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POPULAR EATERY SATISFIES TASTES FOR SAMP, SKOP

SHARE POPULAR EATERY SATISFIES TASTES FOR SAMP, SKOP

Bouncy "township jive" blaring over the sound system is the first hint that Africa Hut is not just any fast-food restaurant.

The menu confirms it: pap served with malamagodu or morogo, samp, steak and skop.Most black South Africans already know such tastes and sounds. But they're exotic in downtown Johannesburg, which often seems like a bustling temple to Western culture, with American-style chicken and burger joints on every corner.

"We have been shy to eat our food in town. Now, with the new South Africa, we want to show we are Africans," said Boysea Thole, owner of an Africa Hut franchise that opened last month in a swank pedestrian mall in the city center.

He had little time to talk during the lunch rush Friday, dashing from kitchen to counter to replenish trays with towers of stiff corn porridge known as pap and peppery-salty mounds of malamagodu (tripe), morogo (a leafy green vegetable) and samp, a mixture of hominy and beans.

The skop - sheep heads - had a few more hours to boil before they could be split open and served.

"It's going like fat cakes," Thole said with a grin, referring to the greasy fried dough treats also featured on his menu.

Nursing students Hilda Rasebeka and Algie Masinga were among the satisfied customers, most of them black.

"We didn't have any menu like this one except at home," Rasebeka said as she licked her fingers over a plate of pap and chicken stew. "We are proud of our tradition, that's why we come here."

Africa Hut's fare would likely appeal to American palates familiar with soul food. And it would certainly appeal to American pocketbooks.

A filling portion of pap with chicken stew and morogo costs about $1.60, half the price of the two-piece chicken dinner at a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet across the street.

"It's good stuff, really," Thole said.

Bright geometric designs of South Africa's Ndebele tribe decorate the one-room restaurant with half a dozen tables. Smocks and tall hats echo the tribal motif.

A place like Africa Hut would have been unthinkable under apartheid, which denied black South Africans the right to own property, proscribed where they could work and made it difficult for them to obtain loans.

The group that owns Africa Hut includes black and white investors, joining whites who still hold much of the capital with blacks who know the culture.