RAD & RED
The bright prospects of a Seven Colours Sunday
Indulging in a Seven Colours Sunday splurge at Radisson Red, and all around Joburg, lifts the mood like nothing else. There’s even something to take home.
Around Jozi, it’s a big thing. The ubiquitous roast and three veg is nothing compared with the Seven Colours Sunday. The latter is quite a nostalgic family-and-friends occasion and the week is something pallid without the bright prospect of this meal at the end of it. Everyone’s mother does it best. And she puts a lot of effort into making the meal with at least one meat and then all the colourful, impressive vegetable and starch dishes.
I haven’t been to one for at least a year, that being on the farm of a friend, Siphiwe Sithole. It was she who was talking to me recently about potatoes and the more colourful, more nutritive ones she recommended for Seven Colours Sundays. I was realising two things: that it’s such a fanatically favourite weekend feast for so many of us in this part of the country; and that the colours really do inspire many ideas for the composite dishes.
There are usually about seven dishes to pass around the table or from which to help yourself from the sideboard. Many of the colours at Siphiwe’s Sunday meal came, when I was there, from the various sweet potatoes she grows in at least three colours. There were certainly three or more other vegetable dishes in addition to the slow-cooked hardbody chicken, one I remember being bitter leaves from a gourd, which she mixed with groundnut paste, not peanut but Africa’s own much more useful-to-grow and similar tasting groundnut. Peanuts are imported things.
When I hear friends talking with such obvious relish about a Seven Colours Sunday, they are talking about the lovely meal. It doesn’t strictly have to include seven dishes or seven colours really but it’s an especially warmly rewarding meal. Someone might say he’s going home to his parents’ place that weekend because he doesn’t want to miss “The Seven Colours” on Sunday. Food writer Zanele van Zyl says, “I love a good Seven Colours.” She thinks a lot about the colours but also the textures and the balance of the meal.
Chef Genghis, this Sunday, is chatting about the colours too, but particularly the textures. In fact, today he’s just Genghis Molosiwa. He’s on holiday and three of us are eating at the Radisson Red, normally his place of cheffing but today his place of eating what someone else has cooked.
At this hotel, there’s no secret about what colour Radisson it is. You either see first the red wings art installation on the corner or enter the red-embellished portal or, as I did, get out of the lift, up from the garage, into the welcome-red foyer. The foyer adjoins the dining areas that lead one into another, all studded with red artwork and furniture pieces. Near our table is an artwork list of homey places, graffiti style in red, in or near Jozi, including Maboneng, Sandton, Alex and ‘Sash’. Can that be for Soshanguve? We wonder.
Genghis is in cocoa stripes, as cheery-dimpled as he was when I last saw him two years ago but somehow more easy. It could be because he’s on holiday really, out of his chef’s jacket. We’re going to be eating a Seven Colour Sunday meal together because this was all his idea, the idea that you can go to his Radisson Red restaurant and order a real Seven Colours “just like your mom would be making it.” If she were a good cook.
“Not everyone can get home on Sundays for their Seven Colours meal,” he says, so he started serving it here. It’s been a hit every Sunday since then.
“We always have a hundred people or so, having their own Seven Colours Sundays here. It’s like home from home to many.”
He says he knows that kids who grew up with their Seven Colours Sundays have such fond memories of it that they want to retain the whole idea of the comfort occasion forever. Nowadays there’s also a market event in Jabulani, Soweto, called Seven Colour Sundays and there’s a lovely recipe book by another popular cookery author and chef, Zola Nene, Simply Seven Colours. The book is divided into colour chapters.
We settle down in almost festive mood, all three of us with expectations, even Genghis. I wonder if he knows exactly what’s for lunch today. Almost immediately the first load of dishes is brought forth. Dunelo Maboko puts down quite a lot of roasted chicken drumsticks, a pot of lightly creamed fresh spinach, halves of steamy dombolo, heaps of ‘borrie’ rice and a pile of even sunnier mashed carrot with potato.
I haven’t forgotten that Chef Genghis loves rice. His father, also a chef, is half-Chinese and perhaps that’s why Genghis’ all-time favourite dish, he once told me, is Golden Egg Drop Soup made with rice. Rice is also one of the items mentioned most often when I’ve asked about people’s memories of their own Seven Colours meals back home. So does beetroot, with its purplish colour that often “stains everything else, especially the mayonnaise”.
