To celebrate his release from prison after 27 years, the late President Nelson Mandela first had a warm bowl of curry. And despite having a healthy appetite for home-cooked meals, he lived until 95.
The father of a free Mzansi sure loved to eat, reminisces former presidential cook Xoliswa Ndoyiya in an interview with Food For Mzansi. Today, 11 February, marks the day Madiba was released from the Groot Drakenstein prison in 1990.
Ndoyiya was officially signed on as his chef in 1992 and Ndoyiya recalls her food moments in the Houghton, Johannesburg home of the Nobel laureate.
Madiba chef spills the tea
“When I met him, I was working at a hotel in Johannesburg and had been told to meet one of his VIP protectors at Shell House, which used to be the ANC headquarters,” she says. “When we met, he took us to Mr Nelson Mandela’s house.”
Ndoyiya expected herself and Madiba to sit down for an interview, but he simply asked if she could prepare African food. “That was the end of it. He told me he believed that I would make a great cook and that I should get started right away.”
Meanwhile, food anthropologist Dr Anna Trapido adds that a dinner with Madiba was always an experience. Ndoyiya and Trapido penned Ukutya Kwasekhaya, a recipe book filled with Madiba’s favourites.
Madiba welcomed people from all walks of life to his table, adds Trapido. “That was enough to show that he had a heart of gold. The people he ate with, whether they were from his alley, his comrades, or even his children, were a constant feature of his dining experience.”
From rural Eastern Cape to Jozi
Ndoyiya was born and raised in Kwa-Mlungisi and later moved to Ezibeleni in Queenstown. She later moved to Johannesburg where she worked for the Rothston family in Victory Park and also a home for senior citizens in Troyeville.
On her first day in the Madiba household, Ndoyiya served the future president of a democratic South Africa, rice, roasted vegetables and grilled chicken with an orange-herb sauce.
“I think I’ve outdone myself when dishes are returned clean from the table, as happened on my first day, but Madiba didn’t eat the rice. He said that he did not like it and I should not be worried,” she recalls.
Madiba’s favourite meals
Ndoyiya cooked meals were served for many high-profile guests at the Madiba table.
“For the first time, I met political leaders and other friends of Tata Madiba, like Raymond Mhlaba, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Bantubonke Holomisa, Jakes Gerwel, Thabo Mbeki and others. They all treated me with respect. It was always an honor to have them around.”
Some of Madiba favourites on Ndoyiya’s menu included umngqusho with an oxtail stew as well as isikhwembu sombona (samp and corn). “Madiba preferred simple and flavourful home-cooked meals, such as umxhaxha (corn and pumpkin), isophi (corn and beans), and umvubo (dry pap with amasi), and when Madiba was not fed his favourite meals for an extended period of time, he would question it.”
*Recipe from Ukutya kwasekhaya Copyright © 2011 by Xoliswa Ndoyiya
Try Madiba’s favourite stew
- 3kg oxtail, excess fat removed
- 5ml (1 tsp) paprika
- 15ml (1 tbsp) barbeque spice
- 5 large carrots (about 350g), peeled and sliced
- 250g green beans, sliced
- 4 medium potatoes (about 800g), peeled and quartered
- 60g (1 packet) oxtail soup powder
- salt and white pepper, to taste
1. Put the oxtail in a large pot and add just enough water to cover.
2. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook until the water has evaporated. The meat will start to brown in its own fat.
3. Add the paprika and barbeque spice together with enough water to cover the oxtail.
4. Cover with a lid and cook over a low heat until the oxtail is tender, about 2 hours. Keep checking that there is still enough liquid to cover the meat, adding more water when necessary.
5. Add the carrots, beans, potatoes and soup powder and cook until the vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes. Season and serve.