Zee back to cook up a storm . . . using traditional dishes to nourish tourism

IN 2013, after five years as the go-to place for that irresistible, healthy African dish, Zee Ncube and her Endaweni – The Place, just vanished from the food industry scene.
Her loyal clients were left stranded. The thousand-plus plates per day she served reluctantly migrated to several other less attractive and scattered places all over Harare. The business minded quickly grabbed the opening and filled the void left by Endaweni in the lucrative traditional food sector.

Well, Zee is back. Her new food nest is called Nambitha. Those that had taken her place should be very afraid – the queen has returned. But in an industry that has seen an upsurge of unique African cuisine chefs that prepare dishes that are as diverse as the many cultures that exist on the continent, has Zee brought new tricks that will enable her to take back her crown?

The Sunday Mail Society visited Nambitha, which sits on the old premises formerly known as Endaweni in Belgravia, to see if indeed Zee has brought back her charm, delicious African cuisine and the secrets that made her meal one not to miss.

These types of dishes, which are reflective of Africa’s rich diversity and food flavours, do not come cheap, top-of-the-range vehicles that were parked at the sprawling property said it all. Nambitha lies in the midst of a sea of other top restaurants in the Belgravia and Avondale area. So how does Zee plan to take back her crown?

“It is amazing what has happened here in just a month. I thought people would have forgotten about me after five years not in the cooking business,” said Zee, the soft-spoken culinary guru, when this writer stole a few minutes with her during a busy afternoon.

“Since opening, we have reached 50 percent of the numbers that we are aiming for and this is something that we thought would take months to achieve. We have had to up our schedule in terms of making sure that we not only get the numbers but get the standard that we believe we owe our customers as well,” she said, oozing confidence.

Back to the food. Of the various culinary delights on offer at the restaurant among them, Nambitha’s signature tasty roadrunner; rump-bones mixed with fresh green vegetables; stewed goat; well-simmered oxtail, maguru and matumbu – we went for the road-runner and oxtail.

For starch I chose sadza rezviyo while my colleagues chose varying shades of white sadza from mugaiwa to fine white. Other customers could be seen ordering sadza remhunga or rice in peanut butter sauce. Loud and clear – we got the message from the food – Zimbabweans no longer look down upon their traditional dishes. There is awareness out there that traditional African food is not just delicious but healthy as well and very superior in terms of quality.

Said Zee: “The tourism industry is booming. The economy may take a bit longer to turn around than we would prefer but the numbers do not lie – tourists are flocking in. We do not want to be offering them the things that they already know and eat in their home countries.

“Our aim and goal is to actually add value to the chain of tourism products. Food is an important aspect of the package of tourism products and we are participating and intend to do it on an even bigger scale. We work with various Embassies and travel agencies in that respect as we promote not just Zimbabwe’s various traditional dishes but other African countries’ dishes as well.”

Zee said their focus on promoting traditional African cuisine did not, however, mean that they have neglected everything else.

“Nambitha has two main divisions, which are the restaurant itself and outside catering. This is where my passion is, ensuring that people do not just eat but eat healthy. However, the outside catering division differs from Nambitha just a little in the sense that it offers both the Western and African menus, which can be custom-made according to the customer’s wishes and budget. These are delivered around Harare.”

The culinary queen says in the near future, she intends to expand to other provinces, particularly the country’s main tourist destinations where her deep knowledge of African cuisine can be best utilised and appreciated as well.

Zee has a passion for cooking since she was young. Her dream is to embrace the African culture, redefine it and bring back the essence of being truly African at a time when modernity and all its Western trappings have engulfed the African’s way of life.

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