The second lot of dishes for the table includes the yummy beetroot pickle that I know is made by Chef Genghis because I’ve tasted it before. There’s no mayo, I note with some happiness. I’d so much rather have a spread like this without the often ubiquitous mayonnaise interfering with the tastes. There is Genghis-made chakalaka, however, perhaps in its stead.
And here is a big bowl of softly, slowly cooked beef stew. Two-‘nyama’ Seven Colours meals I know are the luxurious sorts and they are standard at Radisson Red’s Seven Colours Sundays. Amanda Matina puts down a bright salad as well. No mayo but a Greek yoghurty-tasting dressing, I further note with more happiness. Our meal-to-be for three is complete. Apparently, the sizes of the dishes change with more people at the table. If we were six, it’d be double the amount of food in each dish or bowl, meaning bigger bowl and dish, not more items. I try to gauge what I’d get if I were here alone, with a third of each item. It would still be quite a lot of food.
I find I love everything about the carrot mash. I could eat this forever, I reckon, also relishing the way the lemony chicken has been tenderly herb-roasted. This is all simple food, in a way, not artified but creatively cooked and combined, which is in itself the art. Even the salad is crisply fresh, sweet tomatoes and coloured peppers thinly sliced into it, looking lively and textural.
Genghis says he eats right here every Sunday, just not generally when he’s on holiday, I know. Many of the dishes are expected to remain the same on Sundays but of course, some food is seasonal and some is prepared differently. “It can’t be the same ALL the time, even though that’s what people want!” giggles Genghis.
When I laid out my plate from the dishes on the table, I was careful to organise the colours as much as possible. I felt like a child glorying in the wonder of that exercise, creating a kind of palette of colours and shades.
We discuss the idea and the reality of a Seven Colours meal, that the idea is fantastic and yet the meal must also really taste wonderful. We consider that the idea of the seven colours probably came from the seven colours of the rainbow. Once there were six but when Isaac Newton looked at the spectrum in the 1800s, he thought that the blue could naturally be divided into more of a sky blue and an indigo before it went on to violet.
I tell Genghis that a friend and I used to hold quite a big blue lunch every year at wisteria time. We were pretty inventive, having items like duck in lavender honey and blue-necked guinea fowl baked in salt crusts cracked open at the table. Ridiculously expensive Blue Mountain coffee and black rice often featured. Aubergines counted for us as blue vegetables, as did sweet ‘Spanish’ onions, purple cabbage and so did prunes and black olives. We even tried growing our own Congo Blue potatoes in the days before I met Siphiwe Sithole of African Marmalade. Our rule was no food colouring, ever. I read that Irma Stern used to host blue dinners too and I’ve often tried to find her menus.
Do you provide any food from the blue end of the seven-colour spectrum? I ask Genghis.
“Blue food!” he blurts, his eyes wide and wild. “No!,” he adds vehemently as though I’d suggested ingesting penicillin. “We don’t do blue food. It’s not an appealing food colour.”
Some people reckon beetroot is purple but is it on the blue side? I’ve wondered. I know from practice that cooking blueberries for their colour is pretty useless because they turn red. I’ve also noticed that hosts and hostesses often add on, after their Seven Colours meal, a dessert like blue bubblegum ice cream if they want to be super-serious about completing all their colours. People can add on desserts from the menu here too if they want to but I know none of them is blue. I’m rather relieved we didn’t ever invite Genghis to our lunches since he feels so strongly about blue food.
We discuss how many people come here in single bookings. He says rather more happily, “Every week there’s at least one long table, even for 20 or 30 people sometimes.” Apart from the main restaurant room, there are tuck-away areas for dining too.
We also talk about so much food and maybe so much waste. He chuckles and asks if I’ve ever noticed, at Seven Colours Sundays, the guests bringing their Tupperware with them. “It’s almost a given,” he says. “So here we make paper bag presents of the leftovers, nicely packed for our guests. We don’t want waste and our guests generally like to take something away.”
When I get home and unpack a brown bag Amanda gave me when I left, I discover an especially healthy helping of that superb orange-hued carrot mash in a neat container, inter alia. Even now it reminds me of how I’ve been party to one remarkably happy Seven Colours at Red. It’s already quite late on a sunny winter Sunday afternoon, though the sky is still a naughty bright blue. DM
Radisson Red Rosebank, 4 Parks Boulevard, Oxford Parks | 010 023 3580
The writer supports Nosh Food Rescue, an NGO that helps Jozi feeding schemes with food ‘rescued’ from the food chain. Please support them here.