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Cooking in Zululand: Inhloko and infino

11 September 2012

Our Country Cuisine series takes you on a culinary tour of South Africa, offering the essence of our historical and traditional food treasures. This taste of adventure comes with the compliments of Raymond du Plessis, our tough man from Tuffstuff Insurance.

Zululand is not a place for sissies or finicky eaters. It’s the chiefdom of tribal wars, undiluted culture, raw history, putu pap and braised cow’s head. When in Zululand, you do as the Zulus do.

Text and Photography: Leilani Basson
Anyone who has visited Shakaland in Eshowe, Kwazulu-Natal, has experienced as much of Zululand as is possible in a short period of time. Researching Zulu history is an intricate business that could easily become a life-long study.

Shakaland is 100% Zulu magic. With the legendary Kingsley Holgate still at the head of his own little empire (that he started many years ago as the film set for the original Shaka Zulu movie), there are few things that bring the allure of feathered crowns, Nguni shields, boned necklaces and assegais to life like an experience at Shakaland. The cherry on the top (or arrow on the spear) to round off your trip is a meal of inlohko, imfino and amadombolo … or in plain English: cow’s head, wild spinach, dumplings and sweet potatoes.

It almost looks pretty. The perfectly roasted cow’s head on a traditional wooden plate (called an ugqoko) sports a neat set of pearlies. It has a friendlier face than a sheep’s head and could easily appeal to a broader audience than a traditional Afrikaner smiley. The only drawback is finding a big enough pot to cook it in.

Garnished with lettuce, cherry tomatoes and a few sprigs of parsley, the bulky head creates an almost appetising impression… and it doesn’t taste bad, either. The cheeks are the prime cuts and taste rather like thinly sliced beef roast. But are you man enough to take the bull by the horns? In Zulu culture, only men eat inhloko.

The symbolism behind this is that men are the heads of the homestead. The honour and privilege of consuming inhloko is reserved for them. Traditionally,
cows are sacred and only prepared for large ceremonies like weddings and funerals.

The men eat it in the cattle kraal and perform ceremonial dances. The headman will then place the cleanly picked jawbone in one of the grandmothers’ huts to pay respect to their ancestors’ spirits.

In the same vein, iIbele (cow udder) is eaten only by the women, but cooked by men. The reasoning is that eating udders will give strength to women when they breastfeed and will protect their chests – against illness and a broken heart.

Iphaphu (cow lung) is reserved for Zulu boys, who are not allowed to eat it in the homestead. They have to take the lungs and prepare the meal outside the kraals, away from home. The boys will then first engage in stick fighting before they are allowed to eat the meat. This is believed to give them stamina – “long breaths” for running and fighting, and make them strong while they are growing into Zulu warriors.

Admittedly, inhloko is not something you’re likely to impress friends with at the next braai or if you pull it out of your Engel fridge on your next 4×4 excursion. But when you next plan a visit to Oom Kallie and Tannie Kotie on their Free State cattle farm, e-mail them the recipe and suggest roasted inhloko for Sunday lunch. Your special butcher or local abattoir may be able to help. If all else fails, put in a special request with Fikile Gabela, Shakaland’s head chef, when visiting. She’ll be only too happy to go “udder” her way to help you!

Shakaland Protea Hotel
Tel: 035 460-0912
E-mail: [email protected] com


Fikile’s moovelous inhloko

What you need

One whole head of a cow
(without skin)
15 l of water
60 ml of salt

What you do

  • Place a big black pot on an open fire and pour in water.
  • Bring water to boiling point and add salt.
  • Place the cow head in the pot and close the pot with a lid.
  • Cook for one and a half to two hours – depending on the age of the cow and the size of the head.
  • When the meat is soft but still firm, lift the head out of the pot and roast it in the oven or on an open fire until the outside is golden brown.
  • Serve on an ugqoko (big wooden plate). (Do not overcook)
  • Slice the meat into pieces and serve to men… or woMEN.

Imfino (wild spinach)

What you need

Pick a two-litre container of imfino in the veld. (Some of the bigger food chains do sell it)
Peel two medium onions and cut in small squares.

What you do

  • Fry onions in a little cooking oil.
  • Add 1l of water and bring to the boil.
  • Add 1ml of salt and imfino and cook for 5-8min.
  • Drain water.
  • Season with black or white pepper.
  • Serve.

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