At the heart of Fordsburg in Johannesburg is Dragon City, where traders source many of their products.
On a Tuesday morning, customers are making their way to stock up at Atchar King, where Ashiq Khan and his two business partners have been operating for three months.
“We make about R2 000 to R3 000 during quiet days but, when people get paid and pensioners get money, we make, let’s say, between R10 000 and R20 000,” says Khan, who used to run a grocery store in Lenasia South seven years ago.
“My business was groceries and snacks but I realised atchar was doing so well that I decided to focus just on it alone,” he says.
Atchar can be enjoyed with curry, vetkoek, which is also called magwinya, or the uniquely South African bunny chow called kota.
The spicy condiment is made of raw mango, mixed with garlic, oil and spices such as paprika, chilli, barbeque and Portuguese spice, to enhance the flavour. Another key ingredient is “magic salt”, which Khan says neutralises the acidity of the mango.
He sells directly to consumers but also acts as a wholesaler to vendors. They come from as far as Harrismith, Maseru and Port Elizabeth.
Phindile Dlamini, one of Khan’s customers, says she makes at least R150 a day, or between R4 000 and R5 000 a month, by selling atchar at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital taxi rank. She does not make any food herself, but sells it to vendors and commuters to add to their bunny chows and vetkoek.
Dlamini turned to selling atchar three years ago to be able to send her children to school after her tailoring business failed.
“I make more from atchar than I ever did as a tailor,” she says.
She buys 18kg of atchar every month and sells 90ml of atchar for R10.
She buys the raw mango and spices from Atchar King, preferring to do her own adding and mixing of the spices. Vendors say this is the real secret: how much of what is added to make the perfect concoction.
Khan says he supplies plain atchar, spiced atchar and morokolotsi (mixed-spice flavoured atchar). But his customers really love garlic. “They go crazy over it.”
Atchar King sources its mangoes, which are picked green, from Tzaneen and Venda where the farmers rip and cut them, before preserving them in a mixture of salt and fenugreek.
This preserves them for up to a year, which means stock is always available, although the mango-picking season is in September and October.
Khan and his partners have two other stores in Lenasia and one in Fordsburg. The business has a healthy turnover of R300 000 a month, he says.
Thulebona Mhlanga is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the Mail & Guardian