This post is part of a series about my 5 weeks of solo travel. Read the introduction here, the first stop on my itinerary (Italy) here, and the “to do” guide for Joburg here. if you’re curious about the costs, you can also check out my saving and spending.
All of my meals in Joburg were delicious! And, compared to eating out in Nassau, incredibly cheap. I took advantage of this to keep food costs low, so I didn’t exactly wild out with my orders, but I still got to eat really well. The following is the Joburg Travel Guide: Where to Eat edition. It’s got all my favourite places. If you’re in Johannesburg make sure you hit them up!
Joburg is an international city, and Fox Street, where my first hostel was located, is a prime example of that. The neighbourhood is full of restaurants serving everything but South African food. When I told the Curiocity staff that’s what I was looking for, Pata Pata was the one place they sent me. I ate there my first night, ordering spatchcocked peri peri chicken, mealies (plain ground corn) and a salad.
The chicken was well seasoned, and I was happily surprised with a mixed green salad with house dressing. They were generous with portion sizes. On top of that I really liked the vibe. There was live music that night, and the decor was all distressed wooden tables and mix-matched chairs. With all the local options to try on the menu, I went back for dinner twice more. That’s three out of the four nights I spent on Fox Street! I did try a couple times to find somewhere else to go, but I wasn’t interested in Italian or Mexican or American, so I always ended up back at Pata Pata.
The service has room for improvement, but as far as the meals are concerned I don’t think you’ll go wrong here. My favourite dish was a vegetarian one: risotto on top of butternut squash. It was saucy, a little spicy and aromatic, with a hint of cardamom. I loved the complex flavours, and the creamy butternut squash paired so well with the rice. Oh my goodness. It’s not a native South African dish but it isn’t the traditional cream-based risotto either. You’ve gotta try!
I love Ethiopian food, but there are no Ethiopian restaurants in The Bahamas. Lucky me, there were three Ethiopian places on Fox Street. The highest rated one was only open for breakfast and lunch; I never made it there. Of the other two, Habesha had a big open space with colourful Ethiopian decor. Moreover, a waitress invited me in one afternoon when I walked by. This made the difference between them and the other place, so I accepted her invitation and ate there that night.
While I waited for my food I felt nervous – there was no one else in there! Was it just that I had come much earlier than South Africans eat? Was Wednesday an especially slow day? I stopped wondering when my food arrived – a platter of assorted dishes on teff injera. Everything was tasty, they were playing some great Ethiopian music in the background and I had my book and a glass of honey wine to keep me company. I had never heard about this fermented wine before, but it was in the top 3 of everything I ate that night. The golden liquid was a little cloudy, I assume from fermenting, but it didn’t taste fermented. The flavour was slightly sweet, not very alcoholic, and overall a pleasant complement to my meal.
There weren’t a lot of staff on the floor: one waitress (not the one who invited me) and the daughter of the owners. Both of them were friendly and helped me with my order. Near the end of my meal I spoke some more to the daughter, asking about the breakfast options on their menu. I had such a good time I wanted to go back, even though I was flying out to Cape Town the next day. So the next morning I went for breakfast, ordering the enkulal fir fir she recommended. Oh my goodness. Seriously one of the greatest meals I had all year.
Enkulal is Ethiopian-style scrambled eggs, and in this case it was served on teff injera. I never liked eggs growing up, and it was only in my mid-20s, tired of oatmeal for breakfast every cold New England morning, that I decided to give them a try. Slowly, this desire for variety won eggs into my life, but in very specific – aka plain – ways.
I tried to keep an open mind when the daughter told me that there were things like tomatoes in the Ethiopian scramble. My dad’s style scrambled eggs have tomatoes and to this day I don’t like them. Turns out the Ethiopian enkulal is perfect for me! The eggs weren’t heavy on the tomato, they were soft and a little creamy, and also very spicy. Delicious. I took one bite, realised I needed to take a picture because I was going to want to share with you all, and then thoroughly enjoyed the rest of my breakfast. I would go back to Habesha for that meal in a heartbeat if I could. It looks so simple! But it was insanely good.
Between Habesha and Pata Pata I hardly ate anywhere else during my first stay in Johannesburg. However, I had a day and a half in the city on my way back from the wedding, and I spent that day with Ashley and Thato (the Bahamian/South African couple). They took me around Soweto and we had lunch at this fun braai (or barbecue) spot called Chaf Pozi.
I never would have ended up here on my own; it’s the kind of place only locals seems to know about, tucked between the iconic Orlando Towers. In fact, we watched crazy people flirt with whiplash as they bungee jumped from one of them. So maybe modify that to locals and visitors wanting to bungee jump. It looked so painful. I never wanted to bungee jump before, although I was mildly curious; after watching those jumps I know for sure I am not interested.
Anyway, Thato and Ashley decided on three kinds of meat for us to try, with sides of mealies and chakalaka. Everything was tasty and played well together – the plain mealies balancing the intense grilled meat, the chakalaka adding mild sweetness and a little spice. Chakalaka is a veggie condiment made with beans and tomatoes; it sounds kind of like kimchi in that everyone has their own recipe. I loved the Chaf Pozi version and want to try and recreate it for myself.
I really wasn’t hungry after Chaf Pozi, but it was my last day to try kota. This is a classic township meal: a hollowed out chunk of bread filled with french fries, a variety of meats, relishes, and eggs, depending on your preference. I first learned about it in Trevor Noah’s book, and it sounded very strange. It’s also extremely popular, so strange or not my curiosity got the best of me.
We drove around a residential area looking for a place to order one, and eventually wound up at this random stall that neither Ashley nor Thato had tried. I barely understood how the kota are built – they told me about sausages called Russians and toppings called “specials” – so Thato ordered for me, a combination of what he likes and what Ashley likes, and then off we went. I nibbled on a little of it in the car, while it was hot, but it was too big to even consider eating right then. Seriously, it had to weigh like two pounds.
Instead, I lugged it with me to the airport, tucked into my carryon. Even if I didn’t eat the whole thing I figured it would be good to snack on on the plane. All that lugging was worth it, because the dinner on the plane was awful. I didn’t eat mine and had the kota instead. Even cold it was tasty, and all the carbs and protein made it very filling. With all the deep fried this and saucy that, it’s clear why kota is so popular. Plus it’s cheap. Mine cost I don’t know, USD$1.50? But it’s definitely not the sort of thing I could eat every day. It was a fun meal though; I would do it again and have no regrets!
Overall the food in Johannesburg was one win after another. In fact, I was much more impressed with what I ate there than with my meals in Cape Town. (Aside from a dreamy hot chocolate, it was all just ok; for that reason there won’t be a food guide to Cape Town.) Have you ever tried any of these dishes? Have I missed any of your favourites? Let me know in the comments!