Unusual artisanal ice creams are beguiling customers of Tapi Tapi in the Western Cape
Imagine ice cream that represents the many and varied flavours of Africa; made with no preservatives or additives, only home-grown ingredients. This is what Tapi Tapi desserts are all about, but the concept behind them is not only groundbreaking, it could very well become a way to shift our cultural and social perceptions
Tapi Tapi is the brainchild of Zimbabwean-born, Shona molecular biologist Dr Tapiwa Guzha, who is also concluding a postdoctoral fellowship in genetics at Stellenbosch University. With flavours derived from wild African fruits like baobab pods (known as mawuyu in Shona), tree-hibiscus (matohwe), loquat, as well as peanut butter and imphepho, Tapi Tapi’s frozen confections use palates and flavour to act as a crosscultural exchange.
“Ice cream is universal; it makes people feel nostalgic,” says Tapiwa. “But, in my context, if I just had normal ice cream, there’s nothing special about it. However, when I add these
flavours, it opens up a whole other world and has a special resonance for Africans.”
The name Tapi Tapi comes from the colloquial Shona word for “yum” but only when referring to sweet foods. The root of the word is tapira, which describes sweet products. It’s also a play on Tapiwa’s name. Made entirely by hand, these marvellous ice creams have been enjoyed by a diverse group of foodies who relate to the ingredients and recipes. Until last year, Tapiwa was making around 10 tubs a week f rom his home in Stellenbosch. This was exclusively artisanal and boutique style – making direct deliveries on his motorcycle once a week.
But, now it’s time for an exciting new venture: the Tapi Tapi ice cream shop! The soft opening is being planned within the next couple of months, with the venue to be confirmed, most likely in the Salt River or Woodstock area. This will also be a creatively collaborative space between fellow African artists (including Tapiwa himself ) from where impactful food events can be hosted with a wider reach.
As a lover of bacon ice cream, Tapiwa likes to pair sweet with salty, umami and astringent flavours. Some of the more unusual flavours he has come up with include mopane worms and a dried, salt-cured, small fish called kapenta. On the familiar side of the spectrum are East African spices and Cape Malay flavours like boeber, falooda and koesister with aniseed, coconut and cardamom.
A Tapi Tapi signature flavour pays homage to a childhood classic – nutritious blackjack leaves, either fresh or dried, which are eaten across the continent as a leafy green braised in oil and served with pap. When tasting the blackjack leaf ice cream, you merience a pleasant fizziness accompanied by a herbaceous top note that is beautifully accentuated by the grassiness of the accompanying ingredient: olive oil. Next up is ice cream made with edible clay (called rondo in Shona) which is eaten all over Africa, particularly by pregnant women, as a source of iron. The smooth grey clay makes for a subtle and equally smooth-textured ice cream, which is wonderfully enhanced with vanilla bean.
Imphepho (liquorice plant) is the core flavour of the third ice cream I taste. Traditionally used in ritual practices and medicine, you can also drink it as a tea to treat hypertension and headaches. Contentiously for some, it has never been used in any shape or form in the culinary world. Tapiwa usually completes this creation
with a toasted maize crumb for added texture.
Last up is a crowd-pleaser – a sweet and tart musika (tamarind) ice cream. This frozen vegan dessert is made with coconut milk and cream, and boasts a broad flavour profile. Surprisingly, tamarind is well known as an Asian ingredient, though it actually originates from Africa. And because it’s out of its usual (savoury) context, it tastes completely different. “It’s about creating flavours that mean something to people, and I get to share with you why it is important,” Tapiwa explains.
“It brings people closer to each other’s way of being in the world.”
Like all the best stories, it all started with a grandmother. “I have been a foodie from an early age; I got it from my maternal grandmother, Gogo Gwatidzo. She didn’t do division of labour – everyone did all the household tasks together.” Together, they especially loved baking, which is where Tapiwa’s lifelong sweet tooth was developed.
Many years later, while at varsity, he started watching cooking shows like MasterChef and fell in love. It was on this show that he saw someone making ice cream with dry ice for the first time. It was like a light bulb going off when Tapiwa realised how easy it would be to use the leftover dry ice from the lab where he works.
In 2018, following the death of Gogo Gwatidzo, Tapiwa went home to Harare, Zimbabwe, for the funeral and used the time for introspection – he was reminded of his mortality. “It was a wake-up call as I realised that it’s time to pursue what I really want to do. In the world of science, I had done all I wanted to do, so it was time to change gears. I don’t believe in doing one thing for the rest of my life,” Tapiwa affirms.
Soon after returning to South Africa, he created Tapi Tapi’s social media pages, made a mock-up logo and told everyone: “This is what I’m doing now!” It took a while to think about the angle. “It wasn’t enough to say: ‘It’s good because I made it.’” This resulted in a few experiments with flavours inspired by cocktails. Although extremely popular, “it wasn’t doing anything for me because I don’t drink; it was gimmicky and I didn’t feel a connection to it”.
