Spreading the word on traditional Zulu food and culture
Wade Smit, the founder of Kwasukela Books, loves the local food and is working with SA’s literary greats to publish books in isiZulu
Food sparks creativity and creative people need to eat well to fuel their passions. For some, food pricks memories of places of journeys and for others is an entry point into a different life or culture.
UK journalist, film-maker and food critic Jonathan Meades prefers to eat at home every day at 1.15pm. “It breaks the day,” he says. “Today I had fried rabbit liver, a glass of Vichy water and three clementines,” he says.
The day before he had two baked eggs, a glass of water and three clementines.
Zulu-language book publisher Wade Smit’s flexible lunch hour is determined by his hunger. He says sometimes lunch is at 10am.
Smit also prefers eating lunch at home. He has a “few small lunches throughout the day”, which he prepares.
Smit established his publishing company Kwasukela Books when he couldn’t find a publisher for his Zulu fiction. He loves the language, and the foot prepared in Zulu homes. He says he can’t get enough of umqombothi, traditional beer.
He grew up in Kwazulu-Natal and for years thought what he ate wasn’t worth discussing. “Zulu food is, I feel, quite a big part of everyone's lives if you grow up in KwaZulu-Natal, and not a lot of people talk about it," he says. "Indian and white people use amasi (fermented milk) for cooking and make umngqusho (samp and beans).”
In turn, Zulu people buy masala at spice shops in Durban, and make curries “There’s these Durban fusion cuisines happening that we don’t talk about,” Smit says.
Kwasukela Books is working with some of SA’s literary greats, including Fred Khumalo, and is aiming to publish several Zulu “firsts”. In 2019 Smit plans to publish Khumalo’s first book written in isiZulu. He says it is “a collection of interconnected short stories about the most amazing, cocky cat you have ever seen”.
He says a perfect short story leaves readers satisfied. Although the story doesn’t necessarily have to be complete, Smit believes “it has to provide a window into a bigger world”.
If big, popular brands like Nando’s use Zulu to make funny advertisements, perhaps it’s time book publishers did the same, he says.
Pulitzer-winning New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz is a dedicated workhorse who eats breakfast, lunch and dinner at his desk.
He began writing when he was 40 years old. His main ambition before that was to become an artist. He had no academic qualifications and worked as a truck driver. He confesses that he was “eaten alive by envy” for writers.
Saltz says he hasn’t gone out to dinner for decades. He is proud of that, but admits that it probably doesn’t endear him to many people, except his wife.
Meades, who in the past worked for British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, is quick to say he’s no entrepreneur. But he’s a hardworking polymath whose work stretches to a handful of creative arts like TV films, documentaries and cookbooks.
When he was in his 20s, his drama teachers told him he’d only be successful the year he turned 40. To fill up the time until then, he wrote for The Observer and The Times. He was a weighty restaurant critic for The Times.
Meades’ cookbooks are informed by his belief that food can be simple without being boring. His idea of a good meal is “nothing fancy”. “It just has to be good,” he says.