I just found out the hard way that McVities Lite Digestives are lousy dunkers. One minute I had a cup of nice, strong, sweet English Breakfast and a whole biccie all to myself, and the next I had a cup full of silt and 1/3 of a broken biscuit. I stomped and shouted a bit.
See, here at the tip of Africa, we like our dunkers to be robust. We like to dip dried-out rusks, heavy-duty digestives that have the same consistency as a disc of sawdust and what we like to call crunchies (ANZAC biscuits to those of you from even further south than us) into sweet tea, or milky coffee. It’s our version of dipping a piece of baguette or croissant into a cup of café au lait.
We also like them deep-fried whenever possible. In that respect, at least, I suppose we’re like the Scots. The traditional koeksuster, the three-stranded death-bomb made by generations of Afrikaans women – deep fried dough plaited and then soaked in syrup is well-known. I prefer the Malay version, made by South Africans whose ancestors were brought here as slaves from Malaysia and India. This dough has yeast in it as well as whole shards of cinnamon, mixed spice and cardamom, and after it’s deep fried, it’s simmered in a syrup of sugar, water and naartjie (mandarin) peel and then rolled in coconut.
In South Africa, everything is divided by ethnicity. We like to know what belongs to whom. So Afrikaaners have one type koeksusters, and Malay and Inidan South Africans have another. White people of English extraction have ordinary biscuits, and we won’t talk about those because they are lousy dunkers. Black South Africans have the magwenya. Less classy than the koeksuster, but just as toothsome it too is a deep-fried, artery-clogging marvel, and is usually bought by commuters on their way to work. On any given morning, outside train and bus stations and minibus taxi ranks you’ll see women sitting with big plastic buckets, and you can bet your bottom dollar that in those buckets are magwenyas. The size of a golf-ball, they’re made from flour, yeast, salt, sugar and water, and deep fried. Sometimes people roll them in icing sugar, which turns them into a kind of doughnut. You can buy a packet of 6 for about R5 (about 50p), and they are, without a doubt, the most delicious thing you will ever dip into your coffee. Not fancy coffee, mind you, but cheap instant coffee, made milky and sweet. They’re also good with old-fashioned ginger beer – the really strong stuff that burns the back of your throat and makes your eyes water.
None of these are particularly subtle things to eat with tea. You can’t really serve a koeksuster or a magwenya on a doily or expect people to sit them down on the edge of a nice porcelain plate. They’re best eaten right out of the bag, and you need to dip them into big mugs of tea or coffee. They’ll suck up the beverage and hold onto it, so there is no fear of disintegration or crumbs at the bottom of the cup. They give a satisfying squish when you bite into them, and the dough goes nicely chewy.
I don’t think it’s wise to eat them more than once or twice a year, for health reasons, but if you’re not squeamish about your arteries, then you can look forward to a real treat. It also helps if you don’t mind having a slick of oil across the top of your cup.