Created by MasterChef SA contestant Abigail Mbalo-Mokoena, 4Roomed eKasi Culture is a restaurant based on the four-roomed homes found in the oldest townships. Shellee-Kim Gold checks out the venue.
South Africa’s first township fine-dining experience is set to tantalise your taste buds. The venue is tucked away in a quiet corner of the Western Cape’s sprawling Khayelitsha township and is one of the city’s best-kept culinary secrets. Established in December, 4Roomed eKasi Culture is a new concept on the township cuisine scene.
Abigail Mbalo-Mokoena, who was one of the top 6 contestants on Season 3 of MasterChef SA, runs and owns the restaurant after recently exchanging her tools as a dental technologist for kitchen implements.
Exclusive tailor-made 5-course meals are cooked in a kitchen in a converted vintage Bedford truck by Mbalo-Mokoena and her chef. All meals are served in a novel pop-up restaurant that is warmed in the cooler months.
Mbalo-Mokoena transforms ordinary eKasi staples into sophisticated African cuisine with a twist.
She applies her artistic flair to her food. The result? Superlatively designed platters with a sprinkle of Italian influence.
“In the past, if we saw someone well dressed, we would call him an ‘eTaliani’. Their influence played a big role in township life with regard to style and class,” says the petite and bubbly restaurateur.
Well received by groups of locals numbering up to 30, she also has international patrons.
While she’s happy about this, she is also on a mission to prioritise ubuntu as a way to dissolve cultural and social barriers, especially between Capetonians.
Nothing casual about it
Just 200m down the road is Mphako/Padkos/Mofao, where Mbalo-Mokoena offers a more casual dining experience – although the sumptuous food can hardly be called casual.
This was initially an indoor food garden and takeaway venue, and organic herbs, vegetables and edible weeds are still grown here. They flourish, as does the chitchat among the diners.
Conversations about solutions to South African issues are constantly encouraged by Mbalo-Mokoena.
“As a result of a conversation here, some people may walk out with ideas they hadn’t previously thought of that they can implement. This is one of the reasons we decided to have the sit-in area. It is also why I left my job as a dental technologist. I want to make a change that can have a ripple effect,” she says.
Mbalo-Mokoena and her husband recently relocated from their leafy suburban life: “We moved back to the township to make a difference … to try to close this gap here.”
At Mphako, the set three-course menu on offer is changed seasonally.
“Our starter comprises creamy butternut soup, drizzled with oil of nasturtium – straight from the garden. Some of the fresh produce comes from the local Harvest of Hope garden project, which is run by elderly women.
“I get my inspiration from childhood memories of what was around us at the time and I do research,” says Mbalo-Mokoena, adding that she hankers after the flora that once abounded here.
Popular main courses include umleqwa (runaway chicken) with mqa (pap), and lamb shank with umngqusho (samp) and roasted vegetables. There is even a moreish vegetarian curry option.
All meals are served in enamel bowls and in cups with spoons.
Save space for a delectable experience when dessert time arrives, particularly for chilli chocolate mousse with berry compote or spicy orange cake with moerkoffie-flavoured custard.
Part of the charm of the Mphako experience is Mbalo-Mokoena herself. She casually flits between diners to describe the dishes and their backstory.
For Mbalo-Mokoena, the ingredients she uses represent part of her childhood in 1980s Gugulethu.
“Four families lived together in our house and I would spend a lot of time in the kitchen with my mother, who worked away from home during the week.”
Sights and signs of Mbalo-Mokoena’s past abound in the brightly coloured chairs, mismatched furnishings and charcoal artworks on display. But it is in her cuisine, and how it is presented, that the past is truly recreated.
“My food … always has an element of township food,” she enthuses.
A self-confessed perfectionist, Mbalo-Mokoena is big on offering superlative service and ensures that it is applied to all of the 4Roomed establishment’s businesses. This is confirmed by the many glowing restaurant reviews she has received.
“Since the reviews, clients have come from the west coast, the northern suburbs, the City Bowl and, more recently, from Camps Bay and Claremont.”
From eKasi residents to tourists, Mbalo-Mokoena is drawing in the crowds.
How has she succeeded in transcending the barriers of culture and living space?
“Anyone can make great food here in the township, but there needs to be a purpose to it. That is what draws in the right energy. People who come here want to see a change. It stems from within. That is the secret ingredient,” she says.
The other ingredient is, of course, her cooking.
- For the 4Roomed eKasi Culture experience, visit 4roomedekasiculture.com
Abigail’s simple home-made spinach pasta with roasted tomato sauce
. 400g all-purpose flour (and extra for dusting)
. 4 large eggs, kept at room temperature
. Pinch of salt to taste
. 4 large leaves of spinach, finely chopped (dried with a kitchen towel)
1. Sift flour and salt, add finely chopped spinach and rub with fingers until all the spinach is incorporated into the flour.
2. Place the spinach and flour mixture on a work surface in a heap, then hollow out the centre of this heap.
3. Crack all four eggs into the hollow centre. Using a fork, stir the eggs while incorporating the flour. Once all the egg is mixed, use your fingertips to mix the rest of the flour on the work surface, then knead into a ball. The mixture may sometimes be crumbly, so just add drops of water until you succeed in getting the mixture compact.
4. Keep this ball of dough in clingwrap and set it on the work surface (at room temperature) for 15 minutes. Knead it again, then set in clingwrap for another 15 minutes.
5. After this resting period, the pasta will be softer and elastic, and ready to roll. Cut the dough ball into four sections and start rolling each section into a thickness of about 0.5mm.
6. Cut each sheet into thin strips (5mm to 7mm) with a sharp knife. Separate and dust the cut shapes with flour. Place on a floured work surface to keep the pasta strips dry.
7. Boil the pasta for 4 minutes in 2 litres of water. Drain and set aside to toss in your roasted tomato sauce.
ROASTED TOMATO SAUCE
. 4 fresh and ripe large tomatoes
. 1 medium sweet pepper
. 2 cloves garlic
. 1 large onion
. Pinch of salt
. 2 tbsp brown sugar
. 100ml olive oil
. Handful of basil leaves, chopped
. Italian hard cheese or Parmesan cheese (optional)
1. Cut the tomatoes, sweet peppers and onions into quarters. Crush the garlic cloves. Place all these ingredients into a roasting pan. Add salt.
2. Roast the ingredients in an oven at 200°C for 15 minutes.
3. Decant the roasted vegetables into a food processor, add the remaining ingredients except for the cheese, and blitz the ingredients to a smooth consistency.
4. The roasted tomato sauce is ready to serve. Warm up the pasta in a pan by heating up a small amount of butter. Toss the pasta in the pan and lightly coat with the tomato sauce. Serve immediately, adding grated cheese on top.