We chat to Tapi Tapi founder, Tapiwa Guzha, about using his business as an educational vehicle that gives value to African foods.
Tapi Tapi is on the Eat Out list of Cape Town’s dreamiest ice cream shops. The café and creamery in Observatory is steadily gaining wide acclaim for its hand-crafted African ice cream that highlights indigenous ingredients. Founder Tapiwa Guzha is intentional about using his business as an educational vehicle that gives value to African foods. With it he wants to “rehabilitate our own esteem issues around our food, culture and beliefs as Africans.”
You can taste the nostalgia in some flavours. The magwinya and jam-flavoured ice cream for example starts with making magwinya and then cooking them in milk to extract the flavour, and then using that milk to make the ice cream. Extra gwinya chunks are added and churned into the mix. Pipe this into a sugar cone or better yet another gwinya and you’re home. The Koesister flavour – a popular treat that gets repeated on the menu – has different variations that have previously included imphepho fudge infused in a spiced coconut milk and cream ice cream base.
Tapi Tapi is a place of discovery where you either encounter different ingredients from all over Africa, or you’re blown away by unique flavour pairings as in the Derere – the rooibos and okra lemonade sorbet. It’s a place where conversations in the shop – whether negative or positive – entrench the purpose of the initiative.
Tapiwa says what he is addressing mainly with Tapi Tapi is the fact that our food system – from production and agriculture to our kitchens and restaurants – does not reflect the continent. Urbanisation kicked traditional and indigenous foods to the curb, creating the love-hate dynamic of the ‘poverty foods’ stigma. On the one hand there’s excitement about seeing ourselves in Tapiwa’s menu and experiencing our food in such a cool manner. But there is also a pull of resistance from those who have understandably disconnected from the pre-colonial or pre-apartheid dietary diversity of our indigenous foods or view them with a shameful lens.
“Rehabilitating our self-esteem around our food is an ongoing process. It goes forwards and backwards all the time. It’s not a linear progression. It takes time to do this kind of work. It’s the kind of work you do with a trust that it will work out fine. I see a lot of the benefits right now – the growth, the excitement and the gradual change. Overall things are still the same. Maybe in a few hundred years from now, people will know better,” Tapiwa notes.
The idea to establish Tapi Tapi crystalised after paying attention to different moments in his life. His love of food comes from cooking with his grandmother in Zimbabwe. He left Zimbabwe at 18 to study plant biotechnology in Cape Town.
“The consequence of that is that my diet became heavily influenced by South African food. At the time it was international food. I don’t remember connecting with local South African food, let alone the continent. The first six years of my career were focused on learning foods from other worlds: Asian, South American and European food. And I never really looked across the continent. I would cook something from home as a matter of nostalgia or being home sick. I had a very global approach to food initially,” says Tapiwa.
In 2010 while watching a cooking show he got inspired to start making ice cream by using some of the components he could access as a scientist. For many years he would make ice cream for himself as a hobby, working with common global flavours.
“In 2018 my grandmother passed away. I went back home to Zimbabwe and experienced a kind of existential awakening that happens when someone you love dies. I decided I wanted to do something that connected me more to my food journey. And science was becoming less and less appealing for me. It became another place where I was experiencing and observing institutional problems around colonisation, where my research was focused on plant life that is not from the continent.”
As a gimmick Tapiwa thought he’d make handmade ice cream with African flavours. After seeing some Zimbabwean ingredients and snacks in a restaurant, he started putting them in an ice cream. And the gimmick became real.
The continent and conversations that are had in the shop provide multiple inspirations for his everchanging menu. So far, the shop has created over 100 flavours.
“We don’t repeat flavours. But we repeat ingredients all the time. Sometimes a few ingredients show up in a different conformation. The continent is the inspiration. We’re talking about 7000 years of history, technology, ingredients and natural biodiversity here. The easiest thing in my job is coming up with ice cream flavours,” Tapiwa says.
He gets some of his ingredients from supermarkets and specialist shops that supply edibles outside of South Africa but from the continent. Some he gets from his own garden or from foraging, and others as gifts from people who’ve connected with the shop.
Current flavours include vegan kei-apple, and tsvanzva curds. Tsvanzva is a Zimbabwean herb. Dairy options are rooibos tea and turmeric; amasi and mitmita spice (from Ethiopia); amasi and koesister spice; lemon and bitterleaf tea with pink peppercorns; and hibiscus and blackjack.