One of the best ways to experience culture is through food. These days, you can get a global experience without traveling far. It's possible to create delicious dishes from all over the world right in your own kitchen. And Leeto Tlou, founder of Chakalaka Brands, wants you to do just that. 

After trying chakalaka, a spicy bean dish made with beans, vegetables, and bold spices, on a trip to South Africa, Tlou wanted to share it back home in the US. He was amazed not only by the taste and inspired to share South African culture and values of community, celebration, and joy through this uniquely flavored dish. EBONY spoke with Tlou to learn more about the inspiration and mission behind the brand. 

EBONY: What made you want to bring this dish to America, and how did this personal experience evolve into a business venture?

Leeto Tlou: The idea for Chakalaka came about during a trip to South Africa in 2017. My wife and I were on a safari and tried a bean dish called chakalaka. We fell in love with the flavors and the story behind it. When we returned home, I started cooking it for friends and family, and that's when the idea to turn it into a business started taking shape. We brought the dish to America with the intention of connecting cultures over delicious food. This dish embodies the vibrant community that comes together at a braai; we want to share that experience with people worldwide.

Can you share the origins of Chakalaka and its significance in South African culture?

It is a dish that originated in the townships of South Africa in the 1950s and 60s. Miners would combine leftover ingredients like beans, vegetables, and spices to create a flavorful dish. Over the years, it has become a staple at braais or barbecues and gatherings throughout South Africa. It's more than just a dish; it's a symbol of community and togetherness, reflecting the values of Ubuntu, which means "I am because we are."

Can you share more about how your brand philosophy emphasizes the idea of being more than just a food product, but a catalyst for bringing people together?

Community and togetherness are at the heart of our brands. We believe that Chakalaka brings people together, just like it does in South African culture. Our messaging emphasizes the idea that it is not just a food product, but an experience that connects people. We encourage gatherings, barbecues, and family meals where the brand becomes a centerpiece that fosters unity and shared moments.

Do you have any advice to offer for aspiring entrepreneurs?

I'd like to share two key pieces of advice. First, don't try to do everything alone. Seek advice and engage with others who can offer valuable insights. Collaboration and openness to new ideas are crucial. Second, embrace the inevitability of making mistakes. They're a part of any journey, but proper preparation, planning, and learning from mistakes can help you navigate challenges effectively.

One-Pan Eggs & Beans

one-pan-eggs (1)
Image: Courtesy of Chakalaka.

One-Pan Eggs & Beans

  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 package of Chakalaka
  • 3 ounces feta cheese  
  • Scallions for garnish  
  • Crusty bread for serving, sliced and lightly toasted
  1. In a wide and shallow pan, prepare 1 package of Chakalaka according to the instructions on the package. Pro tip: Chakalaka may cook more efficiently in a shallow pan. Adjust water as needed until beans are tender.
  2. When the beans are almost tender and almost all the liquid is absorbed, create 4 divots in the chakalaka using a large spoon.
  3. Gently crack one egg into each of the 4 hollows. Allow the eggs to cook until the egg whites are set but the yolks remain runny, approximately 5-7 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle crumbled feta cheese over the dish, and add with finely sliced scallions.
  5. Portion the dish into individual servings and serve alongside slices of crusty toasted bread. Enjoy!