Hisham's, founded by two longtime ballet dancers, offers a rare taste of Cape Malay cuisine.
From nearly a block away, one can easily sniff out the intoxicating, flavorful curries emanating from Hisham’s red food truck. Specializing in South African Cape Malay fare, the truck’s aromatic spices—such as turmeric, cumin and fenugreek—fill the air, beckoning passersby.
The truck’s namesake, Hisham Omardien, comes from Worcester, South Africa. After serving as BalletMet’s ballet master for more than 10 years, last year Omardien started the food truck, where he operates the grill while his wife, the longtime BalletMet dancer Olivia Clark, handles orders at the window. Clark, an Ohio native, retired in 2015 after 18 seasons with the company.
Cape Malay cuisine is complex, a result of the intermingling of cultures brought together in Cape Town through conquest and shackles. The food is built on the traditions of the Malaysian, Indonesian and Indian slaves brought to the region by Dutch explorers. The fiery dishes from the slaves’ homelands were tamed for their Dutch masters, resulting in a cuisine that has survived centuries.
The melding of cultures is evidenced in Hisham’s beef curry, which resembles an Indian keema. Hisham’s flat samosas are obvious cousins to the centuries-old triangles of dough from the East. And his koeksisters, the Cape Malay version of a doughnut, have a name that is derived from the Dutch word “koek,” or cake.
The entrées are hearty and spicy curries ($8) featuring beef, chicken or vegetables and served over rice. Lightly sauced, the proteins and veggies at the heart of the dish offer a deep complexity that can only be achieved from their hourslong stew. Pay the extra $1 for the yogurt sauce accompaniment. Dotted with herbs and hints of freshly grated ginger and garlic, the raitalike sauce is calming amid
the heaviness and heat of the curries.
Also, splurge $2 to add a salad of iceberg lettuce expertly dressed in creamy sauce to your curry. Al-though I was expecting the salad to be an afterthought, it quickly became one of my favorite menu offerings. Bits of cucumber, avocado and green onion add texture to the dish, while apple offers a hint of sweetness every few bites.
At first, I was unsure of the fried beef samosas ($2) because of the oil residue left in the bag in which they were packaged. After a few spicy, complex bites, however, it became clear that the indulgence was worth it. Large and rectangular, the baked hand pies ($5) feature beef, chicken or vegetables encased in a rich, fluffy puff pastry. The dough and the filling are evenly measured, making for an enjoyable dish.
For the final act, order a koeksister ($2). Coated in a cardamom-infused simple syrup and served with coconut on top, it’s dense with hints of cinnamon and isn’t overly saccharine like its American counterpart.