Mpumalanga’s Afro-pancakes

24 July 2002

What will you have in your mealie meal, cone-shaped pancake – lamb and morogo (African spinach), beef and butternut, or chicken chakalaka? These pancakes are selling like hotcakes down in Mpumalanga, with tourists snapping them up at R7 each.

And if you’re wondering what chicken chakalaka is, it’s chicken with baked beans, garlic, red wine, and peri-peri sauce for those who like their pancakes spicey.

As part of its Poverty Alleviation Programme, the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology responded to Marinda Marais’s pancake proposal by giving her and a group of black women R500 000 to start their project.

Marais, community relations officer at the popular Blyde River Canyon Resort in southern Mpumalanga, says that they wanted something that was environmentally friendly and wouldn’t generate any waste, so the pancake seemed the obvious solution, wrapped in a bio-degradable serviette, to be eaten “like an ice cream’.

The pancake is similar to roti, but thicker – “the thickness of three conventional pancakes’. The dough of mealie meal and cake flour is rolled out, and using a pot lid, is cut into its shape and, once cooked, rolled into butcher’s paper and filled with one of the three fillers. “The taste of the dough is somewhere between a pancake and a slice of brown bread’, says Marais.

The pancakes are sold at Bourke’s Luck Potholes, an area of potholes in the Blyde River Canyon where Tom Bourke found gold in the 1870s. The canyon is the third-biggest, and greenest, canyon in the world. The whole area enjoys a sub-tropical climate and is part of a panoramic route that includes waterfalls, mountains and forest land, on the way to the Kruger Park.

The Potholes are at the confluence of the Blyde and Treur Rivers, where the scouring of water-borne pebbles over countless centuries has carved out a spectacular geological formation of surreal rock shapes.

Marais and a group of 13 women took over the kiosk at the viewpoint to the Potholes in April last year, and with the help of the owner of Harry’s Pancakes in nearby Graskop, worked out these African cuisine recipes, together with the mealie meal pancakes.

“These 13 women would be unemployed if they weren’t making pancakes,’ says Marais. And she intends employing more women when the project expands. The idea is to keep the kiosk running and take over the present Aventura restaurant, and employ 10 more women to run it.

This would involve upgrading the present cooking infrastructure – at the moment the pancakes and their fillings are prepared on two 2-plate stoves. The restaurant is likely to continue selling the hamburgers and hotdogs on sale at present in the restaurant, but they will be given an African flavour, perhaps with that spicy chuckalucka sauce.

The plans go further: Marais says they are planning to start a franchise in time, firstly in Mpumalanga, then across the country.

What is the secret of its success? Hard work, the right attitude and a good spirit, says Marais.