Johannesburg is as cosmopolitan as any thriving city in the world, and this shows in its cuisine. There are a myriad of restaurants all over the city: in the high street, tucked away in the suburbs, in shopping malls, at tourist attractions – you’ll find them everywhere. And the food on offer is as varied as you would find anywhere: from authentic African, Cape Malay and Indian to Middle Eastern, Far Eastern to Mexican, European (French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish) to American. You’ll also find the full range of opportunities from exclusive fine dining and Michelin star restaurants, to slick takeaways and fast foods.
Of course many travelers are keen to eat authentic local fare when they visit South Africa. But in a rainbow nation with 11 official languages, and an enormous immigrant population from all over the world, it can be difficult pinpointing what is in fact uniquely South African. It certainly isn’t just braaivleis and boerewors (barbecued meat and farm sausage) served with pap (mealie meal porridge).
One of the best places to eat African is in the various authentic shebeen restaurants in the townships, specifically in Soweto and Thokoza, which is southeast of Soweto.
- Chaf Pozi in the shadow of Orlando Towers in Soweto serves a traditional African braa (or Shisa Nyama) with music and dancing.
- Sakhumzi opposite Nelson Mandela’s former Soweto house (now a museum) serves a traditional African buffet including pap and vleis, as well as worse and spicy chakalaka sauce. The venue is included in some tours and is aimed at tourists.
- Wandies, another Soweto restaurant that specializes in African-style buffet meals and is also primarily a tourist venue.
Moyo is an upmarket but cosmopolitan franchise chain that specializes in African food – including traditional food from Ethiopia, Morocco and Tunisia. There are restaurants in Melrose Arch, Zoo Lake and at the Market Theater. Favorite dishes include kudu fillet with Madagascan green peppercorn sauce, and Springbok shank served with rice and wild African spinach, though reviews vary considerably.
There are many other restaurants that specialize in what they call African cuisine, including:
- Tribes African Grill & Steakhouse at Emperors Palace (one of the city’s casino destinations), that has a popular boma that adds to an African feel. The game platter is popular, but they serve other types of meat too.
- The Service Station in Rustenburg Road on the perimeter of trendy Mellville is one of the few African restaurants that doesn’t focus only on meat dishes, and offers a number of fabulous vegetarian options. It’s a popular local hangout that’s worth finding.
- Sophiatown in Newtown, close to the inner city, boasts décor that elicits the idea of a jazz club in the legendary apartheid-era black area of the same name. This is probably as close as you’ll get to the rather elusive “South African cuisine” people look for. Favourites include chicken liver peri peri, grilled prawns and steak, and veggies like cinnamon flavoured butternut, creamed spinach, and of course the mandatory samp and beans.
For the rest, it’s probably best to decide which area you want to eat in and what style of food you prefer.
South Africa is close to Mozambique, and so it’s no surprise to find that there are some fantastic Portuguese-inspired restaurants that serve really good prawns, peri-peri chicken and tender prego rolls (steak with peri peri). Examples include Mo-Zam-Bik Portuguese Restaurant in Trinity Shopping Centre, Randpark Ridge; Beira Alta Montecasino in Fourways; Calistos in Fordsburg; Casa da Galinha in Morningside; and Cesco’s, a casual restaurant and pub in Randburg’s Strijdom Park.
There are also a large number of top quality Indian restaurants, and as many good Chinese restaurants. You’ll find Cape Malay restaurants too, and they are as South African as they come, but truthfully, the best of the bunch are in Cape Town.
Do your homework first, and rely on general reputation as well as recommendations.