This Durban eatery offers a taste of home with a modern twist

Image: LAR GLUTZ

It was never chef Thobile Dlani’s intention to serve traditional African food at Sumthing Tasty Café, her trendy new eatery in Morningside, Durban. She loves her breakfast and relishes ideas of enhancing and experimenting with breakfast dishes. For her, Sumthing Tasty was always a cosy little coffee shop serving light meals. But the café’s current location presented an opportunity to serve what customers demanded. Dlani listened and compromised to suit herself and her patrons.

Sumthing Tasty serves a variety of café fare, ranging from breakfast, curries, and pasta to bunny chows, burgers, and traditional African food. And it serves good coffee too. A key description of the place is contemporary. This is articulated in the stylish décor that flows outside onto the greenery of the calming garden setting. With the food, you find the contemporary in the taste, thanks to Dlani’s honed mastery of flavour — partly intuitive and partly inherited.

She credits her aunt for training her palate and incubating her love of food with colourful memories of growing up in Clermont township. “My aunt loved to cook. Her 7-colours Sunday lunch was the best thing about Sundays in our home. I took after her and when it was my turn to cook for the family, she introduced me to different spices and herbs and taught me how to balance flavours. I enjoy it,” Dlani says.

Her path in food was established early on and inherently became part of her lifestyle as an adult. “I’d invite friends over and host lunches and dinners at my place. I’d charge people to go cook at their houses for extra cash. And I sold sandwiches where I worked,” says Dlani. She worked as a receptionist and administrator for procurement at Ceres Beverages. In 2015, and at just 29 years old, she was retrenched when the company closed down.

Dlani then decided to enrol in the Christina Martin culinary arts programme at the International Hotel School. The long hours she spent doing the practical side of the course— where students cook at established hotel restaurants — entrenched the desire to work for herself and have something of her own. “It was a challenging journey, but I was determined to fulfil my dream of doing what I love and getting paid for it. We first opened in Glenwood with a very small kitchen in early 2017.

I used the R7 000 I had to buy kitchen equipment and furniture for the place at an auction. I ran it with four tables, serving sandwiches with tea and instant coffee. The main challenge was that the place was outdoors, and business suffered when it rained,” she says. She moved the business later in 2017 to Florida Road, one of Durban’s busiest streets and the heart of the city’s nightlife.

“My impression was that we’d make money because of the busyness of the street, but we were met with a lot of competition from long-established places with longevity and history on their side. As a new brand we got swallowed and did not stand out,” admits Dlani. Just up the road from Florida Road is Lilian Ngoyi Road. This is where Dlani took over an old coffee shop and where Sumthing Tasty is now thriving. Its entrepreneurial edge is its convenience — serving traditional African food that you don’t have to drive to the townships for. 

The Zulu platter is the best seller and it includes boerewors, inhloko (cow’s head, but you can request sheep’s head if you prefer), umgxabhiso (tripe), chicken feet served with chakalaka, spinach, butternut, and jeqe (steamed bread) or samp. “I love that we serve a variety of food and cater to different races under one roof. The next step is to get a liquor licence and extend our working hours to include dinner, which a lot of people are already requesting,” Dlani says.

Recipes 

Image: LAR GLUTZ

CHICKEN AND AVO QUESADILLA

Ingredients:

1 tortilla wrap •1 whole avo •1 chicken fillet •1 handful grated cheese •2 tablespoons napoletana sauce(you may use store bought)

How to make napoletana:

45ml olive oil •2 large onions, finely chopped •2 cloves of garlic, crushed •850g Italian pear-shaped tomatoes, chopped •60ml red wine •15ml fresh parsley, chopped •2ml salt •Freshly-ground black pepper

Method

Heat the olive oil, add the onion and cook slowly until it is soft and transparent, but not brown. Add half the garlic and stir for approximately one minute. Stir in remaining ingredients. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the sauce has thickened. (The cooking time will depend on the type of tomatoes used. Fora really rich, mellow sauce keep simmering on low for up to two hours.) Season to taste with extra salt and pepper if required. If tomatoes are very acidic, add a pinch of sugar.

How to build the quesadilla:

Heat a pan and add a knob of butter into it (do not use too much as this will make the tortilla soggy). Spread the napoletana sauce over half of the tortilla. Add the sliced grilled chicken, cheese, and avocado (do not put too much filling as this will fall out while you eat). Once the cheese starts to melt, lift a corner of the tortilla and check the underside. When the cheese has melted and you see golden-brown spots on the underside of the tortilla, the quesadilla is ready. Slide the quesadilla onto a plate. Slice it and enjoy with a side salad.

UMGXABHISO (MOGODU)

COOKING TIME: 3-4 HOURS

Ingredients:

1kg clean ox tripe (well washed) •1 cup beef stock •2 carrots(optional) • 2 teaspoons zeal

Method:

Cut the meat into pieces and place in a pot. Cover with water. Let it boil, when it starts to bubble add zeal and beef stock. Allow to cook for about three to four hours, until the meat is soft. You may add sliced veggies like carrots if you like. Let it simmer and serve.

Image: LAR GLUTZ

This article first appeared in print in the Sowetan S Mag September 2019 edition. 

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