Roving Bantu Kitchen
Caroline Street and Esher Street, BrixtonView map
The Roving Bantu Kitchen is not only a place, but also a person and a thing. It’s a phenomenon, really, of the sort that exists only in Johannesburg.
Sifiso Ntuli, a longtime Brixton resident and creator of the now-defunct House of Nsako, is the Roving Bantu. Sifiso coined the name during his years in political exile, when he (and other “Bantus” like him) roamed the world with specially issued identity documents that didn’t have the name of any country printed on them. Sifiso, or S’fi, has been back in South Africa for two decades now, but the Roving Bantu moniker stuck.
The corner of Caroline and Esher Streets in Brixton is about as far from Joburg’s trendy food markets as you can get. A pile of rubbish, remnant of the just-concluded Pikitup strike, sits at one of the corner’s four points. At another point is a spaza shop, the kind with just a few dozen products on the shelves, where the shop manager passes your cold drink through metal bars after nightfall. At the third point sits an abandoned-looking building. At the fourth: The Roving Bantu Kitchen.
Yellow light spilled through the open doors on the night of my first visit, barely illuminating the graffiti murals splayed across the building’s outdoor walls. The building’s corner spot makes the Roving Bantu Kitchen look larger than it actually is.
Inside I found a room painted red, covered in political posters and vintage “Springbok Radio” record albums graced with bikini-clad Afrikaans girls. A long table ran down the centre of the room; small tables pressed up against the sides. The room was filled with people, all ages and nationalities and races. I instantly made five new friends. We talked and laughed, ate curry, drank wine, and watched and discussed a documentary about Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.
The Roving Bantu Kitchen is centered around food: “Afro-Soul-Food” that mixes traditional South African dishes like mogodu (tripe) and smileys (sheep’s head) with pan-African recipes like jerk chicken and vegetarian roti rolls.
“What is South African food?” S’fi asks me.
I don’t have an answer.
“Spykos,” S’fi tells me. “Slavery food.”
Food is one of South Africa’s biggest historical dividers. Under apartheid, South Africans were forced into various cultural and ethnic boxes, compelled to speak their own language and eat their own food. Those dividers are painfully alive today. “Apartheid did not separate us only as a people,” says S’fi, “but also what we put in our stomachs.”
With the Roving Bantu Kitchen, S’fi seeks to attack those barriers, redefining South African food and making it accessible and desirable to everyone. The Roving Bantu Kitchen’s location in the centre of Brixton, a former bastion of white oppression that is now in transition, will play a big role in knocking down the barriers.
“Brixton is right smack in the middle of the black south and the white north,” S’fi says. “Brixton is like an asshole. Everything has to move through it.
“Brixton belongs to all of us.”
The Roving Bantu Kitchen opened a couple of months ago and is gradually extending its opening hours. The kitchen is currently open Thursday through Saturday, from late afternoon into the evening. Thursday nights are “BuySkop ThursDaze”, with traditional South African specials and a free documentary screening. Friday nights are “Thank Jah It’s FryDay”, with music, dancing, and the Kitchen’s already famous curried butter bean roti rolls.
Expect a full-scale launch of the Roving Bantu Kitchen in February 2016. Learn more on the Roving Bantu Kitchen’s Facebook page.
Roving Bantu Kitchen
Corner Caroline Street and Esher Street
by Heather Mason