Chakalaka – A South African Dish

2nd November 2019

“Chuck-a-laker!” Jermaine said in a deep American accent and Cherish had to stop herself from rolling her eyes at the American exchange student staring at her lunch.

“It’s called “chakalaka”, Cha-car-La-Car, not Chuck a Laker!”

“Oh well, I still don’t like the Lakers”, he shrugged, telling Cherish this as if this irrelevant piece of information was supposed to provoke a reaction out of her. She knew as much about basketball as Jermaine knew about any Southern African cuisine – nothing.

“So, can you like share a recipe with me or sum’n? It’s kinda nice!” Jermaine said, rubbing his palms together and licking his lips. Cherish nearly threw up in her mouth.

“Come to my house this evening and my mum will show you how to make it. She made it for me” Cherish said as she tucked into the last spoonful of chakalaka before grabbing her chicken drumstick.


Iwe Cherish, sei uchigara uchingounza twese twuma stray mumba mangu senge unotenga magroceries? Next time unokumbira kwete kundijuma so!” – (Cherish, why are you always bringing all the strays into my house as if you pay for groceries? Next time you ask me first instead of surprising me like this) Chenai said in Shona so her daughter’s guest wouldn’t hear her. She even smiled while she told her daughter off to avoid making Jermaine feel uncomfortable, but Cherish just looked at her with so much confusion but just nodded.

“He wants to see you making Chakalaka.” She said, placing her backpack onto the kitchen counter, which Chenai immediately grabbed and chucked into the bin.

“Mum!” Cherish screamed.

“Only food belongs on the kitchen counter. Take your filthy bag to your room please!” Chenai said sternly before turning to Jermaine to offer him a drink.

“Uh, just some water, ma’am” Jermaine said as politely as he could before sitting on one of the chairs in the kitchen.

Chenai grabbed all her ingredients and set them on the kitchen counter. Jermaine noticed some cooking oil, a medium onion, some curry powder, four garlic cloves, thyme, smoked paprika, a fresh chilli pepper, cayenne pepper, ginger powder, beef tomatoes, a large white cabbage, a large carrot, two red bell peppers and a can of baked beans.

“I’ve sort of modified the normal recipe with my own, to boost flavours that I like the most. So you’ll find that I add a lot of red pepper, but some may prefer something different.“ Chenai said to Jermaine as she diced the onion and the two large red bell peppers on a green chopping board. She didn’t realise he wasn’t paying attention at all, but was drawn to the family portrait Cherish had painted which now hung on a wall in the kitchen, next to the pear tree painting which she also painted.

Chenai sliced the white cabbage next, then cubed the two beef tomatoes before finely grating the carrot, dicing four garlic cloves into tiny bits and slicing the chilli pepper, taking care to remove all seeds so it’s not too spicy. She then grabbed her favourite wok and measured about three tablespoons of cooking oil into it. She heated it over medium heat and then added the onion. She stirred for about two minutes until they looked soft, and that’s when she noticed Jermaine was distracted.

“Come and watch next to me,” she beckoned him, smiling. He dropped his bag on the floor then placed it by the stairs.

“Would you like to do it while I tell you what to do?” Chenai said, knowing that that would ensure he’s paying attention at least.

“Yeah, sure!” He replied eagerly, and Chenai handed him her wooden spoon and stepped aside.

Stir in all the spices now, so the diced garlic, just half a teaspoon of the ginger powder, half a teaspoon of the smoked paprika, 2 teaspoons of the curry powder, a quarter teaspoon of the cayenne pepper because we don’t want it to be too spicy, you know?” Jermaine nodded as he added all the ingredients he was told to.
“Don’t forget half a teaspoon of the thyme, the chopped chilli, and then just keep stirring, love.” Chenai said, and Jermaine, slightly towering over her at 5 foot 10 even though he was barely 13, stirred gingerly, nearly tipping the whole lot out of the wok.

“Ok, relax!” She giggled, and she saw Cherish coming downstairs with her laundry basket as it was Friday. She was wearing her favourite floral sun dress which she usually reserved for special occasions. Chenai knew then that her daughter had a huge crush on this American teddy bear.

“Now add the tomatoes, bell peppers, carrots and cabbage, and stir before you place the lid on the wok. You need to constantly stir it, though, so it doesn’t burn.” She warned him after noticing he was keen to hang out with Cherish instead.

Once Cherish had fully loaded the washing machine with her clothes, Chenai pulled her closer and said, “Now you go ahead and clean up the surfaces and do the dishes, don’t forget the other greasy pan I used earlier to make boerewors, ok?” She knew how much Cherish hated doing dishes, but she needed to train her to clean up and make sure she stays in a mess-free environment. She wasn’t even unreasonable, Chenai herself had started doing chores at 6! This one was a whole half-life late.

After about 5 minutes of allowing it to simmer while occasionally stirring, Chenai opened the wok for the last time to check that everything was well cooked. Once satisfied, she asked Jermaine to add the baked beans and stir. After a few more minutes, she tasted to make sure it was well seasoned. She then proffered the wooden spoon to Jermaine.

“Wanna taste for flavour?” Jermaine nodded while tipping the chakalaka into his open palm. He licked it all in one go, much to Cherish’s horror and disgust.



About the author:
Sh’anesu Gutsa is a multi-award winner, writer, motivational blogger and vlogger, food enthusiast, volunteer and budding entrepreneur. She is passionate about women empowerment and community development programmes, and she is the founder of a mentorship and coaching programme.
Find her on social media:
@chef_shanners on Instagram and Twitter

Written by Sh'anesu Gutsa

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