Then one day while eating at Pahari, a Zimbabwean restaurant in Cape Town’s suburb of Salt River, Tapiwa noticed some familiar groceries from Zimbabwe on the shelves – his favourite brand of peanut butter and a popped maize snack called maputi. Wondering how it might work in ice
cream, Tapiwa experimented with a couple of batches until he got it right. “I realised that, up to that moment, I had never tried ice cream that tasted like the African continent.” And, so, Tapi Tapi was born.
“Ice cream should taste like home, like your childhood,” Tapiwa muses, so even if you introduce unfamiliar African flavours to Africans, they’re immediately embraced. “If I show someone some of the fruits from Zim, they might not look appealing. But when you taste the same fruits in ice cream, then you think, ‘I like that.
What is it?’ You experience the taste without the prejudice.”
What was quite surprising for Tapiwa was realising how some of his fellow Africans reacted to what he calls the poverty food idea. “Some Africans will say, ‘I know what you are talking about, but I’ve made it in the world, so I don’t eat that stuff anymore’. But, these ingredients are of utmost cultural importance and have loads of health benefits! We should be more proud of our African food heritage and hold onto it,” he emphasises.
Tapiwa is obviously passionate about his business as a project for social and cultural change. But another objective is to turn the tired, old business model – that of pushing your competitors out so you can make more money – on its head. He says this is not necessary as there is room for everyone in the world. “As much as this is important to me, my happiness and quality of life are far more important,” he stresses.
“I think the business component keeps it alive, but without losing the integrity of what it is – a way to make people think differently about so-called African flavours and ingredients.”
This is why Tapiwa thinks of Tapi
Tapi mainly as an educational tool. A key focus of the business has been hosting monthly functions with other forward-thinking businesses in and around Cape Town. This includes
Yoga in the Park, in partnership with Ghanaian Kafui Awoonor of Holding Space – the first black-owned yoga studio in Cape Town. These events focus on motivational talks followed by lunch inspired by ingredients or methods that change the way traditional food is eaten or prepared. “Part of the story I tell people at such events is how easy it has been to start this adventure,” Tapiwa shares. “I did not spend any additional money; I just used stuff I already had.” Counting himself fortunate in being both an academic and a middle-class citizen (with no dependants), Tapiwa says it’s a myth that you need lots of money to get a new venture off the ground. All he needed was a medium-priced cellphone and his own transport, the raw ingredients and some dry ice. And with social media being free, Tapiwa does all the graphic design, styling and photography himself. “People are stuck on the ‘big idea’ that they need to wait for the perfect day to follow their dreams, but if you go too big too
soon, you can’t experiment and see if you like it. Starting slowly means you can align your business with who you are as a person.”
“All my friends were my first customers,” he recalls. Tapiwa also urged people to review his online store as honestly and as much as possible. “If you make a quality product, you don’t have to convince people to buy again. I never phone someone up to ask for orders.” In fact, this was the only challenge he encountered: to gently persuade people to give a stranger R110 and tell them, “I’ll pitch up with your order on Saturday”!
I can’t wait to try all these creations when the new store opens. Some tricks up Tapiwa’s sleeve will include the 1970s classic: deep-fried ice cream, with a twist, of course. He will also be serving a new take on the ice cream sandwich, a mash-up between traditional Tswana magwinya (a lighter, sweeter version of vetkoek) and gnocchi fritti, deep-fried pastry squares from the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy.
And just when you thought the ice cream was interesting enough, the sugar cones ( made by Tapiwa himself) are a culinary sensation, to be paired with various ice creams to bring out different flavours. For example, ice cream made with finger millet has a raw, creamy, slightly sour taste. But served in a cone made with toasted finger millet, it brings out different flavours of the same ingredient. Apart from using wheat as a stabiliser, the sugar cones all include grains or tubers like sorghum, maize and cassava.
“If it’s on the menu, it’s my favourite,” Tapiwa grins. “I don’t have the same comfort dish every time; so it’s the same with ice cream. I like variety.” He creates a different menu each week, which is available on request. “This is because I cook according to my mood and the new ‘flavourites’ I come up with at the time.” So, make sure to follow Tapi Tapi on Instagram to keep in the l oop of what Tapiwa will be making next.
TAPITAPIDESSERTS@GMAIL.COM; INSTAGRAM: @_TAPI_TAPI; FACEBOOK: @TAPITAPIDESSERTS; 076 914 5614
Find the African ingredients like imphepho and rondo at African markets all around South Africa. KNOWN AS MATOHWE IN SHONA, TREEHIBISCUS (OR AFRICAN CHEWING GUM) IS ONE OF THE FASCINATING INGREDIENTS USED BY TAPIWA
BELOW: DELECTABLE MONKEY ORANGE (MATAMBA) IS ANOTHER TAPI TAPI MAINSTAY. TAPIWA NORMALLY USES THE SHELLS AS BOWLS FOR SERVING HIS ICE CREAM
RONDO BITS AND PIECES OF EDIBLE CLAY AND BAOBAB PODS EDIBLE CLAY (RONDO) AND VANILLA GELATO
MUSIKA DAIRY-FREE TAMARIND (MUSIKA) AND COCONUT ICE CREAM