WATCH: A new flavour in township street food culture
A kota burrito meal incorporates a township classic kota with Mexican flavours such as guacamole and pineapple salsa.
Siga Culinary Restaurant owner, Sipho Sedibeng prepares a meal at his restaurant on East Bank drive in Alexandra in Johannesburg, 31 January 2023, which specialises in Texan Steak and Mexican cuisines mixed with signature Kasi dishes. Picture: Nigel Sibanda
Townships are the hub of some of the most iconic street food in South Africa. Some of these dishes are exclusive to specific townships, while others are found on every street corner of any township.
This 20-square-block neighbourhood called Alexandra is one of the biggest and oldest townships in South Africa and is home to over half a million people. Fitting that one of its street food gems is found just as you enter this neighbourhood.
After spending years figuring out where he fits in, like packing shelves at Makro and then travelling to Texas, Gift Sedibeng decided to take the risk and open a Mexican-influenced restaurant in his hometown.
What is an Afro-Mexican restaurant?
VIDEO: Inside Siga Culinary Restaurant, an Afro-Mexican restaurant in Alexandra
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Siga Culinary Restaurant is located at number 384 East Bank Avenue and is Gift’s take on Mexican cuisine with African flavour.
Gift says his journey started while he was in Texas after he realised that South Africa had few Mexican-influenced restaurants. “So, I then thought to myself, I want to start a Mexican food brand but focus on the townships.”
Gift says that township street food tends to be repetitive: “I wanted to be unique and introduce my people to a different pallet”.
Although situated in a neighbourhood known to many as the disadvantaged side of the affluent Sandton, the restaurant’s decked-out outdoor/indoor aesthetics can give its community a high-class restaurant experience.
On the other hand, the kitchen is filled with homemade sauces and spice mixtures packed in reusable containers.
You think using chicken spice on your lamb and steak is wicked until you see a successful chef do it. “Spice is spice,” he says, “It’s all about how you mix them. As a chef, you have to be experimental for your food to be unique.”
We got to taste one of their popular meals, a kota burrito. This meal incorporates a township classic meal, Kota, with Mexican flavours such as guacamole and pineapple salsa.
“This is the meal I offer to my first-time guests. It’s a perfect example of the Mexi-Kasi cuisine,” says Gift.
How to attract funders for your business
Even though today, Gift looks in pride at what he has been able to build in his community, things were not always a breeze for him. This business has had to endure the COVID lockdown, getting looted during the July unrest and now load shedding.
“I remember as we were about to bounce back from COVID, the riot happened, and we got looted.”
Yet Gift refused to give up on his dream. Eventually, Siga Culinary Restaurant, which started with a single flattop, a 5-litre deep-fry, a waffle mixer and a few knives, was revived by external funding, which helped bring Gifts restaurant back to life.
Gift explains, “You need to know why you want that funding because you can get the funding and still lose your business in the long run”.
He says, “It was my passion for cooking and my passion for my community that pushed me. All I ever wanted was to feed my community and empower the youth through job creation”.
The cycle of the township economy
Through this passion for his community, Gift is now taking his skills and paying them forward. Through the Youth Employment Service (YES) South Africa Movement, Gift is teaching students cookery at a learning hub in Alexandra.
Located near the main road of Alexandra, Siga Culinary Restaurant is also kept alive by the community, from friends, neighbours, taxi drivers and anyone passing by looking for a space to chill. In townships, the economy works as its own ecosystem. It gives and takes to sustain its people and businesses.