An unassuming Port Elizabeth restaurant is putting a fresh twist on a traditional African dish by making pies filled with tripe.
Tripe has long been a traditional Xhosa dish, whether enjoyed at home with dumplings or at traditional ceremonies, where members of one family sit and gather around a big enamel dish in the family kraal after a slaughter.
But for small, up-and-coming restaurant called Meals on Wheels (not to be confused with a community feeding service), a brother, sister and friend from Queenstown decided to modernise one of their favourite dishes, which they sold every Wednesday.
Mmeli Mgoqi was sitting at a table at the eatery in Central while his older sister, Sixolile Mgoqi, and business partner, Babalwa Mhlengi, were cooking tripe one day.
“I can’t really tell you why I thought of the idea but I was like, why not? Why not make a pie with tripe because there’s nothing like it out there and people will enjoy it,” Mgoqi said.
Sixolile said she did not take Mmeli seriously when he mentioned the idea to her but a week after the conversation there he was, bearing the first batch of tripe pies.
“The first people who tasted the pies ordered 10 batches and so far we’ve been making them every day,” Mmeli said proudly.
With their establishment just three months old, Sixolile said they opened the eatery to generate an income for themselves since, before that, she had been working for one of Port Elizabeth’s biggest retailers and “making money for them”.
“The money I was counting for them wasn’t even my earnings for the year. I decided to quit and was unemployed for a while. I went to Babalwa and asked her why don’t we do something for ourselves and make our own money by doing something we love, are passionate about and know how to do.
“So we decided on cooking for people,” Sixolile said.
Mhlengi added that they utilised whatever skills they had and, though there were moments of uncertainty, they knew “people will always want to eat… people need to eat”.
Even though you can walk in and eat at Meals on Wheels, the idea is also to bring the food to the people. Customers can call to order and have their meals delivered, but only within the Central area.
The owners added they wanted to be known not only for their African cuisine, but for their unique dishes too, starting off with the tripe pie.
“As people get familiar with the tripe pie, there’s something else we want to introduce that is not currently in the market. We’d like to have three different pie flavours by the end of April, creating our own niche market,” Mmeli said.
Though they do not make their pie pastry from scratch, the tripe they get from local butchers, clean it, spice it and cook it themselves for several hours before encasing it in the pastry and baking it.
Sixolile added it was “high time” someone brought “nguni” food to Central as other establishments in the area were selling dishes from their native lands.
“You’ve got your Ethiopians selling injera (flatbread) and you’ve got your Nigerians selling egusi (melon seed soup) so why not us,” Sixolile said.
They make a different dish each day of the week but the tripe pie is available daily.