Zinyusile Khumbula : Taco Africana (2)

September 01, 2021 CULTURELLE Episode 16
Zinyusile Khumbula : Taco Africana (2)
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Zinyusile Khumbula (Zi) was born in Zimbabwe and spent some of his childhood in South Africa. He moved to the United States in September 2009 and been a resident of Harlem since 2014 where he has launched New York’s First Pop Up African Taqueria, Taco Africana. Zi’s daily inspiration is the mission of sharing Ubuntu (humanity to others) through food and fellowship. With his Tacos, Zi aims to create unique dining experiences that become a comfortable space. Allowing people from all walks of life to come together and share their backgrounds, cultures, life experiences and authentically delicious food! 

 “My dream is to continue building on the work Nelson Mandela started in South Africa and spread it all over the world,” he says. “We host intimate moments that drive people to talk and get to know each other while breaking bread. Our catering niche is African Fusion Cuisine. We specialize in cooking traditional and authentic dishes that incorporate ingredients and techniques from other cultures. Think tacos, shrimp & grits, street sandwiches and chicken and waffles with a flavorful African flare.” 

Email: zi.fromafrica@gmail.com

Website: https://linktr.ee/zi.fromafrica

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/zi.fromafrica

Instagram: https://instagram.com/tacoafricana

Resource mentioned: New York African Restaurant Week

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Intro : I don't know about you but I'm ready for Part 2 !

Vongai: Taco Africana. So you're working at Madiba, how do we get to Taco Africana? And having a storefront? Because I know that's not easy, and having a storefront in New York, because I know that's not easy. And we're in the middle of a pandemic and you’re still going and I know that's not easy.

Zi: Insane. Insane.  Ah, just to clarify, we are working on a storefront we don't have it yet. 

Vongai: Oh, sorry. I thought you did.  

Zi: Oh no it’s okay. 

Vongai: Oh, it's because I was thinking of the future because I've already prophesizing 

Zi: I love that. 

Vongai: Sorry, I was using I was using my gift, and I accidentally thought I was speaking the present, but it exists. 

Zi: Yes speak it into existence. Ah. Oh Jesus. That's going to be a mouthful, but Taco Africana started because like I mentioned before quarterlife crisis. What the EFF am I doing with my life, so I had literally two options, either move to New Orleans for some reason, I don't know why. Probably the music and the culture and the food. I'm like it's either this or that. And this was African tacos in New York City. That was African barbecue /braai in New Orleans.

Vongai: We still have to work on this. I'm sorry to cut you off. But we have to work on this other restaurant. We're expanding. We are going to have two restaurants. I am going to visit both of them.

Zi: I love that 

Vongai: Continue. 

Zi: Option A tacos in New York City. Option B. African BBQ in New Orleans. I packed my car up take a solo road trip from here (Harlem) all the way to New Orleans. I get to New Orleans. I Love New Orleans. I love the people. I love the food. I love the music every single where. But the humidity, the humidity messed me up. I’m asthmatic so the thicker the air gets, the harder it is for me to breathe. So I'm working with heat and smoke and kind of didn't make sense to explore African barbecue in New Orleans at the time. So I came back to New York City. Literally like for two weeks, did some research and then I realized nobody is spicing their tortillas. Nobody is really making African tacos. There's someone in the UK, Lemlem Kitchen. She makes like Ethiopian tacos. There is someone in New Jersey, but they don't make their own tortillas. It's not really authentic like the way that Mexican people make it. So I'm like, all right, there's a lot of work, but I'm gonna do it. I started experimenting, I infused spices into my tortillas. The first tacos I made were probably I want to say, either chicken suya, or bobotie. I made peri-peri shrimp as well. And it was just playing around with ingredients. I invited a friend over she tried them, she loved them. And I'm like, Okay, this is it. So I started exploring that a little bit more. The product has gotten better year by year. COVID hits. I was specializing in events and caterings and pop ups. No events. No way. So yeah, I had to shut that thing down. Yeah, never like I honestly didn't think this thing would revive. But thank you to people who've been like committed in the brand. People who have been believing in me. And also myself for not giving up on the brand and the food that's reviving. And we're working towards a store front and I'm not supposed to say yet because you don't want to put something out and people put bad juju on it. But storefront is in the works. Still pushing catering. Still pushing event. And this month we're launching Taco kits so you'd be able to buy a whole box with like tortillas, salsas, pico de gallos and a whole meat. So you can get either a whole chicken, half a filet of a whole salmon. Full leg of lambs like really big meat so that you invite people over. It's a birthday party. It's a funeral. It's a divorce party graduation, you have tacos and you make them yourself, I hope. 

