The only son in his family, it was assumed Rashaad Pandy would one day take over his father‚Äôs butcher shop. His thing, though, was fish and chips. His Muslim father didn‚Äôt trust that what else was fried in the same oil at the fish shop was halaal, so as a child Rashaad had to savour his favourite food on the sly. As a young man, after some convincing, his father helped him to start his own fish shop and on the 11th of January 1974 Super Fisheries was opened next door to the butcher shop in an area of Cape Town called Athlone.
Around at this time, there was a group of men in the neighbourhood known as The Smashers. They were who you called around to help with heavy lifting, to wash your car, or to fix your shutters. The Smashers were headed up by a ‚Äòspokesman‚Äô, and lover of one-liners, known as Froggy. One afternoon in 1976, Froggy and the guys helped Rashaad to clear a plot, looking forward to a fish and chips supper at the end of the day. Only, that evening, Super was all sold out. Instead, Rashaad opened up a round Portuguese loaf and stuffed it with ‚Äòslap chips‚Äô, sliced polony sausage and his dad‚Äôs homemade atchar sauce. He cut up the decadent sandwich to share amongst The Smashers. Froggy approved, dubbing it a ‚ÄòGatsby smash‚Äô after F. Scott Fitzgerald‚Äôs book and the film that followed in 1974.
Acting on the impulse that ‚Äúthis might be something great‚Äù, Rashaad took the hit combo to his customers to try and it soon became a regular offering. Listening to customer feedback, the round Portugese bread was swopped for a footlong loaf for easy cutting and sharing. Today, gatsbys are served across the city and come with any filling you can think of: russian sausages, masala steak, calamari. Three things remain in common: hot, slap chips, sharebility (between 4 or 6 people), and value for money.
The concept of chips and a variety of meats, salad or leftovers eaten together on a roll was a staple of Cape Town‚Äôs Cape Flats. So while Rashaad might not be the first to assemble similar ingredients, it‚Äôs generally accepted that Froggy was the first to give the dish the name it goes by now on every menu.
Rashaad is sharing this origin story at the 3rd annual Street Food Festival in Cape Town, where the vast selection of food on offer out of food truck windows, or over the counters of makeshift stalls, ranges from Greek to Belgian to Indian to Polynesian-inspired. It‚Äôs all food with humble beginnings that has travelled the world sharing the identity of its place of invention.
On overhearing that Rashaad is ‚Äúthe guy who invented the gatsby‚Äù a young woman makes her way over to him. She asks to shake his hand and says, ‚Äúthank you.‚Äù
On the ride home, our the Uber driver, Waheed, asks about the festival. We tell him that we heard about the beginnings of the gatsby. He asks if the first was Golden Dish in Gatesville. ‚ÄúNo‚Äù, we say, ‚ÄúSuper Fisheries.‚Äù ‚ÄúAh, the one with the atchar.‚Äù We chat about the price a gatsby goes for these days at Mariam‚Äôs Kitchen, a well known take-away in the CBD which was recently recommended in an article in The New York Times suggesting how to spend 36 hours in Cape Town. ‚ÄúA gatsby was always value for money‚Äù, he says. Rashaad‚Äôs first gatsby was sold for R 1,45.
It‚Äôs hawkers, taxi drivers and security guards who have kept Rashaad in business over the last forty years, today selling 1 400 gatsbys a week. They may only be buying one chip roll at a time, but it‚Äôs these regular customers who he has the utmost respect for, ‚ÄúMy dad always taught me that the most important customer is the one standing in your shop with cash in their hand. I always listen to what they have to say.‚Äù These are the customers he‚Äôll serve first ahead of the big companies in the area who call in to place a more substantial pick up order over the phone.
And so, the story of the accidental sandwich is really a story of listening – to your gut and to the people.
The gatsby in these images isn‚Äôt a Rashaad Pandy original. For that you‚Äôll need to visit Super Fisheries at 63 Old Klipfontein Road, Athlone, Cape Town, South Africa.