Fine fare is only 4Rooms away here
Entrepreneur transforms four-roomed township homes into dining spaces, writes Megan Baadjies
ADENTAL-technologist-turned restaurateur is transforming four-roomed township homes into fine-dining spaces. Since she swopped her lab coat for an apron, Abigail Mbalo-Mokoena has made it her mission to prove that local really is lekker through recreated traditional dishes that can be enjoyed by every palate.
The 40-year-old mother of three is the founder of 4Roomed eKasi Culture, which is made up of a fine dining restaurant in Makabeni Road, Khayelitsha, a food truck and a trendy takeaway.
Mbalo-Mokoena wanted to create a space that celebrated local cuisine.
While she always hoped to someday have her own cookbook, she says she never thought she would cause a stir in the hospitality industry.
It wasn’t until this self-taught cook entered Season 3 of the cooking reality show MasterChef, that she felt “there was a bigger purpose for me to serve”.
“Most young black professionals leave the township and go to live in the suburbs. This deprives the economy of the townships because one could have easily opened a business in there or employed people close by.
“It also means the youngsters end up not having role models around them,” says Mbalo-Mokoena, who admits she and her husband did the same thing and moved to Melkbosstrand.
“I have this love for food and my husband and I have been looking at what business models we can bring into the township, so whenever we visited we always thought something needed to be done.
“I started off with a food truck, but we lived in Melkbosstrand so we would operate our food truck here in Khayelitsha every weekend.
“It was quite hectic so we bought a property in Khayelitsha and that is when I realised I wanted to do fine dining in a township in this space. We revamped the house and now we do fine dining in that space, 4Roomed fine dining.
“As time went on we looked for a property in a busy area and that’s when we found this one (for takeaways),” she explains.
Mbalo-Mokoena, who now lives in Khayelitsha with her family, opened 4Roomed Mphako Padko Mofao, a fourroomed Khayelitsha home, in December and it became an instant hit.
What started as a takeaway, quickly turned into a sit- down restaurant where locals and tourists are taken on a culinary journey and get a taste of Mbalo-Mokoena’s childhood with a twist.
“4Roomed Mphako Padkos Mofao is a combination of English, Afrikaans and Xhosa names,” she explains.
“The interesting thing behind that name is that my husband is Sotho and I’m Xhosa and you will find in our languages you always have Afrikaans terms used like it is part of the vocabulary; that is why we have those three words in there.
“The name 4Roomed eKasi Culture is based on the oldest four-roomed homes you find in the oldest townships of South Africa.
“There will be more than one family living in that four-roomed house.
“I was born in Gugulethu, in a four-roomed home, and we were four families in that four-roomed home.
“Even though we were a big family, there was a lot of joy inside those fourroomed homes.
“I grew up in the ’80s at a time where things were very hectic with the Casspirs in the streets and the smell of tear gas, but once you were inside the yard of that four-roomed home, there
I WANT PEOPLE TO COME HERE AND EXPERIENCE THE FOOD AND LISTEN TO THE STORIES ABOUT TOWNSHIP LIFE, TO EVOKE DIALOGUE BETWEEN GUESTS
was another life and that’s what this concept’s about.
“It’s about reminding people of that life they used to live in those fourroomed homes, the celebration of life. It’s about evoking that nostalgia,” says Mbalo-Mokoena.
After expanding the takeaways, she developed a three-course menu with township-inspired food.
“I want people to come here and experience the food and they can also listen to the stories on township life, to evoke dialogue between guests. It’s amazing to listen to the kinds of conversations people have.
“What I would like to see is for people to stop being afraid of the townships because there is no need to be scared and people see that now.”
Mbalo-Mokoena said her husband and sons were always her guinea pigs whenever she developed a new recipe.
It was through their insistence that she entered the MasterChef competition and made it to the top six. Throughout the competition, Mbalo-Mokoena says, she made dishes that celebrated township food.
“When I made it to the top 12, that’s when reality hit and that’s when I realised there must have been something that drove me and that it couldn’t just be about me trying to impress the judges.
“I made sure that I added an element of township food to my dishes, but with a twist. You will be surprised how our food, from the different cultures in South Africa, is so interlinked. “The other inspiration with
MasterChef was that I wanted to change the culinary sphere of the township; that was my biggest drive.”
Her time on the show came to an end when her glass disc using treacle sugar, isomalt and glucose flopped. It was this recipe that inspired a mini toffee apple which she serves on her menu.
“I came back home and bought the same ingredients and I tried it out.
“I wanted to see if I could make the glass disc and what I would serve it with.” Mbalo-Mokoena says she plans to expand her business and bring 4Roomed Foods to “all the oldest townships in the country” .