Mubanga Chanda wasn't supposed to be a restauranteur. "I was much more of a tomboy," Chanda says. "I would be outside playing with the boys playing soccer. Not interested in cooking at all." Chanda grew up mostly with her grandmother in Lusaka, Zambia.
It was her grandmother who forced Chanda to start cooking one day when she refused to make Nshima — a staple food in Zambia — for her. Chanda got the recipe right the first time. After high school, Chanda went to work as a printer in Lusaka, but she quickly became frustrated by the lack of opportunities in Zambia.
After her husband moved to Champaign-Urbana to study at the University of Illinois, Chanda decided to make a new life in America. She arrived in 2000 and studied at Parkland College. She worked locally at several companies in systems administration and brought in extra money driving for Uber at night. One Saturday night, three separate passengers asked her for local recommendations for African cuisine. Chanda realized the need for homestyle, African-based cooking in Central Illinois and called her friend and partner Betty Phiri, and they decided to take the plunge.
Stango Cuisine started as a small start-up at a booth in Urbana's Lincoln Square Mall in 2017 and after two years, relocated to a larger space there. The restaurant quickly became a local favorite. Chanda was impressed by the area's diversity and welcoming spirit. The COVID-19 Pandemic forced Chanda to re-evaluate her business. She relocated to her current location on Walnut St. in Champaign in 2022.
Zambian food is unique because of the country's geography. "We're a landlocked country. The food and styles of cooking in the European and Asian countries that colonized our neighbors had a major impact on Zambian food." On Stango's menu, you'll find dishes including Samosas, Chicken curry, plantains, beignets, oxtail and Nshima, among others.
Chanda insists on cooking the main dishes herself. "I cook like I'm going to eat my food, because eventually, I will! So I don't trust anyone else to do it."
Chanda's 12-year-old daughter Emma is a fixture at Stango Cuisine and helps her mother behind the counter in between homework assignments. One of Stango's most popular dishes is "Emma's Platter," which offers a taste of the house specialties. Chanda is thrilled by her success but still ambitious. "I'm almost there, but not quite."
Visit Stango Cuisine online at www.stangocu.com.