Abigail Mbalo is the enigmatic personality behind 4Roomed eKasi Culture, a new restaurant in Khayelitsha. After working passionately as a dental technician for 17 years, Abigail changed her path when she reached the top six on MasterChef South Africa season 3. What originally started as a food truck has expanded into this space, a concept inspired by her childhood spent in four-roomed homes that would be shared by many families. This upbringing instilled in Abigail a strong sense of Ubuntu, the connection between the self and others. Her desire to work with food mostly stems from her observations of “the impact that social imbalances had and still have in our communities”.
Through 4Roomed eKasi Culture, Abigail’s ambition is to foster change through healthy eating habits and encouraging everyone to grow their own gardens. She remembers eating fresh raspberries, peaches and anything else that was abundantly growing in Gugulethu – except the mushrooms, which were forbidden – as a child.
At the restaurant there’s a nostalgic touch to the food, as she pays tribute to South Africa’s local cuisine with a different touch to suit the 21st century palate. The business also caters for fine-dining private events, offers takeaways, and sells homemade organic and locally sourced pantry items to take home.
It’s important to arrive at 4Roomed eKasi equipped with an empty stomach and hungry eyes, keen to experience an unconventional reimagining of the food and furniture of Khayelitsha.
On offer are three different main meals accompanied by a starter and a dessert. All the food has been slowly cooked and prepared with care.
The starter is a lightly spiced lentil curry roll and gently smoked snoek on a homemade sweet-chilli sauce. If more heat is to your liking, just lean over into the vegetable garden to grab some chilli.
For the main course, Abigail recommended the mleqwa (run-away chicken), which is more free ranging than free range. This chicken was chased and caught after having spent its life roaming the streets of Khayelitsha. You might expect it to be tough due to its muscly nature, yet it has been slowly cooked and melts off the bone. The best feature of this dish is the creamy, gourmet butternut mqa (pap) with truffle oil, accompanied by a sweet tomato relish. She also recommends the dumplings wors roll. The roll was freshly made that morning along with the sweet tomato relish and crispy caramelised onions. It tastes like everything it promised to be.
The third main course is a butter-chicken bunny chow. The curry is nestled in a freshly baked and hollowed-out bread, the top of which is great to dip in the sauce. The addition of cardamom takes the complexity of flavours to another level.
Thankfully, the dessert is not an enormous portion after the generously satisfying mains. A moist slice of red-velvet cake arrives with a dollop of tangy cream-cheese icing and a garnish of nasturtium. Next to the cake stands a tiny toffee apple, which is inspired by the burnt sugar that resulted in the end of Abigail’s MasterChef career – but this time the caramel coating is perfect. Alongside, a ball of amasi cheese, made by the chef herself, has been rolled in pepper and rosemary and served with preserved gingered figs. The vegetables on the side may be an odd thing to find on a dessert plate, yet they work well to mop up the remaining cheese. This amasi cheese can be purchased to take home.
The restaurant is not licensed, so come equipped with your own alcohol. It will be kept cold in a light-blue vintage ice bucket. There is no corkage fee. Rosemary-infused water is available in jugs on an old wine barrel, which adds to that vintage atmosphere, and soft drinks are also on sale.
After getting a bit lost, I was relieved to be warmly welcomed by Abigail in her red heel, black pleated skirt, silver top and apron. If you choose to sit down for your meal as opposed to a swift takeaway, Abigail and two young women are quick to see to your needs. The seating area has only been open for the last five weeks and the service is faultless despite the relaxed environment.
As the courses are served, Abigail explains in detail what goes into each dish. Plates are swiftly cleared away and fresh utensils arrive with the next course. Every detail is taken care of, from the customised embroidered-cloth napkins to the Laguiole cutlery.
The premises is placed on a well-trodden road in Khayelitsha, where impeccably dressed locals pop in to grab some padkos. Within, you are surrounded by baths filled with growing vegetables, some light cover from the sun and white walls, which complement the darkness of the exterior. The seating space is informal and naturally encourages an interaction between all the guests. Abigail’s love for the vintage is made possible – and practical – by her husband, and realised in the old school chairs and refurbished school desks. 4Roomed eKasi Culture transcends the environment of the township; all the décor has been sourced from nearby, yet the way it is placed and refurbished transforms the space.
If you don’t have the time for the three-course sit down meal, grab a quickie take-away and eat it with a view of the township around the corner.
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