Ntombenhle Hlophe

Restaurateur. The Bovine Head Restaurant, Warwick Triangle.

Ntombenhle has the face and hands of a woman who is not afraid of hard work.  As we talk to her she skilfully removes the skin from a cow’s head.  Nearby, another cook uses an axe to hack a skull into pieces.  Around us,  is a steady flow of work occurring simultaneously – preparation, cooking, serving. Ntombenhle is annoyed when we ask her to stop work so we can take her photograph.  Time is money down here, and if you’re not ready to serve a meal to a hungry passerby, they’ll move on to the next table. “There is much you must do to make the heads ready,” explains Ntombenhle.  “You must skin it and break the bone before you can cook it.  The heads we boil, two of them in a pot, with salt and water. I buy these ones from Cambridge or Jwayelani butchery. The heads are sometimes R70, sometimes R80.  I sell all pieces for R12 – the tongue, the cheek, the eyeball.  There are eight pieces in one head. The only thing we don’t use are the teeth and the skin. The neck and the ear, they are the best to eat. I do four heads per day.”

The restaurant has a roof overhead but no walls.  Against both sides are large cement blocks with stainless steel tops – preparation and serving table in one. We’re cautioned to watch where we step. The drains have been blocked for weeks while the cooks wait for the city to send someone to clean out their septic tank.  A steady stream of people wind their way through the restaurant, which also serves as thoroughfare to the vegetable market. Occasionally someone stops for a quick meal or a chat.”My customers are people who work in the city, most of the traders around here, and also people who are just passing through to the taxi rank and trains,” says Ntombenhle. “We have people coming all day, starting from early in the morning.  They come and sit here for a while and eat or else we give them takeaways.  Most people like the heads very much as it is a traditional meal for us.”

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