By Garth Johnstone
It’s big, it’s a bit unwieldy, it’s full of sauce and in no way healthy, but a Dexter’s Daily Bites’ kota is a taste of “kasi” life to be savoured with every mouthful.
I was in Mpophomeni to meet my friend and fellow scribe Thembelani Mkhize and try out what he assured me was proving a popular addition to the Mpophomeni scene. He told me the food was delicious and the chilled out vibe at Dexter’s, which opened three weeks ago, was going down super-easy with the locals and visitors.
And I wasn’t disappointed! We popped in for an hour or so around lunch time to get a taste of kotas and see why fans are flocking to Dexter’s to sample chef Xolani “Dexter” Dube’s delicious cooking.
For those who don’t know, kotas have been a part of SA’s and particularly kasi food culture for years. The format varies somewhat but what is common is a “quarter” loaf, cut in half and filled with “slap” chips, sauce, either viennas, beef, chicken or other meat. There are many ways to present this behemoth street food and each chef or venue prides itself on its unique vibe.
“It’s a bit like a cross between a burger, bunny chow and sandwich, and always comes with chips. Sometimes atchar, sometimes an egg or mince, you can pimp it up. There are no rules,” says Thembelani.
“Kotas are very different from place to place. The chefs like to add their own signature. It is street food but it comes with some challenges. You need to be tactical in how you eat it. You need to cut it in half and then work out how you’re going to tackle it.”
Thembelani said sharing a meal and a beverage and chilling was something people had missed so much during lockdown and the Mpophomeni community was responding by supporting venues like Dexter’s in their numbers.
Ideas and aspirations
At the moment the prices, a kota from R30, are extremely reasonable. “I am, for now, trying to get people in and assess the market, but the prices and the menu will change. I have seen there is a taste for Dexter’s so we can take it forward,” said Xolani.
While the food here may seem a little “basic”, don’t be fooled, the young chef has plenty ideas and aspirations for his food style and career. He has completed a year’s training at Fern Hill Hotel school and would have been at the tail end of his second year in 2020 had it not been for dreaded “auntie Rona”. “The virus interrupted year two and they were forced to close. But I will definitely be back at Fern Hill for my second year next year,” said Xolani.
Talking about his food, Xolani says, “I make mine a little different. Instead of using the usual lettuce for garnish, I use spinach, bacon and onion. I add a little traditional touch to spice it up.”
His other touches include a slice of cheese and, optional, mince, beef or chicken. An egg adds a comforting gooey texture and earthy flavour to this township classic.
“I started cooking way before Fern Hill, first for me and my brother and father. My mom worked in Umbumbulu and I cooked for the family when she was away. I used to work with what I had. That’s where the love grew. I learnt I could add flavours to chicken, potato, whatever, and make the most of the ingredients. I cook rice many different ways. I love to taste as I go.
Combinations and flavour
“To be honest I’ve never had a kota, I don’t like to eat my own foods. But I know the combinations, what goes well with what. For example, beef goes well with tomato and caramelised onions, eggs with mayonnaise, beef with bacon, or chicken and bacon.”
You can see the passion for his craft and learning new ways with food in the sparkle in Xolani’s eyes.
I ask him what’s special about a kota. “It’s the easiest thing to eat, it’s bloody good to eat and no-one was doing kotas here in the township. It is street food. It became a big thing In Joburg, and that’s where they still have the best atchars.”
His hot wings are the talk of the town (they are soooo good when you’ve had a heavy night, says Thembelani) and Xolani’s also dripping with street cred for his mean “classic” wors rolls. Those with a sweet tooth are catered for with a highly rated carrot cake – sadly we didn’t get to sample that because we were way too full after our generous kotas.
What about Xolani’s plans for the future?
“I want to be in this industry but do something unique,” says Xolani. “I’m interested in Afro Fusion, which is a mixture of traditional and Western Food. I’d like to develop my own recipes, incorporating local ingredients (and supporting local suppliers) and mix the traditional with some of the more classical things I’m learning in my studies. I really want to travel to different African countries and meet chefs and learn. We can draw a lot of inspiration from one another, find out more about new combinations and styles.”
The likeable chef with the generous smile now has a business going with his brother Sphamandla Molefe, who handles the orders and “front of house”, and Xolani will return to his studies to lap up more knowledge and education before embarking on the next phase of his culinary career.
“I’m very happy that I’ve got something to come back to and take forward,” he says.
In case you’re wondering, Dexter is Xolani’s nickname, taken from the cartoon character. It’ll be very interesting to see what this talented entrepreneur cooks up next.
Contact: Xolani Dube on 081 345 8161; Sphamandla Molefe on 073 268 9616.