Vongai: And for my vegan friends who listen to this podcast. What are our vegan options?

Zi: I have cauliflower, I have jackfruit, I have mushrooms.

Vongai: There we go. And jackfruit mushrooms. Love it. You’re making me think of Blossom you ever been to Blossom?

Zi: I’ve never been to blossom. 

Vongai: Blossom. I think it's Blossom Du Jour. It’s awesome. It’s a plant-based place and hella dope. I tried the jackfruit and I’m like. Yeah, I could do this. 

Zi: Nice. I'll check them out. Are they here in New York City? 

Vongai: Yeah.

Zi: That’s sweet I’ll check them out.  

Vongai: Yeah, they have a couple locations. They, I think they might still have one on Upper West Side. Or maybe they shut that one down. But they do have a little kiosk in Columbus Circle. See, I'm a New York girl. I know my locations. I love that. What is the community like? Like with the culinary? Is there a culinary community restaurant community?

Zi: Yeah, that's that's a really tough question.

Vongai: I can take it back and say, Well, how have you been able to cultivate a community to help you through this?

Zi: I'll answer both because I like challenges. First question. What is the community like? The community is very, very close to non-existent. There’s a lot of dope culinary people in New York City and in America actually, like, doing great stuff with African food. For example, my friend Adé in North Carolina, she does food from Benin. There’s Hamma in Brooklyn, he just opened a suya shop. There is Brian from Kenya, he does Kenyan food as well. So there's like small niches of people doing amazing Africa food separately. The only person who has tried to unite us before is Akin (Akinsanya) he does, African Restaurant Week, that's his handle. So he's tried to like really put us together. And he's done a few events where all these culinary people come and showcase stuff. But I feel like we lacked the camaraderie of joining forces together and collaborating. Number one giving each other advice or just networking, there's so many jobs that sometimes I cannot take. So I ended up passing them on. And that's not always the case with everybody else. So we don't like really share resources, we don't come together and say, Okay, there’s Mexican food, there’s Italian food, there’s French food, how do we, together as Africans, promote and push this mission that we're on, but still build our businesses separately? So that's very much missing, within the culinary community here. How have I been cultivating it? Outside of Taco Africana, and I have a personal brand; Zi from Africa. I just started the test kitchen. So I invite chefs from all over other cultures, other countries, other cities, other cuisines, and we sometimes cook together, or they take over the whole kitchen. And they do their thing, and they're able to tell their story through food. So I'm trying to do that a little bit more and get chefs from all over, even home cooks who are like, hey, my mom has been making this recipe for so many years, it's been passed down the family. I believe in it. I feel like it's really strong. It's a representation of Africa. People might like it, people might not, but I want to push it down and have people try it. That's the kitchen forward. So that's how I'm cultivating that space where we build community around African food.

Vongai: So for someone who's picky like me, who who is just rolling up to the pop up and looks at the menu and is super intimidated. What would your recommendation be from the menu? Or like what is one of one of like your highest selling things?

Zi: Both questions. Be personable, like be personable. Most times like people who work the front don't have time to talk. But if you're investing in something you should know much about it before you pay for it. So you have every right to ask these people as long as it takes. Hey, I'm new to this restaurant. I don't like food that’s sour. I don't like food that's sweet. What do you recommend I get? You know? Because I could tell you get peanut butter pork and maybe

Vongai: I'm allergic No, I'm not. I'm not allergic. I'm not allergic. But like, you know, yeah. 

Zi: Yeah. Like invest in yourself and like, let your money work for you. If you're paying for it. You should get your your ultimate value out of it. You know, don't buy something and then you’re gonna hate it. So make sure like you tell the person ‘I don't like this. I don't like that. I don't like this. I'm interested in this.’ What do you recommend I get because, for example, Ethiopian food. I don't know if you eat it, but the staple is Injera. Injera, very, I call it soft flatbread that has a pungent taste and flavor and it's a very much acquired taste. It took me a while to love injera , I enjoy it now but it took me a while. So a skeptical eater walks up and they like what should I get. Give them injera but it's gonna intimidate them and they don't like it but if they tell me what their palate is like, there's always adjustments and I find that the new African chefs are very accommodating.

Vongai: That’s dope. 

Zi: And then second question. What is the most selling thing in my menu? Jerk and jollof.  The jerk chicken and a jollof tortilla. 

Vongai: That actually looks really good though. So I would get that. 

