Mama Kuiba is a world-famous Angolan chef who uses the country’s traditional flavours and products to make mouth-watering dishes. She is very loved and appreciated in Angola. This is reflected in her being awarded ‘personality of the year’ three times thanks to popular vote.
From market place to her own place
At 83 years old, Mama Kuiba starts her day like many other shoppers in the capital, Luanda: she heads to the market to pick out the right ingredients to make her magic, signature food. However, unlike other shoppers on the market, she is greeted as culinary royalty with much applause and esteem. Why? Her food has won over hearts, minds and taste buds throughout the country. Everyone knows her name.
Her culinary career began on the market. She opened a stall there where she first started selling fizzy drinks and juices. This escalated to her cooking meals to sell. Her original reason for cooking this food on her make-shift stall which included a wooden table and stove, that she bought from the very same market, was to feed her young children coming in from school and her husband.
It was around this time she was given the nickname Mama Kuiba, which means “ugly” in Kimbundu. She explains that at that time she was 38 years old and a lot of the other women working on the market were in their 20s. They were “young, pretty with nice hairdos and make-up”, she adds. She was the oldest and wore a headscarf. She eventually gave in, she would be known as the ugliest and started the Mama Kuiba stall.
Her real name is Catarina Verissimo da Costa. She is also known as Natalia because she was born on Christmas Day.
Whilst making the food for her small children and husband on the market, her fellow market workers would revel in the aromas of her creations. They wanted her to make them some food too. Eventually, she offered up one of her dishes and that’s where her life as a chef took off.
She opened her own restaurant on a Saturday and her first clients were the 1º de Agosto football players and coach. They had come in after a big victory.
Her unique way of making Angolan cuisine has inspired chefs and restaurants all over. Pedro de Campos is the Manager of Vitruvio, an Italian-inspired restaurant in Luanda. He says that “Mama Kuiba is an icon. She’s like an ambassador for Angolan cuisine and she’s also an amazing lady. She’s done amazing work for the flavours of Angola”.
Her dishes are popular in five-star hotel restaurants. Some of her specialties include Mufete which is grilled fish with sweet potato, banana and cassava, chicken Muamba and fish Calulu.
Going beyond the food
Mama Kuiba has also been a social influencer, demonstrating her cooking skills, campaigning for different causes, like stopping violence against women. She has even appeared on the reality show Big Brother and on TV to give cooking advice to friends, family and to the whole population in general.
Veronica Goubel, aka ‘Mama Africa’, describes one of the things she has done for the market community. “Hygiene is something Mama Kuiba has been pushing for on the market, for the good of the market and not just this market, but for all of Luanda’s markets”. Mama Kuiba is trying to raise awareness about hygiene amongst the salespeople. She believes that it must come first.
What food means to Mama Kuiba
Her culinary influences are her mother’s kitchen and learning on the job. When people ask her for the specific recipes of her stews, meats and other well-known dishes, she replies that she doesn’t have the words to describe them because “she lives food”.
To see the full interview with Mama Kuiba and to find out more about her impressive life, click on the media player above.