Tapiwa Guzha and his taste for heritage
- That first taste.
- Something new.
- Visions of taste..
- Community, Ritual, and the ties that bind.
- Future flavours.
Dr. Tapiwa Guzha is the founder of Tapi Tapi ice cream shop in Cape Town, South Africa. He is the world’s most inventive ice cream producer and is revolutionizing something so fundamental to our existence – the way we taste. For what we consume is intimately wrapped up in where we live, who we are and the stories we share. It triggers memory and evokes emotion. And so it would seem that ice-cream would become an unlikely element of transmutation, an alchemical magic in the hands Tapiwa. He is creating a new way, beyond the novel to liberate indigenous flavours and make them more accessible for people to experience.
That first taste.
Tapiwa Guzha grew up in his grandmother’s home in Harare, Zimbabwe. They lived in the suburbs, but the garden was another world, abundant and fecund, alive with a variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and chickens. Close to the natural order or things and intimately acquainted with seasonal growth, he learned how to farm and grow food. Learning the language of the earth would grow into discovering the medicinal properties of certain plants, eventually researching for his PhD into how plants deal with infection, environmental stress, and nutrient availability. It would be his understanding of communal eating and living with up to 12 kids at times, with his grandmother having to make food stretch, that his connection with and around food would solidify.
Guzha remembers the process of making peanut butter, from harvesting the peanuts to fire roasting and to stone grinding. Again, it would seem destiny already was shaping his culinary fate and would later come to be a profound sensory experience.
In his shop in Cape Town, Guzha created four flavours based on nostalgic snacks: Mazoe Orange, a local and beloved Zimbabwean fruit juice concentrate; Maputi, a popular snack of popped maize kernels (different from typical popcorn); masawu, a local fruit also known as jujube dates; and mawuyu (baobab seeds).
“I realized all the food I make doesn’t reflect my food history,” Guzha says. He had perfected making noodles and pasta from scratch and many mainstream ice cream flavours, but hadn’t given the same level of attention to the foods from his upbringing. “Then you look around and notice, in general this place [South Africa] doesn’t reflect its food history. It’s not even like a fusion; it’s pure eradication of what was here before.”
Tapiwa would go on to create over 600 ice cream flavours with indigenous African fruits. His tubs of frozen dessert stir up conversations about what local food really is and tease with the endless possibility of what could be. Matemba ice cream of mixed salt-cured fish and toffee is just one of the many flavours that resonate with visitors.
Visions of things to taste.
His shop/laboratory, Tapi Tapi (a Shona idiom for yum yum), would soon showcase a passion for ice cream and evolve into an amazing storytelling vehicle. A unique way to share African folklore, rituals and cultural practices through frozen morsels and crunchy cones. A way to celebrate our diversity and embrace our differences while also realising we’re far more similar than we are different. It is a deep testimony found on Tapi Tapis’s website.
“Food is often a source of othering and has been used as a way to corrupt a people’s sense of identity and self-worth. Our paramount mission is to heal and nurture the collective self-esteem of the continent through food and the rituals around food. Deliberately. One person, one representative scoop at a time,” says Guzha.
Tapiwa Guzha engages with every single customer with the same level of energy. It is a conscious choice to connect. He offers a bartering system where customers can exchange ingredients for ice cream: If he uses your ingredient to make ice-cream, you get a free tub of it. He’s received produce from people with fruit trees, ingredients like Ethiopian coffee, and traditional baked goods. He was once gifted some dried Cape seaweed that he turned into a flavour he’s declared one of his all-time favourites, pairing it with black salt and spent grain.
Through a generous spirit of sharing, harkening back to his childhood meals, Guzha also holds free lessons on how to make ice cream. It has also powered his feeding scheme, where customers can donate ingredients or money for him to cook nutritious meals for hungry people who pass by his café. It is this belief in community that fuels him, and ice cream simply facilitates it right now.
Ritual, the ties that bind.
Ever thoughtful and determined to mine his philosophy about food and flavour, Guzha wants to take it even further. “I’m developing an ice-cream tasting ceremony that lets people share some of their culture through [the culture of] eating,” he says. “People live alone more these days. So some of the respect you put into the process of eating is gone because there’s no one to observe you doing it.”
The ceremony involves cleansing and saying certain words of acknowledgement, coupled with the burning of imphepo. In fact, he is developing imphepo paper that doesn’t burn as quickly as the plant and can last longer for his customers.
Ultimately, Tapiwa Guzha wants ice cream made with African ingredients to be fun, but unremarkable. “I want us to have our cultural experiences to the point where it’s frivolous,” he says. Those experiences would not be subject to constant cultural translation for Western languages, palates, and norms. “And just how people learned to say sushi, gnocchi, and croissant, they should learn to say imphepo and not ‘African sage.”
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