The Master Chef
Abigail Mbalo

Abigail Mbalo

Food & Drink

"With our cuisine, we want to tell stories about growing up in a township"

"With our cuisine, we want to tell stories about growing up in a township"

Hi Abigail, what’s the story behind your restaurant, 4Roomed EKasi Culture?

I was a dental technician until 2014 when I appeared on MasterChef South Africa’s third season. Afterwards, I became a restaurateur, opening 4Roomed right here in the township I grew up in. The name comes from the standard four-roomed homes found in the oldest townships across the country. When my mother moved us to Khayelitsha in the ’80s, she built an incredible community by welcoming people to stay with us. The four-roomed homes were about sharing; there were no fences between homes. And I grew up thinking we were all family.

What’s the concept behind your South African township cuisine?

You’ll find a lot of South African restaurants don’t serve South African-inspired meals. It’s become a lot about fast food because of the demands of work and life. With our cuisine, we want to tell stories about growing up in a township. We want to evoke nostalgia and pride.

Tell us about one of your dishes

In the olden days, there was a pumpkin and pap dish called umqa. My twist is that we make it with butternut and nutmeg, with a drizzle of truffle oil. I wanted to create this because umqa is the most undermined dish! I’ve had guests say, “I don’t want to have umqa, it’s a peasant meal.” But when they taste it — although it might remind them of how they struggled growing up, eating this as their breakfast, lunch and dinner — they say, “Oh this reminds me of my gran.”

Which dish are you most proud of?

There’s a dessert called amkhekhe, inspired by a popular scone you’d find in townships. I’ve revamped the recipe, added some citrus flavours, chocolate chips and a yuzu syrup. And we love adding whatever grows in the garden, in this case gooseberries and nasturtium flowers. And it gets topped with a burnt sugar decoration, which is a nod to the sugar I burnt on Masterchef that got me kicked off!

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