African Ice Cream: A Cultural and Culinary Experience

Jeremy Gerstein
March 16, 2020

On Sunday, March 8th, I went to my favorite bookstore in the neighborhood called Observatory. As I was walking into OBZ Books, I noticed an ice cream stand wedged in the alley between the bookstore and the restaurant next door. This stand caught my attention not only due to its location but also due to the man behind the counter. He was not pushy or aggressive, not annoying or obnoxious, like a lot of the street vendors in Cape Town. He simply greeted me and told me to have a nice day after I greeted him back. After about an hour of drinking coffee and checking out the new arrivals in the bookstore, I left and again walked past the ice cream stand. However, this time I decided to investigate the products at the curiously located ice cream stand.

My initial reaction was one of surprise, which was closely followed by confusion and curiosity. I had never heard of “Red Roobois” and “Smoked Millet,” and the ingredients in the flavors did not seem to be conducive to making a tasty dessert. After first asking what some of the ingredients were, I asked the man behind the counter for his recommendation. Rather than trying to sell me on his product, he offered to let me taste every flavor! Yeah, beat that, Baskin' Robbins. As somewhat of an ice cream connoisseur I could not reject this offer. To my (pleasant) surprise, seven of the eight flavors were delicious (Chili Plum just didn't please my palette). The man told me that he makes these flavors using traditionally African ingredients. When I asked him why he did not simply sell popular flavors such as chocolate or vanilla, he told me that his whole life he heard people complain about the international cuisines that had gained control in South Africa. Rather than complain about the problem, he decided to devise a solution—introduce traditional African flavors to people who have likely never tried them. With his unique ice cream stand, this man is able to engage with members of his community and share an aspect of his culture that is unknown to many people.

After ordering but before I began to enjoy my African-inspired frozen treat, I noticed that the man behind the counter had an impressive vocabulary. I asked him if the ice cream stand was a part-time job that complemented his career. He assured me that his ice cream stand was, in fact, his full-time job. Following my further inquiries, he told me that he has a Ph.D. in Micro and Cell Biology and that he recently finished his postdoc. This answer shocked me. I was left wondering, “why is a man with a doctorate in biology selling ice cream in an alley?” Before I could ask this question, he answered it. He told me that what brings him joy and a sense of fulfillment is educating the members of his community in an interactive and positive manner. Although I remain a little skeptical and cannot help but to think that he is wasting his potential, the man, who is named Tapiweh, made a meaningful point and a new regular customer.

Jeremy Gerstein

<p>Hi, my name is Jeremy and I am a Midshipman at the United States Naval Academy. Outside of studying engineering and Arabic, I spend most of my time training for ultra-races, hiking in any park nearby, and going out with friends. I love experiencing anything new: food, language, music, etc. Find me in any local market, square, or club trying to figure out how the locals live.</p>

2020 Spring
Home University:
United States Naval Academy
Carmel, IN
Engineering - General
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