THE KOTA STORY
Kota, Skhambane or Sphatlo is a sandwich popular in the South African townships. It is made from a hollowed-out quarter loaf of bread and serves as a portable, edible container for everything and anything from polony, chips, cheese, atchaar, russian sausages and fried eggs.
Sometimes alternative ingredients are packed into these suitcase-style sandwiches too. Whatever the filling, all such sarmies can sometimes come in quarter, half and full loaf variations. Whether you call this cheap, filling and delicious street food a kota is an indicator of ethnicity and geographical location, but they are all proudly South African. Who can resist the Kota (derived from the word “quarter”) can be filled with anything and everything from garlic polony and chips to fried eggs and atchaar? The only rule is that the sandwich needs to satisfy the soul in ways that less alarmingly artery-clogging sandwiches simply don't do. Forget "Mogodu Mondays", there is no better babalaas cure than a Kota with all the trimmings, washed down with a cold drink. In Soweto, a flattened kota is known as a “Biff”. The concept exists nationwide but it is only in Soweto that it has a specific name. Whether you flatten the sandwich by wrapping it in newspaper and sitting on it or by placing it under the wheels of a passing taxi is entirely up to you.
As long as it is squashed so flat that the sides and fillings fuse. Such fusion makes it easier to pull pieces off the sandwich, which, in turn, makes it easy to share. This is the key point about such sandwiches – edible ubuntu is baked into their epicurean identity. They are all designed to be shared. Pretoria's Sphatlo (which differs from a Kota in the direction that the bread is cut) explicitly incorporates the concept of sharing into the title as its name is derived from the Setswana verb "to partition" or "to share".
It is a big, carbohydrate-heavy, super-filling, communal meal. While a refusal to share food is always anti-social, privatising a Sphatlo somehow seems particularly offensive. The best of who we are as a nation is squashed into a Sphatlo.
All things in moderation. In street sandwiches we see a slice of South African history. Ours is a culinary culture marinated in the bitterness of racism and the sweetness of sharing. Written by Lesego Gaebee