Zi: No, it hits it hits. Like it's the number, the top seller but that's not my favorite. My favorite one is the pork one it's Ghanian style peanut sauce so I get that and I get pernil which is like a pork shoulder. I cook it barbacoa style like a Mexican style of cooking. I wrap it in banana leaves, put citrus, I put spices, so all the steam and the flavors are like infused into the pork. There's the spiciness from the peanuts sauce. There's curry I use a curry tortilla for that. I put tomatillo salsa it's tart as well. And then there's acidity because I put pickled cabbage on top. Like you- 

Vongai : You’re just giving us your recipe. You're just giving away the recipe. 

Zi: I’m sharing. Food is sharing. So I'm happy to always share but the way those flavors just come together in my mouth tells such a beautiful story, and I think that's my ultimate favorite taco. 

Vongai: Okay, that's beautiful. What would you say to your seven year old self? Your face listeners he is shook. 

Zi: Seven years old?  So I did this really weird thing when I was seven and maybe a couple of times in my life where I stand in the mirror and like, literally look into myself in the mirror for minutes and minutes. And like question myself, like, is this really you? Are you really like, who are you? So I tell myself like you are, who you feel like you are on the inside. Your sexuality, your identity, your desires and life matter regardless of what other people think this is truly your life. And without those thoughts without those desires, without those orientations, you wouldn't be who you are. So you are who you see when you look in the mirror.

Vongai: I love that so much. So Zi when are we going to get your cookbook? When you putting out the cookbook? [laughter]

Zi: Now you want me to release all my projects? You want me to spill all my tea now? 

Vongai: No. You can just say it's in the works.

Zi: Not yet, in the works. It's not yet in the works, there are other projects that I'm working on but cookbook coming soon. Maybe two or three years from now, as other things I want to focus on in the meantime. But yeah, maybe recipes coming soon but a full cookbook is gonna be a couple of years.

Vongai: [laughs] No worries. I thought I'd throw that question in there to see how you react. I love that. So much. Alright, so before we head into lightning round, what advice or what offering would you have for someone listening right now, who might be thinking I want to do what Zi does. I want to make all of the food, be the private chef, cook it up. But I'm not quite sure where to start? Are there any resources that you would recommend whether they’re courses, the YouTube channels, podcast, websites, or even like heading to, let's say, African food week.

Zi: The biggest one, from what you mentioned is I don't know where to start. Just start! Like, just start a lot of people waste a lot of time, oh, I want to do this, oh, I want to do that. And it's just the desire without action. But put action to just like do it. Even if it's messed up the first time, it's easier to fix something that's already in existence than for you to wait to actually start. So like just do it. You want to sell apartments, peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Do it. Like literally just start now. And if you have to make adjustments, make adjustments. The path I took to be where I am right now is I went to a community college in Brooklyn, Kingsborough Community College for about three months. It was a free course I think I only had to pay $100 to get textbooks. They taught me how to hold the knife. They taught me how to be in a kitchen. Basic soups. Basic salads. It’s basically a very crunched up introduction to culinary arts and the kitchen industry of New York City. If you can find that in your community do that. Don't spend a shit ton of money in culinary school. Learn from your friends, learn from your aunts learn from your uncles. If there's one thing that your aunt does really, really, really well ask her Can you teach me and then you start collecting those recipes. Listen to your culinary voice. Everybody cooks different. Everybody tastes different. So what you feel like tastes good. And you truly enjoy stick to that. Because it would be the truest form of who you are and what you are and what you're selling. Not an idea of what someone else thinks it should taste like. Believe in yourself. And yeah, again, just start.

Vongai: That's awesome. Okay, you ready for lightning round?

Zi: Yes. Let’s do it.

Vongai: Lightning round. Okay. What's your zodiac? 

Zi: Aquarius. 

Vongai: Aquarius. Awesome. What is the last song you listen to?

Zi: Oh my gosh. Okay, I don't mean to put your business out there. But we listened to Essence by WizKid ft. Tem just now.

Vongai: It’s fine. That's completely fine. 

Zi: I'm gonna I'm gonna like put a pin in that. I hate that this is happening. And I love it at the same time. I like that Americans are playing the song. Americans are enjoying Afrobeats but they're overdoing it. I don't want Essence to become like what Joanna was like. You could turn on Power 105 and here, Joanna-Jo-Jo. Go to Hot 97, Joanna-Jo-Jo Joe and you walk down the block Jo- like geez. Like let’s not overdo it. And I feel like Essence is gonna do that.

Vongai: I had that conversation with my dad about I forget who the artists was, but Fall. When Fall was huge. 

Zi: Davido. 

Vongai: Yes. [sings] Money fall on you. And it was like, the whole summer I heard it working walking through Harlem walking downtown by like, Washington Square. Money fall on you. I know but I was digging it though. I was like, Yes. Get into the flavor. Get into the flavor. Alright.

