Many visitors coming to Zimbabwe ask about local cuisine and are keen to try it while here, so it’s important there are plenty of accessible venues that provide a good offering of local dishes.
This is nothing unusual, of course, as sampling local cuisine is almost always part of the agenda of activity for visitors to any country.
A number of such venues operate in Zimbabwe, although I think most of them have local diners as the primary target; international visitors are not in the majority of their customer percentages. The opposite is true at Victoria Falls, where a visit to The Boma adjacent to the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge is now something of a must, and this remarkable venue is a local-focus dining and entertainment centre that has visitor levels for which most restaurateurs would give a left arm.
In Harare, a new restaurant with a focus of traditional Zimbabwean food styles has opened in Highlands, and a group of food writers had lunch there on Wednesday, keen to see what this venue adds to the local eating-out scene. It is called Pamugoti, and is adjacent to The Mustard Seed, which has been open for two-and-a-half years as a family restaurant with various entertainment and events taking place there. Both are owned and operated by Faith Chinogurei, and her new venue is aimed equally at local folk and visitors.
The layout at the property on which the two restaurant stands is interesting: around The Mustard Seed are lawns and flowerbeds overlooking a swimming pool, while, over the wall, Pamugoti has a much more rustic feel, with lots of msasa trees and a more or less uncultivated garden to retain a more countrified feel. The main dining area is a simple construction under thatch, with interesting chairs and tables made from pinewood pallets. In the garden are delightful wooden tables with hay-bale seating, and Faith is also creating a braai area.
The menu is relatively simple and has been designed to give a varied insight into local flavours and content, with prices that are very reasonable, especially in this present uncertain time of price fluctuations. Like The Mustard Seed, Pamugoti has no liquor licence, but guests may bring their own alcoholic beverages. The name, of course, relates to the big stirring spoons used in traditional cooking and at the centre of the dining area is a display of such spoons in a large pot. The menu features a dozen or so items, but the waiter will brief diners on which are available that day, and what accompaniments are being served from those listed on the menu.
I ordered the road-runner chicken, which had been delightfully pot-roasted and with it I enjoyed a multi-grain sadza, rape and sugar beans. Others at our table ordered pork bones, pork trotters and goat. Other menu items included Guinea fowl, beef bones, oxtail, bream, goat offal, rabbit and quail. There was also a vegetarian section, which offers various starches with local vegetables. My chicken was really good and the other guests enjoyed their choices, some of them adding a very hot piripiri sauce made by the chef himself.
There was no dessert, of course, but our group went across the lawn to The Mustard Seed after we had finished and enjoyed a lovely coffee on the veranda. Having the two restaurants is quite handy, then, for people who may wish to have a sweet ending and coffee or tea.
The essence of the venue is simplicity, authentic local flavours and a place for dining by all ages. It is open daily from 11am to 9pm, including Sundays.
The next-door Mustard Seed is open daily from 8.30am to 9pm, but is usually closed on Sunday evenings. Our group thoroughly enjoyed the meals we chose and there was quite a bit of interest in coming back and sampling some of the other treats at different times. I liked the ambience and was pleased to hear that business is good. Faith is hoping more and more international visitors to Harare will get to hear of it and come along for a local culinary experience while here. Faith is also hoping folk in surrounding suburbs who are not usually exposed to traditional cuisine will come along for a meal.
Price is so important these days as a factor for diners, and the Pamugoti charges were reasonable: between $8 and $12, with the quail at $18. Soft drinks are on sale. There are plans for braai meals once the braai area is finished. Faith is open to requests for special private events, too.
Pamugoti is a charming and pleasant venue for casual dining, with the accent entirely on Zimbabwean cuisine and content, and I recommend it to all. Well done to Faith Chinogurei on her new concept and I wish her much success in her two side-by-side dining venues in the attractive Highlands area. It’s at 27 Ridgeway South, and information and bookings can be made on 0714 447948, 0714 447932 or 0719 572620. It has a website, www.pamugoti.co.zw.
And now news on a special competition exclusive to readers of this column. Write in and name for me your top three restaurants in Zimbabwe (and a short reason for these choices) and you will go into the draw for several prizes of dining vouchers from restaurants featured this year. It will be very interesting to hear of the choices of our readers. Any and all dining venues can be included. Send in your list by December 24 to firstname.lastname@example.org. Winners will be named in our column on January 12.