To go halfway to Senegal or all the way to Senegal? That's the question.
I’m sitting in Khadim’s living room watching him strain a pot of café touba—Senegal’s claim to coffee fame. Café touba is often described as a spiced coffee, but drinkers be warned: it’s less pumpkin spice and more kick-you-in-the-face-with-pepper spice. Warming like a shot of whisky, enjoyed year-round in Senegal and rumoured to hold aphrodisiac powers, café touba is 100% better than your average flat white. No offence to your barista.
Going ‘all the way to Senegal’ involves adding five sugar cubes to your cup like a true touba aficionado. Halfway is for chickens like me who don’t want to ride a caffeinated sugar high well into the early morning. It’s already 7pm, this gal needs her beauty sleep.
Khadim’s living room (the only place in Cape Town offering traditional café touba) is my last stop on what has been an African food odyssey led by local musician and guide, Sindile Kamlana, AKA Khofhi the King. In just one afternoon Khofhi and I have Gatsby’d and chapatti’d; been to Mali and Ethiopia, and back again. And now I’m feeling very full—with both food and stories. If this was a date, it’d be the best date of my life.
You might be thinking—why do you need a date/guide to eat African food in South Africa? Well, the thing about Cape Town is it’s actually quite hard to find African cuisine if you don’t know where to look. And sometimes you just need a break from Western Cape wine farm experiences.
“African food here in Cape Town has been sidelined for a long time,” Khofhi explains. The cosmopolitan city’s fusion centric and fine dining restaurants tend to get more airtime than the local joints. Hence, the need for a local who knows where to eat and when.
Our first stop is a seemingly unmarked Somali cafe, home to a loaded bain-marie and a bunch of aunties cackling while they’re cooking out the back. We’re here for the chapatti (flaky flatbread, like roti’s delicious cousin) and shaah (a chai-esque Somali tea, very sweet). This is an in-and-out style kitchen, with all kinds of CBD workers popping in for a plate of goat stew or the famous Somali spaghetti topped with banana. Yep, banana. Don’t doubt it till you’ve tried it.
We throw back our shaah’s, tip the aunties and hot foot it to our next meal. “Remember to pace yourself,” Khofhi warns me as we walk. “We’ve got a lot to see and eat today".
We wander through the Cape’s oldest post office-turned-market, stopping to taste some Durban spices. I wave at the statue of Nelson Mandela as we pass by the mighty town hall, before arriving at Nobantu.
Nobantu is a small sit-down place that serves politicians and bus drivers alike (it’s right next to the city bus depot). Here, cooks from Cape Town townships are dishing up South African quintessentials, like pork and pap (a porridge made from maize) and chakalaka, also known as “South Africa’s favourite salad”. Chakalaka, a dish made from beans and fresh veggies, is a staple you’ll find on any menu and at any braai (barbecue). It's delicious, and sometimes spicy. Great on toast, even.
But the most impressive thing about Nobantu would have to be its unrivalled view to Table Mountain. Who needs fine dining on the waterfront? Not us.
One sweet, sticky cinnamon koeksista (similar to a donut) and a plate of spongy Ethiopian injera bread (made from teff flour) later, we find ourselves at Fatima’s Restaurant on Long St. This place is the epitome of a local gem; a bona fide melting pot of African cuisines. At Fatima’s they cater to everyone, but especially to those who love 'Africa’s most controversial dish—jollof rice'. Controversial because Nigerians steadfastly maintain their jollof is the best jollof.
I'm close to exploding / unbuttoning my pants at this point, but I’m not going to pass up the opportunity to taste the Mali version of Nigeria’s most coveted dish. "I’m really proud of Fatima’s restaurant,” says Khofhi, “this place attracts people from all African countries in one space. It’s a hot spot for people who love to watch football... Fatima comes in the evenings and her sister is also in the kitchen… it’s a real family business.”
When I ask Khofhi what African cuisine he likes best, he tells me it’s without a doubt food from Mali—“people from Mali put a lot of love into their cooking,” he says.
And that’s the common culinary thread today—love.
Food is nothing without the love of the cook, just like café touba is nothing without the love of Khadim. And as I drink my spicy coffee and listen to Khadim's story, I feel warmed. Touched, even. Maybe it’s the djar spice. Maybe it’s the aphrodisiac. Who knows.
But maybe next time I’ll go all the way to Senegal.
We gu yaram! (Cheers!)
You can find a bunch of airlines flying from Australia to South Africa. If you’re flying into Joburg and want to jump down to Cape Town, domestic carrier FlySafair flies often (and cheaply).
Cape Town is stacked with good accom options. But our choice, hands down, is CURIOCITY Greenpoint. A ridiculously good hostel (with hotel vibes), in a ridiculously good location. This spot is locally-owned, offers a heap of rad adventure experiences, and really welcomes you home. STAY HERE.
The Cape Floral Kingdom claims nearly 7,000 plants found nowhere else in the world.
This was an airbnb experience! You can jump on and walk around with Khofhi yourself via the airbnb app. Click this link for the experience.