but packed with delicious flavour : grated cheese mixed with ale, mustard and butter or egg, melted over toasted bread. Last week I felt like making something to mark St David’s Day, the Welsh national day on 1 March, but living alone and not being a big bread eater I seldom have bread to hand and the weather was not conducive to a stroll to the shops. Instead, I riffed on the classic combination of cauliflower cheese to make this low-carb (and easily gluten-free) version of the dish: cauliflower steak Welsh rarebit, with roasted cauliflower steaks taking the place of the bread. There are various ways to make Welsh rarebit, some using mustard powder, others wholegrain prepared mustard; some with egg, some with butter; and some with additions like leeks or bacon. I opted for my Welsh friend Kacie’s classic version of Welsh rarebit, but with cauliflower instead of bread and I cannot recommend it highly enough – the cheese mixture tastes like a fondue and I could easily have eaten that on its own! For beer, I used Duvel – a strong Belgian golden ale that undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle (like Champagne) and a long maturation period, giving it a distinct hopsy character, a fine effervescence and a subtle sweetness (also a substantial 8.5% alcohol by volume!). It’s not only delicious to cook with but also lovely to sip, even for a very infrequent beer drinker like me.
For more cheesy deliciousness, try my grilled halloumi with red pepper coulis and za’atar, grilled goat’s cheese and pear salad, three cheese terrine, or my super easy beer and cheese no-knead quick bread.
This delicious twist on the traditional recipe uses cauliflower steaks instead of toasted bread, topped with a tangy melted cheese, mustard and beer mix.
- 1 large cauliflower
- 25 g butter
- 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 120 g Extra mature Cheddar cheese, grated
- 35 ml ale or beer
- 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 Tbsp wholegrain mustard
- 15 g butter, melted
Pre-heat the oven to 200C (fan 180C). Cut the cauliflower in half top to bottom, then cut a thick (at least 1cm) slice from each half to make 2 steaks.
Melt the butter in a large frying pan and add 1 Tbsp of oil. Season the cauliflower steaks (I used my absolute favourite, Old Bay seasoning) and fry on each side until golden.
Carefully lift the steaks onto a baking tray and roast in the oven for 10 minutes or until the stem is tender when pierced with a knife. When they are done, remove the steaks from the oven, still on the baking tray. Switch the oven to medium-hot grill.
While the steaks are roasting, mix the grated cheese, Worcestershire sauce, ale, mustard and melted butter well in a small bowl. When the steaks come out of the oven, spread the cheese mixture generously over both cauliflower steaks.
Return the baking sheet to the oven and grill until the cheese is melted and beginning to turn golden. Serve hot with a green salad (or simply chopped cherry tomatoes, as I did).
To make gluten-free cauliflower Welsh rarebit, use gluten-free beer, or substitute pressed apple juice.
To make vegetarian cauliflower Welsh rarebit, omit the Worcestershire sauce as it traditionally contains anchovies, or substitute a vegetarian alternative.
To make vegan cauliflower Welsh rarebit, use vegan cheese and butter substitutes; and omit the Worcestershire sauce.
Any semi-hard full-flavoured cheese will work, including Cantal, aged Gouda, Edam, Mimolette, Gruyere, Linconlshire Poacher, Black Bomber, Caerphilly or Cornish Yarg (or Kern)
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