Johannesburg, South Africa: a City Tasting Tour
Johannesburg, Egoli, the city of gold, South Africa’s economic capital where millions have knocked on the door and continue to knock from around Africa, to seek their fortunes.
The city famously harbours a pan African community and it reflects in the cuisine you’ll find across its breadth.
A Taste of Africa
That’s not to say that Johannesburg (Jozi or Joburg to the locals) does not wear shades of Brooklyn. Which modern city with western influences does not, these days? The artisanal baked goods, the farmers’ markets and urban gardens in the concrete jungle, microbreweries and coffee shops that offer the ever-restless Millennial set free Wi-Fi, Mexican tacos, Peruvian ceviche, Jamaican jerk even Australian-inspired brunch spots – Joburg could be any big city. But it’s not. “I love Joburg for its diversity, culture, fast pace and amazing weather,” says photographer and film director Innocent Mukheli. “It’s a place of opportunities and inspiration because there is so much talent drawn to it.”
Ever since the 1886 gold rush, Johannesburg has been known as a cosmopolitan metropolis. More than 4.5M people have made it their home. Women and men attend business meetings in Sandton dressed in the bright garb of Ghanaian and Nigerian persuasion. Okra can be found in the African markets and jollof rice if you know where to look. Ethiopian women in patterned headscarves gather in Little Addis – a district in Jeppestown near the Maboneng Precinct that’s become wildly gentrified of late. The scent of gahwa (coffee) drifts along Fox Street. Congolese kwasa kwasa beats ring out at La Camerounaise restaurant in the heart of Rockey Street in Hillbrow and in Mayfair, Somali, Syrian, Turkish and Indian take- outs dot the area.
South African Flavours
By far the most difficult cuisine to sample, outside someone’s home, is native South African grub. The reason for this is complex – there are such a variety of indigenous and immigrant populations that comprise the social fabric it’s impossible to pin-point a dominant spokesperson for South African food, and under the oppressive apartheid regime of the recent past, there was little opportunity for growth and promotion of black South African cookery. But things are changing slowly, and there are unanimously favourite foods.
The nation’s obsessive interest in braai or shisa nyama (BBQ) has contributed to numerous informal braai spots across the townships as well as well-received eateries like Sha’p Braai Corner in Maboneng. At Chaf Pozi you can bungee jump from the top of the defunct cooling towers in Orlando and then tuck into braai’d wors (sausage), chicken or lamb chops with chakalaka (a spicy vegetable side dish) and pap (stiff maize meal).
Chef David Higgs takes the braai concept up a few levels with his glamourous wood fire-based restaurant Marble in Rosebank.
In Vilikazi Street in Soweto, where Nelson Mandela once lived (his modest home has been turned into a museum) the restaurants serve kasi (township) home food. At Sakhumzi you can enjoy mogodu (tripe) stew with samp (hominy) and beans, fried ox liver and chicken and beef stews with pap. Grab a seat outside and watch the Saturday crowd drive by in the latest sports cars.
You could also opt for an adventure in eating with a tour to Alexandra township – think sly vat-vat (triple white bread sandwiches filled with fries, baloney, fried eggs, spicy atchar and other ingredients), cocktails with the locals, kota (quarter loaves of bread filled with fried ingredients like Vienna sausages and French fries smothered in a mild curry sauce) and beautifully plated home-style foods.
Decidedly anything but typically South African, but showcasing the best of local produce, Luke Dale Roberts x The Saxon is worth booking months in advance for. And, on any given weekend, the easiest way to sample what the city is eating, is to visit one of the many food markets. Why not pick up a picnic basket of seasonal ingredients, laze at the Emerentia or Walter Sisulu Botanical gardens and defy the misconception that this urban jungle has no green heart. Joburg has plenty.