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The best traditional South African dishes in Johannesburg

While drawing on various facets of local culinary traditions, many South African chefs are not afraid to push the envelope to prove that South African cuisine is anything but static. Whether you’re visiting South Africa for the first time, or are a local in search of the very best shisa nyama, bunny chow or samoosas, here’s a list of restaurants that are flying the SA flag high in Johannesburg.

Boerewors at Lucky Bean (Melville)

South Africa’s national sausage of coriander-spiced coarsely ground beef and pork can be tricky to find in a restaurant setting, but Lucky Bean has a Tastes for Travellers menu offering boerewors and umngqusho (slow-cooked sugar beans with samp) with homemade tomato gravy and chakalaka (spicy vegetable relish) for R100. There are also ostrich and springbok dishes, and a melktert (cinnamon-spiced custard tart), which has been given a gourmet upgrade here with saffron and naartjie for R40.

The boerewors at Lucky Bean. Photo supplied.

The boerewors at Lucky Bean. Photo supplied.

Bunny chow at The Hill Café (Constitution Hill, Braamfontein)

The special sourdough loaf that holds the curry is made on the premises. Featuring a rich lamb curry, it’s one of the city’s most delicious bunny chows, and could be yours for R80. This venue, adjacent to the Old Fort prison on the hill, is a most relevant heritage location at which to enjoy it.

Lamb potjie at Vuyos Restaurant (Soweto)

In a beautiful glass restaurant looking out on the famous goings-on below, heavenly potiekos (stew cooked in an iron cauldron on a fire) is served in the pot for R140. It can also be enjoyed as part of the Vuyokazi Family Platter, with the additions of Idombolo (dumplings), pork ribs, a grilled half-chicken, butternut, a modern salad and zim-zim balls (a crunchy, Zimbabwean snack). Here you can also have mogodu (tripe) as a starter and side dishes of morogo (wild leaves, like spinach), chakalaka, umgqusho and pap. There’s malva pudding (a syrupy sponge pudding) for R55.

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Mogodu at Pata Pata (Maboneng)

Named for Miriam Makeba’s famous song, this welcoming restaurant serves what many South Africans see as the ultimate comfort food. Slow-cooked in stock with herbs and spices, Pata Pata’s tripe and trotters dish (R75) features expertly prepared offal. Elsewhere on the menu are prawns, boerewors with pap (maize porridge) and sides of chakalaka and morogo.

Mogodu at Soul Café (Strubens Valley)

This West-Rand eatery has found a formula that draws plenty of customers: Good service, music, drinks and meat prepared and served in the traditional shisa nyama style. What separates the men from the boys here is the combination of good quality meat, great seasoning, and perfectly timed cooking. The prices are reasonable and themed days make for fun times, such as Mogudu Mondays. Live music can be enjoyed at the restaurant on some days, too.

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Samoosas at Licorish Bistro (Sandton)

Traditional fare meets modern street food (albeit a bit more refined and pricey) at Licorish, resulting in an eclectic menu with local roots. Chef Karel Jacobs makes samoosas here with a wild twist of oxtail meat. Breakfast dishes also feature some iconic South African favourites; try the puthu (pap or cornmeal) cakes or a snoek frittata with chutney made with hanepoot grapes, which are traditionally used for sweet wines.

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Sheep’s head at Mash Braai House (Douglasdale)

Located in one of the more affluent parts of Joburg, Mash Braai House is a more upmarket shisa nyama – but that doesn’t mean the quality of the food is compromised. The lamb chops, pap and skopo (sheep’s head) served here are the stuff of many South Africans’ fantasies. People drive from all over the City of Gold for a satisfyingly South African meal at Mash. 

Shisa nyama at Chaf Pozi (Soweto)

This outlet makes it onto the itineraries of most foreigners who wish to enjoy a local meal at a genuinely South African restaurant. Located at the Orlando Towers, it offers patrons the opportunity to bungee jump off the historical structure – or stay where they are and enjoy the hospitable environment. With great music, fresh braaied meat and long communal tables, at which every patron will inevitably meet someone new, true South African hospitality comes together in this one place.

  

Shisa nyama at Marble (Rosebank)

At the other end of the spectrum, David Higgs’s stunner of a new restaurant is also devoted to cooking food with fire, in a vastly different setting. This gorgeously designed restaurant serves meat, fish, poultry, vegetables and breads all cooked on coals. From anywhere in the restaurant, guests can watch the pyro-chefs tending the orange flames against exquisite turquoise tiles. Perfectly braised flank is presented here with smoked peppers, burnt-end beans, a tomato dressing and lovely, wavy ondulati pasta on the plate for R165. Another South African favourite, prawns, are served here on sugarcane with shellfish butter and lime basmati, chilli cabbage and smoky aubergine with lemon and garlic (R320). Heritage South African wines can be glimpsed in probably the most attractive ‘cellar’ in the country.

Lamb cutlets with baby carrots and crisp potato skins  at Marble. Photo supplied.

Lamb cutlets with baby carrots and crisp potato skins at Marble. Photo supplied.

Shisa nyama at Ndash Food Concepts (pop-up)

Operating both as a pop-up restaurant and a catering company, Ndash is best known for the traditional food it serves at the popular Corlett Drive carwash Sunday sessions. Dishes include traditionally prepared cabbage, morogo, chakalaka, chicken feet, tripe, trotters, steamed bread and pap. The only complaint some customers will have is the generosity of the helpings, which, in the bigger scheme of things, is a nice problem to have.

Shisa nyama at Sha’p Braai (Maboneng)

This relaxed spot is almost like a big wooden packing crate, with steps from the street leading into it. Inside are padded Coke crates as seating, wooden tables and brightly covered benches. It’s friendly, trendy, rowdy and inexpensive. Drinks come from the booze shop around the corner. The grill is at the entrance and off it comes a lot of meat, never rare: T-bones, boerewors, quarter chickens, drumsticks and wings. With the meat come a basic salad and your choice of pap, rice, dombolo (dumplings) or chips. A chicken or steak plate costs R50. There are also ‘foot-long’ boerewors rolls. 

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Slap chilli chips from Banjaara (Douglasdale)

Slap tjips are South Africa’s answer to French fries. Soft instead of crisp, they usually feature lashings of salt and vinegar and, in Joburg particularly, chilli powder is often added to the fray. Banjaara serves excellent masala chips for R28, as well as samoosas and bunny chows, among many other fine curries.

 

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