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.


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




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