Masonja or Mopane worms must be one of the most flexible items on the varied and diverse African traditional menu. They can be enjoyed as a snack, especially if they have been hung out to dry, with their crispy, salty essence perfect for anyone that needs a nibble. They can also be cooked and served as a main course with added spice essentials that enunciate their flavour, giving the meal a bit of an edge and swagger.
At Shitanga Lounge in Newtown, masonja are used as a starter and are perfectly prepared. The balance between snack and main meal is achieved brilliantly, giving the tongue an initially confusing, but pleasurable experience. At Shitanga, which means “kitchen” in Tsonga, the worms are accompanied by a special masonja sauce. The cook refuses to divulge the ingredients, not surprisingly. Given that this is Jozi and the poor worms are a long way from Limpopo the masonja are also served with bread, which also goes well with the secret sauce.
Shitanga’s menu offers various traditional treats, both as starters and main courses. If your starter has taken you to Limpopo, it must be followed by mogodu, a kind of tripe. Experts will tell you the two compliment each other, offering no contradiction to the tongue. Mogodu done well is a triumph. It was love at first sight as the mogodu eased onto the tongue, accompanied by another sauce particular to the establishment. One bite immediately prompts another as the palette wanders around in utter disbelief – who knew that mogudu could taste this good?
“Too much of a good thing is not good for you,” says Shitanga founder Mikiya Makamu, when asked why there isn’t more mogodu on the plate.
The restaurant is owned by four partners with years of collective experience in restaurants. Makamu used to operate a restaurant, Shivava – also in the Newtown Precinct – for six years, and another partner, Kabelo Selaodi, ran the Danish Pub in Soweto.
“We wanted to create an Afrocentric place that caters for people who appreciate traditional food,” says Selaodi.
The restaurant is also looking to be part in the artistic fabric of the precinct. “Newtown is about the arts and we want to be part of that expression,” says Makamu.
“There is no way we can operate here without taking heed of the arts environment around us. So we will be contributing to that side of things by hosting live music shows from Thursday to Sunday. We will have poetry, comedy and even fashion shows taking place here. We want to unearth talent and build relationships with young musicians by giving them a platform.”
The decor of the place lends itself to a homely ambiance, exuding simplicity but still in tune with the city’s trends. The restaurant also offers treats suited to Western sensibilities and a varied cocktail menu. Location is important to thrive and in Newtown Shitanga should succeed given the resurgence of the nearby Bassline, the construction of a new mall and traffic garnered from the Market Theatre.