Meet the cook taking Mzansi’s food to the East

To overcome joblessness in Mzansi, Busisiwe Mabusela Chita moved to China to teach. To make an extra income she also opened a food business she calls Soul Cuisine

To overcome joblessness in Mzansi, Busisiwe Mabusela Chita moved to China to teach. To make an extra income she also opened a food business she calls Soul Cuisine. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

To overcome joblessness in Mzansi, Busisiwe Mabusela Chita moved to China to teach. To make an extra income she also opened a food business she calls Soul Cuisine. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

When Busisiwe Mabusela Chita’s younger brother, Thola died in 2013, her world was shattered. For a while she thought she could never face the world again. But being a Capetonian street hustler of note she had to pick up the pieces.

Home cook Busisiwe Mabusela Chita travelled all the way to China to find her healing. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Healing is not linear. Chita’s healing has come through a food business specialising in Mzansi eats in the city of Suzhou in China.

“Being broke and blacklisted encouraged me to hustle and dream big; I am now an English teacher at Suzhou Language School in China, and I operate other businesses; it is never easy, but it is worth it,” she says.

Recipe: Spinach stuffed chicken breast

From Khayelitsha to the East

Chita was born and raised in Khayelitsha, Cape Town’s biggest township. She is the first born of two children. After matriculating from the Wynberg Senior Secondary School she enrolled to the University of the Western Cape where she graduated with a degree in politics in 2013.

Her interest in the culinary industry was first piqued when she worked in the sales and revenue department of a hotel in the city.

“Although I was not working in the food and beverages industry, being exposed to food preparation and food presentation sparked my interest. I knew I would follow my heart, which I did, although it took some time to bring it on.”

Homecook, Busisiwe Mabusela Chita

After being blacklisted, Chita enrolled for a teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) qualification and left the country to teach in China in 2019.

“I was just a reckless baby with money. I just started a job at a call centre and could finally open accounts at clothing stores. I did just that. When I eventually went back to school after a break, I could not pay my debt and was blacklisted.”

Today her business, Soul Cuisine, is thriving, bringing Mzansi delights like dombolo, mogodu, chakalaka, kota, morogo and samp to the East.

Food For Mzansi caught up with the foodie.

Recipe: Spinach stuffed chicken breast

What inspired you to bring South African cuisine to Asia?

Busisiwe Mabusela Chita cooks South African favourites in China. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

I know what it’s like to be broke right after you’ve been paid, and I know how difficult and hopeless life can be when you’re blacklisted. Getting a job in China made a significant difference in my finances, but it wasn’t enough. That is why I decided to start a side business.

To begin with, there are a large number of Africans working in China, and they miss their home country’s food. I began by collecting condiments we used to use back home, as difficult as it was. Most Asian food is completely different from our food back home, and it’s challenging to even find a stock cube here. Nonetheless, I enjoy hosting guests, and having African brothers and sisters around me gives me hope, which is one of the reasons why I push even if I feel exhausted.

Cooking, on the other hand, was never part of the plan; I started it as a hobby and I am always searching for ways to make money; it’s one of the skills I inherited from my father, who works as a paramedic but never stops having side hustles.

How challenging is it to start a business in a foreign country?

One of the most significant obstacles is that if you choose to register your business, you are obligated to do nothing else; you cannot do many jobs at the same time. As a result, I treat my business as a side hustle rather than a registered firm.

“I also saw the need for African food, especially South African food. There are few other people that sell African food, but it’s usually like East African food, Nigerian food and Ghanaian.”

Homecook, Busisiwe Mabusela Chita

So far, what have you learned as an entrepreneur?

Busisiwe Mabusela Chita. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Business has taught me to be confident in myself; I have been transformed by business. I recall a time in my life when I recognized that I had made a mistake by giving bullies so much power. Now I’m asserting my authority; taking a stand is not easy, but it pays off.

And what about your clientele? What is their usual reaction?

People are really appreciating it because they can’t get South African food anywhere else.

I saw a need to demonstrate to vacationers from other countries that our country has delicious, beautiful food. Many negative things have been said about our country, and many people have held negative beliefs about it.

So, it is good that there’s something good we do out there, because I don’t only sell food to South Africans, I also sell to other people and also locals around here. They do taste my food and they enjoy it. This is also a positive aspect of our country, because most guys from East Africa always say that they’ve never seen such a hardworking South African woman. This stems from all the negative stereotypes about South Africans that they hear in other countries, such as how they portray South African women as lazy and that we sell sex for money, and so on.

“I am glad to say that I am doing a good job representing my country this side.”

Homecook, Busisiwe Mabusela Chita

What advice can you share with aspiring food entrepreneurs?

Training is needed [for children] as early as three years old. From home to school, our future leaders need to be schooled to be entrepreneurs rather than employees. I believe financial freedom comes through entrepreneurship.

Being street smart is always a bonus, just be cautious and stay focused on your goals.

Recipe: Spinach stuffed chicken breast

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