Zi: It’s nice but not to get off topic. But it scares me because I don't want it to be just a trend like reggae, not reggae, ragga came, dancehall came, reggaeton came. It was popping for a while. And then it started to fade. So I don't want that to happen with African music. Like, don't let it be a trend if you're gonna bump it, bump it for life.

Vongai: See, I feel like the trend was when we had that song Wind It Up and then before then when we were doing the. Was it izonto? 

Zi: Azonto, yeah. 

Vongai: Azonto. I feel like the trend was when Azonto was hot. And then that song that they had the other group had with Akon where it was, um, Chop My Money.

Zi: Chop My Money. Yeah.

Vongai:  I feel like that's when it was the trend. But like now I feel like it's it's less of a trend because you've got the WizKids and the Davidos and Burna Boys, especially for Black Is King and Lion King. What Beyonce did for us, did for the culture. And then you have? Who am I thinking of? Ok so Wizkid Burna Boy, Davido? 

Zi: Mr. Eazi 

Vongai: Mr. Eazi. I feel like there was someone else I was thinking of. I feel like now we're at a steady pace that now it's less of a trend. It's here to stay

Zi: Yeah we’re even getting Grammys now. So yes, good stuff.

Vongai: Yeah. Like we're getting other artists on our songs. Yeah. Yeah. Because it's hot. It's the flavor. 

Zi: It's a party. Like you say. 

Vongai : It- It is a party, like I say. It is always a party. Okay, if you could have any superpower, what would it be?

Zi: I thought about this one. I knew I did my homework, right. It would be ultimate and transferable invisibility. If I could grab my girlfriend and we get invisible and we're not seen and we can be anywhere in any room and not be seen. I think yeah, that would be the best.

Vongai: That's fun. That's kind of like the invisibility cloak in Harry Potter, but better. And it's kind of like what The Flash does when he like, puts people into flash time and he holds it like slow down to his time, but better of course. Okay, what is your favorite meal?

Zi: I'm gonna be biased and say tacos. Yeah

Vongai: But it can't be one of your tacos.

Zi: Oh, there's a food truck on 145 between Broadway and Amsterdam. They sell goat meat taco and cow tongue taco.

Vongai: I know that food truck. 

Zi: Yeah, I know. 

Vongai: I know that food truck. But I didn't really like their food. I'm sorry. Yeah, my roommate got on to me as well. He was like, Nah, but that food truck is I was like, Oh no, maybe maybe it was the day I went but it was like this burrito is not. I've had better. 

Zi: Oh, 

Vongai: Yeah, it really saddened me. There was this. I forget what the name of the store was. They used to have a kiosk down by Columbus Circle and then they left me and I was devastated. But they happen to also be a Chopped champion. And they had the most banging tacos. I think it was like a Ropa Viaje. 

Zi: Ropa Viaje yeah.

Vongai: Apologies to my to my Spanish friends. My pronunciation can be off. But it was so good.Okay. What is your favorite song to dance to?

Zi: Ooh right now it's and again I'm scared this song is gonna do what Joanna did. Right now it's Soundgasm by Rema. 

Vongai: Oh I haven't heard that yet. I'll check that out.

Zi: It’s pepe. It’s really good. 

Vongai: Favorite Zimbabwean musician? 

Zi: Wow this is tough because ultimately

Vongai: And you knew this was coming if you listened to the podcast. You knew this was coming.

Zi: Yah yah yah but I didn't prepare for this right? Ultimately I’ve got two. Ultimately because his like really a legend and he’s been worldwide with African music even to the point where he said Haina Tambo. If you're Zimbabwean, you'll know what that is. Talking about Oliver Mtukudzi. But because I'm Ndebele and I love hearing Ndebele lyrics I love Lovemore Majaivana.

Vongai: Oh sweet, sweet, sweet,sweet,sweet. Favourite Zimbabwean childhood snack? We all have one. We all have one.

Zi:Can it be Western snack or African snack?

Vongai: It's it's you. You find it in Zimbabwe. You had it while you hear in Zimbabwe. 

Zi: Do you know Umtshwankela ?  (Hubva in Shona) 

Vongai: No, please tell us what this is

Zi: Oh my gosh, it's so hard to explain. It's basically almost like a pebble. It's a fruit that has a stone like item in the middle. It's black in color. It's really black. It's sweet and semi-tarte when you eat it sometimes it turns your tongue a little black but it's called Umtsvangela. I have to find the English word for it. 

Vongai: I'm gonna ask my mom and my dad about this. Okay, it is time for the most controversial question of them. Mazoe orange vs Mazoe green? 

