Zee cooks up storm:

. . . us­ing tra­di­tional dishes to nour­ish tourism

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - FRONT PAGE - Mtan­dazo Dube Leisure Ed­i­tor

IN 2013, af­ter five years as the go-to place for that ir­re­sistible, healthy African dish, Zee Ncube and her En­daweni – The Place, just van­ished from the food in­dus­try scene.

Her loyal clients were left stranded. The thou­sand-plus plates per day she served re­luc­tantly mi­grated to sev­eral other less at­trac­tive and scat­tered places all over Harare. The busi­ness minded quickly grabbed the open­ing and filled the void left by En­daweni in the lu­cra­tive tra­di­tional food sec­tor.

Well, Zee is back. Her new food nest is called Nam­bitha. Those that had taken her place should be very afraid – the queen has re­turned. But in an in­dus­try that has seen an up­surge of unique African cui­sine chefs that pre­pare dishes that are as di­verse as the many cul­tures that ex­ist on the con­ti­nent, has Zee brought new tricks that will en­able her to take back her crown?

The Sun­day Mail So­ci­ety vis­ited Nam­bitha, which sits on the old premises for­merly known as En­daweni in Bel­gravia, to see if in­deed Zee has brought back her charm, de­li­cious African cui­sine and the se­crets that made her meal one not to miss.

These types of dishes, which are re­flec­tive of Africa’s rich di­ver­sity and food flavours, do not come cheap, topof-the-range ve­hi­cles that were parked at the sprawl­ing prop­erty said it all. Nam­bitha lies in the midst of a sea of other top restau­rants in the Bel­gravia and Avon­dale area. So how does Zee plan to take back her crown?

“It is amaz­ing what has hap­pened here in just a month. I thought peo­ple would have for­got­ten about me af­ter five years not in the cook­ing busi­ness,” said Zee, the soft-spo­ken culi­nary guru, when this writer stole a few min­utes with her dur­ing a busy af­ter­noon.

“Since open­ing, we have reached 50 per­cent of the num­bers that we are aim­ing for and this is some­thing that we thought would take months to achieve. We have had to up our sched­ule in terms of mak­ing sure that we not only get the num­bers but get the stan­dard that we be­lieve we owe our cus­tomers as well,” she said, ooz­ing con­fi­dence.

Back to the food. Of the var­i­ous culi­nary de­lights on of­fer at the res­tau­rant among them, Nam­bitha’s sig­na­ture tasty road­run­ner; rump-bones mixed with fresh green veg­eta­bles; stewed goat; well­sim­mered ox­tail, maguru and ma­tumbu – we went for the road-run­ner and ox­tail.

For starch I chose sadza rezviyo while my col­leagues chose vary­ing shades of white sadza from mu­gaiwa to fine white. Other cus­tomers could be seen or­der­ing sadza remhunga or rice in peanut but­ter sauce. Loud and clear – we got the mes­sage from the food – Zim­bab­weans no longer look down upon their tra­di­tional dishes. There is aware­ness out there that tra­di­tional African food is not just de­li­cious but healthy as well and very su­pe­rior in terms of qual­ity.

Said Zee: “The tourism in­dus­try is boom­ing. The econ­omy may take a bit longer to turn around than we would pre­fer but the num­bers do not lie – tourists are flock­ing in. We do not want to be of­fer­ing them the things that they al­ready know and eat in their home coun­tries.

“Our aim and goal is to ac­tu­ally add value to the chain of tourism prod­ucts. Food is an im­por­tant as­pect of the pack­age of tourism prod­ucts and we are par­tic­i­pat­ing and in­tend to do it on an even big­ger scale. We work with var­i­ous Em­bassies and travel agen­cies in that re­spect as we pro­mote not just Zim­babwe’s var­i­ous tra­di­tional dishes but other African coun­tries’ dishes as well.”

Zee said their fo­cus on pro­mot­ing tra­di­tional African cui­sine did not, how­ever, mean that they have ne­glected ev­ery­thing else.

“Nam­bitha has two main di­vi­sions, which are the res­tau­rant it­self and out­side cater­ing. This is where my pas­sion is, en­sur­ing that peo­ple do not just eat but eat healthy. How­ever, the out­side cater­ing divi­sion dif­fers from Nam­bitha just a lit­tle in the sense that it of­fers both the Western and African menus, which can be cus­tom-made ac­cord­ing to the cus­tomer’s wishes and bud­get. These are de­liv­ered around Harare.”

The culi­nary queen says in the near fu­ture, she in­tends to ex­pand to other prov­inces, par­tic­u­larly the coun­try’s main tourist des­ti­na­tions where her deep knowl­edge of African cui­sine can be best utilised and ap­pre­ci­ated as well.

Zee has a pas­sion for cook­ing since she was young. Her dream is to em­brace the African cul­ture, re­de­fine it and bring back the essence of be­ing truly African at a time when moder­nity and all its Western trap­pings have en­gulfed the African’s way of life.

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