Dorah Sitole's affair with African food

Dorah Sitole. Picture: Supplied

Dorah Sitole. Picture: Supplied

Published Jun 18, 2017


‘It's not poverty food,” says Dorah Sitole, a celebrated former food editor and the author of Cooking from Cape to Cairo.

She continues, “It’s quite sad that people think we eat our food because of survival. I don’t think they realise it’s food we grew up on and that we aren’t eating it because of a lack of food. That’s the food that was cooked and eaten by our ancestors.”

And her tone isn’t marked by annoyance. Quite the opposite, in fact. She exudes warmth and the kind of patience that one gets from a grandmother.

She cautions, “I worry about people not wanting to try our food. And yet we are so keen to try different cuisines. Everyone’s eating sushi. Even black kids. Why are we so keen to try out other food and yet kids make faces about tripe. But they are very quick to eat oysters.

“Maybe I don’t understand and I haven’t got the answers,” Sitole shrugs. “I always say to my kids, ‘Try something out before you turn up your nose’.”

Sitole, who is currently a judge on’s Flava Queens, revisits her love affair with food.

She says, “It started in 1970. My eldest son was a year old then. I used to work as a research officer for a market research company. And I was growing very bored with office work.”

Her restlessness in her job was resolved when her husband introduced her to someone at Metal Box.

Sitole recalls, “It’s now bought over by Nampak. They were looking for a cooking demonstrator. Someone who would go into the townships and educate people, especially about nutrition around canned food. You know, we grew up with all these misconceptions, believing food from a can was poisonous. But people ate a lot of tinned fish. I happened to, from an early age, be very interested in food. And I was quite a good cook. My husband was like, ‘My wife can do this’.” So she went for an interview and bagged the job.

She offers, “My boss saw I had a passion for food. I had a collection of recipes in my notebook. They were cuttings from magazines, the Angela Day food page in The Star and stuff from the Daily Mail. I kept them and I tried them.”

And her husband was an eager taster.

Sitole continues, “You generally cut out recipes that speak to you. I’m someone who cooks simple food that tends to be packed with flavour. And African food has so much flavour. But we tend to sometimes serve it bland. When I started my journey, I was curious about other cuisines.”

After having honed her skills and having gathered as much knowledge as she could completing numerous courses, she was head-hunted to be a food editor for a well-known magazine.

This got her thinking about her roots and she asked herself, “How much do you know about your African food?”

She got her answer after visiting 22 countries across our continent. She went on to document her adventures in her first cookbook.

With so many years of experience under her belt, she says, with unwavering confidence, “I think the world needs to acquire a taste for African cuisine.”

She feels it has been working the other way around for too long

 Dora Sitole showing these students from Italy how to cook an African feast. Picture and caption from Instagram

When asked about some of the elements that make a dish truly African, she offers, “You will get samp and beans. That’s an obvious one. You will get tripe cooked in whatever way, maybe curried or stewed. You will get steamed dumpling. You will get oxtail. You will get many dishes with beans. You will, of course, get spinach.”

She points out, “I’m not even mentioning phutu and sour milk, which is just so delicious.”

Although Vilakazi Street is regarded as a favourite haunt for tourists, she adds, “I’m saddened by the number of African cuisine restaurants in town that close shortly after opening. Maybe it’s not their time yet. And if people want to have a truly authentic experience, they go to the Shisa Nyama places in Soweto. They are booming at the moment.”

Sitole ends off by saying, “People should be curious about African food. I promise them, it’s delicious, robust, full of flavour and it’s healthy!”

Here are some recipes to try on Father's day from Dorah Sihole's Cooking from Cape to Cairo:

Tripe and potato stew (Ulusu namazambane)


1kg Tripe, washed and cut into pieces


4 potatoes, peeled and quartered

1 onion, chopped

10ml (2 teaspoons) curry powder

5ml (1 teaspoon) ground cumin

5ml (1 teaspoon) ground coriander

salt and pepper to taste


Cover tripe with water, bring to the boil, turn down heat and simmer gently for 3 hours, replenish water if it goes dry.

Add potatoes, onions, spices, salt and pepper, to tripe, cook for a further 30 minutes until potatoes are cooked.

Serve hot over Isijabane (Spinach Pap).

*Serves 4

Chicken in Peanut Sauce


1 whole chicken (+ – 1.5kg)

45ml (3 tablespoons) seasoned flour

60ml (4 tablespoons) oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

15ml (1 tablespoon) crushed ginger

1 green pepper, diced

2 large tomatoes, peeled and diced

2 chicken stock cubes, dissolved in

500ml (2 cups) water

salt and freshly ground black

10ml (2 teaspoons) dry rosemary

125ml (½ cup) peanut butter


Cut chicken into portions and toss in seasoned flour.

Heat oil in a large saucepan, brown the chicken on all sides. Remove from saucepan and keep warm.

Sauté onion, garlic and ginger in saucepan until transparent. Add green pepper and tomatoes, cook for 5 minutes. Return chicken.

Add stock, rosemary, salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add peanut butter, continue to simmer for a further 30 minutes. Add a little water if the stew is too thick. Serve over Idombolo (steamed dumpling) or rice.

* Serves 6