Khayelitsha chef gives Switzerland a taste of eKasi cuisine

Former 'Masterchef SA' contestant Abigail Mbalo recently wowed Swiss foodies with the unique ‘township with a twist’ meals she perfected in her fine-dining establishment in Khayelitsha

13 September 2018 - 14:31 By Zola Zingithwa
Abigail Mbalo and her son, who is also her sous chef, in Switzerland.
Abigail Mbalo and her son, who is also her sous chef, in Switzerland.
Image: Supplied

4Roomed eKasi Culture, an innovative restaurant in Khayelitsha, is disrupting the South African food scene with its re-imagined township cuisine that challenges notions of what constitutes fine dining.

This unique eatery was dreamed up by Abigail Mbalo, a top-six contestant on season three of MasterChef South Africa.

Since opening at the end of 2016, it's grown in popularity and Mbalo now gets patrons from as far afield as the US, Italy and even Saudi Arabia.

Attracting tourists to Khayelitsha is something Mbalo is passionate about. So much so that she added a corporate social investment (CSI) arm to her business.

Called the 4Roomed eKasi Culture Township & Rural Tourism Development Drive, it aims to bring business to local enterprises through initiatives such as curated township tours.

It was while showcasing this initiative at the Africa Travel Indaba in Durban earlier this year, that she met some private tour agents from Switzerland. They were so impressed, that they invited her on a two-week trip abroad to cook eKasi cuisine at several different events and, in doing so, promote rural and township tourism.

We caught up with Mbalo to find out more.

What types of dishes did you serve to the Swiss? And how did the food go down?

We served SA township cuisine with a tweak to the cooking methods and techniques. We've received bookings from some of the Swiss guests who experienced our food.

Can you give us an example of how you give township dishes a fine-dining twist?

We confit our Mleqwa (hand-raised chicken) with fennel like you would duck; this technique helps the meat fall off the bone. It's served with mqa (creamy butternut pap) to which we add luxurious truffle oil.

How do SA and Swiss food cultures compare?

The difference can be noticed in the basic cooking methods. We all have the same staple foods such as maize and potatoes, and much the same livestock for meat and dairy produce.

When it comes to food culture each region takes pride in its speciality. For instance, we travelled to a French region of Switzerland called Vevey and it was clear in the flavours and cooking methods that classic French techniques were applied. Then we went to Baden, which is more German, and Chur which was more Romansch.

Tell us more about your fine-dining restaurant. Do you get many locals? Are residents of Khayelitsha able and willing to pay for a five-course meal?

We get a lot of locals, particularly women from in and around Khayelitsha. We are also starting to see more women from as far as the city, Table View and Somerset West becoming regulars.

Our business and pricing models are designed to accommodate locals and international tourists. We have a takeaway section that caters more for locals, and a feasting table concept (five or more courses) with international dishes for customers who can pay more.

What are your plans for the future?

We are looking forward to building the 4Roomed eKasi Culture Township & Rural Tourism Development Drive year by year until township and rural tourism becomes the norm in SA.

Early next year we will be introducing fast food to cater for the many locals who want to enjoy eKasi Culture’s exclusive flavours.