Zi: Omg. No, definitely orange. I don't know what they were doing with green. I don't know what they were doing with green. 

Vongai: One of these days Schweppes is gonna be like, Yo, why you do us like this. Schweppes should be paying me for the way I advertise Mazoe every episode.

Zi: Facts. Facts. 

Vongai:  What is one word you would use to describe yourself? Just one. 

Zi: Resilient.

Vongai:  Yes. I am ZimExcellence because blank.

Zi: I am Zim excellence because I was born in Bulawayo, I grew up in Mzilikazi, went overseas to a concrete jungle of New York City where there's so many cultures, so many life experiences. But I was able to stay true to my roots and showcase and live an African life.

Vongai: Amazing. If you could nominate someone for the Award of Excellence. who would it be?

Zi: I don't know if you know her yet. She's actually a crush of mine before. Almost dated, almost considered getting married. Her name is-

Vongai :  [whispers] shoot your shot.

Zi: [laughter] Not anymore. I'm taken now. Her name is Sakhile Khanye. She's based in England right now. She also grew up in Bulawayo, a cousin to a very good friend of mine, she started a publishing company/magazine. It’s a digital and print magazine in London. It's called Classique. She's had people like from Mafikizolo in one of her issues. I was actually on that first issue. So like she's doing really great stuff showcasing people from Zimbabwe and other countries and just to have that publication and have it be owned and run by a young Black and Zimbabwean person in England is phenomenal.

Vongai: Oh, we love that so much. And who would you nominate to come on the shows of excellence?

Zi: Would I nominate to come on the show? Oh, my cousin. QDube he’s a comedian is based in South Africa right now, but he’s Zimbabwean. And he's also done really phenomenal stuff. I think. Yeah, he'll bring a lot of humor and laughter to the show. And it would be nice to hear and pick some of his brain. 

Vongai: Amazing. Thank you so much see for sharing your time with us today. So as we wrap up, I would love it if you could share a message with our listeners, as well as letting them know where they can continue to follow your journey. Whether that's a website, Instagram or Twitter, and you don't have to spell it out.

Zi: Right, final closing words. Let's continue the work that Nelson Mandela started in South Africa. No race, no person should be oppressed because of their gender because of their class because of their color. Because of their cultural beliefs. We're all equal. We're all humans, we have this one earth. Thought some of you are going to out of space, and it's blowing my mind. 

Vongai: [laughter] Everyone will not stop talking about that. 

Zi: Going back into topic, let's treat each other equally, let's be fair to each other. And try if you can to use every moment as a teaching moment. I had a recent experience with that microaggression thing from a Caucasian family rather. And I'm very sad that that moment did not become a teaching lesson because this is how we break the generational curses. This is how we break the cycle. When your kid says something bad, you corrected, and he makes sure that they know that it's wrong. And racism is very much a taught thing and the passed down thing and grow and if only we educate each other, and educate our children, so yeah, remember to use all moments as teaching moments, especially for children. They are the future of this earth. Find out a little bit more what I'm doing. You could find me on Instagram, it's Zi.fromAfrica. If you’re looking for like culinary flavors and trying to keep up with the taco brand to see what we're doing. It's Instagram on TacoAfricana. And yeah, like, just find me on Facebook, find me on Instagram. My email is also on my Instagram, reach out to me for any questions. I'm always happy to collaborate with people. And I just want to share African culture with you.

Vongai: We're just gonna give a quick shout out to Epiphany, who just hopped on the Instagram Live, [sings] cuz she's the reason we know each other. Zi thank you so much for sharing your light and your creations and everything you're about. Please know that you deserve all of your flowers, that what you're doing is revolutionary, that it is inspiring. And you've come such a long, long way. And that so many people will look up to you all these inspiring and aspiring chefs from Zimbabwe and from the continent as well as all the fellow foster kids as well. Thank you for showing us what's possible. And I can't wait to eat the food. 

Zi: Yeah. Oh, thank you. That was really nice. 

Vongai: All of the links and resources that we mentioned in the show will be down in the show notes. Have a great week, y'all.

Outro : Mazvita. Tatenda. Siyabonga. Thank you so much for tuning in to this week’s episode of ZimExcellence.  If you found value from this episode please share it with a friend and go ahead and subscribe, rate and review.
If you send me a screenshot of your review I’ll make sure to give you a shoutout on future episodes. Feel free to tag us on Instagram. @zimexcellencepodcast
And if you identify as Zimbabwean I want to hear your story so go ahead and email zimexcellencepodcast@gmail.com. Til then have the best week and stay ZimExcellent! 

Taco Africana
Ways To Get Started As A Chef
Afrobeats In The Mainstream
Words of Encouragement