At Johannesburg’s Roving Bantu Kitchen, owner Sifiso Ntuli cooks up a mix of traditional food and cultural experience.
Ntuli was born in Mpumalanga, South Africa, then grew up in Soweto but travelled the rest of Africa and the world as a political exile before returning to Johannesburg at the end of apartheid.
The Roving Bantu Kitchen is a small, peculiar, community spot with live music that captures the soul of the city.
We are trying to say, through food, through music, through everything, through art in general is, how do we begin to negotiate a new South African identity?
Ntuli’s specialties are inspired by a variety of pan-African dishes including, tripe, sheep’s head and flat breads – but with a twist.
“The way Sifiso looks at food rather is you know, it’s making it funky – make it funky make it… let it have taste. It doesn’t have to be… okay for example, my slogan here, I say, ‘we make shit taste good’ by that I mean, we don’t just boil stuff!”
Ntuli explains how food is used as a tool to socially classify and politically divide people.
“So, you spend a good part of 4 to 5 hours doing tripe yeah? But guess what, prawns that take 5 minutes to cook they are much more expensive than tripe, do you see the politics there? So, it’s… but because prawns are the acceptable. I remember the first time I ate prawns as a teenager – bottom feeders, I wanted to throw up! Today, when I’m around my friends, I chill and I eat prawns like it’s always been.”
Ntuli says he wants to break barriers by making his kitchen, social space and conversations about history accessible and desirable to everyone.
The restaurant’s “red room” is covered with old political newspaper headlines, vintage ornaments and small tables pressed against each other.
The room is often filled with people of all races and nationalities and Ntuli says his decor is designed to spark conversations between them.
“We are trying to say, through food, through music, through everything, through art in general is, how do we begin to negotiate a new South African identity? And I think, I personally believe that the direction of food – food is a good place to start,” he said.
The Roving Bantu kitchen is located in Brixton, a former bastion of white oppression during apartheid that is transforming to bridge a historical divide between races, the rich and the poor.