From the Test Kitchen to Bukhara, top restaurants across the Mother City shop for spices at Atlas Trading, a simple, warehouse-style outlet in Bo-Kaap. The store has been in the Ahmed family for three generations, and we sat down with current owner Wahab Ahmed to uncover the secrets of the spice world.
When did your family enter the spice trade?
In 1946 my father and uncle saw a need due to the difficulty of getting hold of good spices in Cape Town. At the time all spices had to come from Durban, so they bought Atlas Trading and focused on bringing in authentic spices directly to Cape Town.
Why did you choose Bo-Kaap for the location of your shop?
We are Bo-Kaap born and raised, we love this area and the shop has been a big part of the heritage, so we wouldn’t move anywhere else.
What is your view of the new trends affecting Indian food?
I think it’s good – mixing and introducing new ideas and flavours is good for a cuisine.
Indian cuisine: north or south?
Northern cuisine is richer and creamier while the food of the south is more on the spicy side.
In your opinion, which city is the food capital of India?
Bombay. It’s a beautiful mix of north and south Indian food.
Where do your spices come from?
Straight from Bombay. We bring everything in ourselves and love that as a family business, Atlas Trading can be taken over by the next generations. My son Hakeem has just finished his B.Com Honours and is now starting to work here at the shop, starting from the bottom to learn the ropes. I hope he will some day take over.
Who are your most famous customers?
Some top chefs send their staff and so we never know exactly who’s coming to buy from us, but Reuben Riffel comes here, Pete Goffe-Wood, Reza Mahammad, Jenny Morris…
It is often said that there are 10 spices that are essential to Indian cuisine. For you, what are they?
Turmeric, cumin, coriander, chillies, curry leaves, saffron, cardamom, cloves, mace and cinnamon.
Find Atlas Trading at 104 Wale Street, Bo-Kaap, Cape Town. Visit atlastradingcompany.co.za for more information.
Read about two other restaurants that are pioneering a new chapter in Indian food in South Africa on page 100 of the March 2017 issue of House and Leisure.