As I take delivery of a gatsby at Mariam’s Kitchen in central Cape Town, it feels like I’m toting a newborn baby. This giant ‘sandwich’, swaddled in butcher paper, is the length of my forearm and enough to feed the entire crew back at the office.
The gatsby is to Cape Town what the chip butty is to the United Kingdom: a working person’s lunch, except it’s made for sharing.
And like most culinary inventions, the gatsby came about quite by chance, back in the mid-1970s.
Today, the essential gatsby is a standard item on the menu at corner stores as a foot-long roll portioned into four with slap chips (hot chips) spilling out of the sides.
Rashaad Pandy at Super Fisheries on Klipfontein Road is the man who claims to have invented this Cape Town classic.
Here’s his story: ‘We were busy clearing a plot of land in Athlone. When we came back to the shop at the end of the day we were hungry, but all that was left were a few chips.
‘So I took a round Portuguese loaf, heated up the chips, added some polony and atchar (a spicy pickle) and we ate it. One of the guys, called Froggy, told me: “Laanie, this is a gatsby smash!”‘ (Loose translation: Boss, this is a great meal).
The movie The Great Gatsby, starring a suave Robert Redford, was a popular new release at the local bioscope at the time.
The next day, Pandy tried out his invention on his customers and put a few on the counter. They flew out of the door.
Over time, he replaced the Portuguese loaf with a foot-long roll, known as a ‘drumstick’, because it was easier to portion than the circular loaf.
Today, the gatsby is a standard item on the menu at corner stores as a foot-long roll. Usually portioned into four with slap chips (hot chips) spilling out of the sides, it’s as popular with late-night revellers as it is with daytime workers and is a filling, budget meal.
Depending on your pocket, a gatsby might be stuffed with polony, Viennas, Russians, fried fish or even steak masala … which is what I’m cradling in my arm as I weave my way across Green Market Square, back to the office to share the spoils with my colleagues.
Where can I get one? They are available all over Cape Town but there are some places that have built their reputations on them. Here are top five names, in no particular order…
- Super Fisheries, old Klipfontein Road, Athlone (telephone +27 (0)21 696 9833)
Home of the original gatsby, Pandy says his most popular gatsby remains the polony gatsby, costing only R32
- Mariam’s Kitchen, St George’s Mall and Adderley Street, central Cape Town (telephone +27 (0)21 423 0772/0702)
Mariam’s is known for its high quality halaal food. Its steak masala gatsby with chips and salad is its most popular, selling for R98.
- The Golden Dish, Shop 1, Block 1, Gatesville Shopping Centre (telephone +27 (0)21 633 7864)
The folk here claim, ‘We didn’t invent the Gatsby, we just perfected it’. There are 30 varieties on offer and its popular masala steak full house including steak, egg, cheese, chips and salad sells for R89. It is also a great stop for all-night revellers, closing at 3am from Mondays to Wednesdays and 5am from Thursdays to Saturdays. On Sundays it is closed.
- Aneesa’s Take-Aways, 86 Ottery Road, Wynberg (telephone +27 (0)21 7975682;there are also outlets in Grassy Park, Athlone and Montagu Gardens)
The top seller here is a Vienna gatsby with chips, salad and sauces. It sells for R59.90. Also popular are the masala steak and full-house gatsby.
- Farm Stall Take-Aways, 52 Ottery Road, Otter (telephone +27 (0)21 704 2211)
Also known as Ottery Farm Stall, this place was last a farm stall 27 years ago when the current owner took over, but the name stuck. Here the top seller is also a full house featuring steak, cheese, egg, salad, chips and a secret sauce called the ‘farm-house special’, selling for R110.