Caterpillars, dried fish and clay are not what you would expect to find in ice-cream, but one Cape Town cafe with a mission to celebrate African foods and culture has used all three as ingredients in its frozen desserts.
“Handcrafted, authentic African ice-cream,” reads a sign at the entrance to Tapi Tapi. Inside, the counter is filled with ice-creams in various shades of beige and brown. They look underwhelming, but the blackboard listing the flavours suggests differently.
Tshego Kale, a 22-year-old student and part-time worker in the cafe, explains the menu. “First up is prekese and kei-apple jam. Prekese is a spice from west Africa, sometimes used in soups,” she says. “Kei apple is a sour fruit, but the ice-cream is sweet with a bitterness coming through.” Rooibos, fermented pineapple and lime is next: “It’s sweet, not as dense; good for hot days.”
There are three ice-creams containing chin chin – a fried snack from west Africa. One is paired with African bird’s eye chilli, and has “a kick that comes towards the end”. Another one features clay as the second ingredient: “It has an earthy flavour, very mellow and smooth with a biscuity texture.”
Egusi, a combination of seeds used in west African cuisine, is mixed with pumpkin, cinnamon and nutmeg in another ice-cream. “People from overseas have said this one tastes like Christmas,” says Kale.
Tapi Tapi and its African ice-cream is the brainchild of Tapiwa Guzha, who first came to Cape Town as a student from Zimbabwe. In the two years since it opened, he has created about 900 flavours.
Each tub he makes is unique and never repeated. His aim is to use ice-cream as a vehicle for educating and inspiring people about African flavours. When making a new flavour, Guzha thinks of an ingredient and what he wants to achieve by using it.
He explains: “What point am I trying to make by creating that flavour? Am I trying to showcase something new that people don’t know about? Am I trying to teach people about a cooking technique that turns out certain dishes or flavours? Or am I looking at a cultural icon?”
The idea for Tapi Tapi came in 2018, when Guzha was doing post-doctoral research in plant biotechnology but wanted a change. “I was looking for ways of communicating about science without having to rely on the scientific process – journal publishing, conferences and keeping knowledge in academic spaces,” he says.
Guzha had been making ice-cream for 10 years with dry ice that was delivered to his research labs, after seeing how it was done on a cookery show. One day, it dawned on him that he had never made a specifically African ice-cream. “I realised there was something faulty in the system. The moment you taste a flavour that connects you to home, your culture, your land – it’s a different experience.”
He gave himself a year and a half to save up enough money, quit his job and start his own business. Tapi Tapi opened its doors in February 2020.
Reaction to Tapi Tapi and Guzha’s idea of showcasing African ingredients has been varied. “Sometimes people come out of spite. [They’ll say]: ‘I gave it a try and this is a fad,’ or it’s: ‘Why can’t you make normal ice-cream?’
“Some people come with this idea that black people shouldn’t be able to do this kind of thing,” he adds.
He has also had overwhelmingly positive reactions from others, seeing people phone home and become quite emotional. “There’s something about going through your whole life without realising you were being ignored and someone showing you you’ve been ignored – it’s quite a painful moment.”
Most of his customers are white people because that is where the money is in Cape Town, he says, but adds that he opened Tapi Tapi predominantly for black people.
Guzha chose the suburb of Observatory, often described as alternative and bohemian, for its transport links – and its diversity. Tapi Tapi is wedged between a second-hand bookshop and a food store on the main strip of Observatory.
Now he has branched out into other food and drinks. On the menu are toasties with bread made from sorghum, an ancient African grain, and pasta with a sauce of peanut butter, kapenta fish and the leaves from black-eyed peas.
He is not interested in expanding but is keen for others to take up this kind of work. “Other people need to do this – that’s expansion. We need more representation.”