'The humble chickpea can divide nations," says foodie Sanza Tshabalala, ex YFM DJ, aka The Fanatik. Tshabalala says before he started cooking for the pan-African patrons who daily frequent his new Rockey Street cafe, E@t Arabi, E@t the World, he didn't understand the ''politics of the chick pea".
''There are so many legumes in the world: split peas, dhal , mung beans, sugar beans, kidney beans, butter beans [delicious with tripe] and string beans [wonderful with veg curry]. Why must the brothers fight over chickpeas?"
Now he says he understands the chickpea war - whether hummus and falafel (made from chickpeas) are to be considered originally ''Arab" or ''Israeli" dishes - which has become a part of the Middle East conflict.
''At first my patrons wondered why I used chick peas in my cooking. I blend them up to make a creamy, nutty paste for my curries once a week. I use a different legume every day. But they will always come in and ask for the chickpea. They'll wait a whole week for the chickpea. They've come to understand it is a high-class bean worth fighting over. It is meat for us vegetarians."
Let's hope the rivalry will not spark similar skirmishes over shawarma, baba ghanoush or falafel when Tshabalala starts serving those dishes. Currently, he's serving mainly curries from all over Africa.
''The plan is to give the brothers from the continent food from their home country, but in a curry sense. In Ethiopia they eat shiro - the poor people's curry made from chickpeas and broad beans. In Cameroon they serve ndole - finely chopped bitter leaves and peanut. In Nigeria it is egusi made from pumpkin seeds. The Swazis love agushi made from slimy okra leaves. In East Africa they eat matoke, made from bananas, and the Congolese like pondu, made from casava, peanut sauce and chilli."
''But everyone is united by fufu - our staple, pap. In the end, in Africa, we all eat the same thing."
Tshabalala cooks different dishes every day in the tiny cafe that can accommodate two short benches for eating at.
He says: ''People squeeze in. Or eat in the street. It's an urban kitchen - part of the street life."
He's been open for nine weeks and is already a Rockey Street institution. E@t Arabi closes at 2am - "after patrons of the club across the road have had their munchies satisfied".
He opens at 9am: ''The girls come and get their first samoosas before they've had their morning shower."
Tshabalala started with a Bangladeshi chef he poached from Bismillah's in Fordsburg.
On Fridays, Tshabalala makes biryanis for the Muslim community.
''My Muslim Malawian assistant fetches them from the mosque. Everything I make is strictly halaal and I-tal for the Rastas. The idea is to bring decency to this community through food. We're all princes here. We should eat good in our 'hood."
''I cook around the palate of everyone. It's the one place where no one feels like an exile. From all over Africa, they all think of this place as home."
Rockey Street is loving E@t Arabi, E@t the World. The place is full day and night.
Well-known Rasta MC Badda Badda says, over his lunch: ''I'm proudly Sanza, proudly Arabi."