Mama Kuiba in Angola: “I live in the kitchen”

Mama Kuiba, famous for her traditional Angolan cuisine, has been named Angolan Person of the Year three times. In the country, there is a multitude of culinary registries, from street food to haute cuisine, and traditional flavors of which this 83-year-old woman is an ambassador.

In the capital city of Luanda, we join her as she leaves her restaurant to buy the ingredients needed to make her magic work: Angolan dishes that have captured the hearts and taste buds of her compatriots, but not only. She is today a symbol of Angolan culture in the world.

The arrival on the market of what is considered a culinary authority is greeted with applause. A situation that does not come as a surprise to Pedro de Campos, manager of the restaurant Vitrúvio of the hotel Epic Sana in Luanda: “Mama Kuiba is an icon of Angolan cuisine, but also an incredible woman,” he believes before adding: “She does a great job promoting the flavors of Angola.”

“In the market I was the oldest and the ugliest” hence his nickname

It was on the market that Mama Kuiba started her professional career. Catarina Verissimo da Costa, her real name, has been nicknamed “Natalia” in reference to the Nativity since she was born on Christmas Day and “Mama Kuiba”, Kuiba which means “abominable” in the Kimbundu language.

“This name comes from the time when I started working in the market,” she says. “At the time I was 38 years old and there were girls in their twenties, young, beautiful, well-groomed, made up; I was the oldest so I had to I was the ugliest with a scarf over my head and that’s how I stand” Mama Kuiba’s tent “became where we could eat and drink,” she explains.

_”In the beginning I started selling drinks, soft drinks and juices and since I had small children I bought a stove in the market and an old wooden table and I installed them,” she recalls. †When they saw me cooking, people started saying:“Madame Natalia, it smells nice in here.” I told them I cooked for my kids to eat after school and for my husband after work and people said, “Oh no, Mrs Natalia, give us some!” So I served a small plate of what I was preparing,” she indicates.

That’s how Mama Kuiba entered the kitchen. A matter of passion and accuracy. “Hygiene is a concept that Mama Kuiba has promoted to improve market conditions not only in this market, but also in all others in Luanda,” underlines Veronica Goubel nicknamed “Mama Africa”. “She has sensitized the salespeople so that they pay attention to hygiene in their work: hygiene first and then sales”, summarize them.

From soccer players to great chefs

When Mama Kuiba left the market to start a restaurant, she first cooked for the most famous Angolan football club. “I opened on a Saturday,” specifies them. “I can’t remember the year, it was when the Primeiro de Agosto club won an important game,” she adds. “The first clients who came forward at that time were the coach and the players of that club”, she smiles.

Mama Kuiba’s creations that are appreciated by the greatest number also influence chefs even in 5-star hotels in the country.

Pedro de Campos, manager of restaurant Vitrúvio, quotes one of them, the mufete: “It consists of grilled fish, sweet potatoes, plantains and cassava.”

Culinary and social influencer

Mama Kuiba is also an influencer. She shares her culinary skills, but also campaigns for various causes, such as the fight against violence against women. She even appeared on a major reality TV show.

“She’s very famous, she’s been on TV many times,” specifies Pedro de Campos adding: “She presents her cuisine and at the same time gives advice to her friends, her family and the entire population.”

To develop her recipes, Mama Kuiba was inspired by her mother’s cooking while learning on the job.

“People come to me with paper and a pen and want to write down how to make stew or fish fillets”, she says, “but I don’t know how to describe it: I live in the kitchen.”

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