Dining in Chinatown: 10 great restaurants in Cyrildene, Johannesburg

Whether you’re a serious foodie or a more faint-hearted ‘only buy food in wrapped containers’ gourmand, Cyrildene is the place to tempt your taste buds with new tastes and textures. As this area is primarily about food (shops, restaurants, wholesalers, equipment etc.), it will be a hive of activity in the next week or so when the formal Chinese New Year’s celebrations take place.

If you’ve visited Cyrildene periodically over the years, you’ll have discerned a growth in the number of people living and working there, which directly correlates to the range and freshness of produce available and the number and variety of restaurants that have opened up. Where at first there were only a few Chinese restaurants, now the numerous eateries offer food from different regions within China, plus there are a number of Thai restaurants, Indonesian food shops, and grocery stores with groaning shelves.

Some restaurateurs have come recently from China and are not always able to speak English; however, there’s always a way to negotiate your way through, enjoy a wonderful meal or purchase something new and exciting to experience. Here’s my guide to celebrating Chinese New Year in Cyrildene this year.

The chef and owner of Chinese Northern Foods with his daughter. Photo courtesy of Hennie Fisher.

The chef and owner of Chinese Northern Foods with his daughter. Photo courtesy of Hennie Fisher.

Chinese Northern Foods

This family-run restaurant specialises in foods from the northern parts of China, so expect to find warming spices such as cumin and cloves. Highlights include a lovely dish of duck with potatoes; the crispness of jellyfish salad with chilli and lime; and the not-to-be-missed Pie Like Hat, a flatbread almost like a paratha. Other items on the extensive menu include sautéed streaky pork with dried beans (R68); fried sausage with dried radish (R68); fried prawns with cashew nut and cucumber (R88); braised eggplant (R58); and beef fillet with hot pepper (R78). Their Chinese New Year table will cost R1 880 for 10 people.

Delicious Casserole Food

Outside the door of this unassuming spot is a huge oven resembling a large clay pot, into which a staff member deftly stacks small earthenware casseroles on top of each other. The English menu gives no indication of what you can expect to enjoy out of these casseroles, but it does offer other familiar dishes such as seafood chow fun (R58), gubao chicken with rice (R50), and beef and green pepper with rice (R50), if you’re too timid to take pot luck on one of the clay pots.

The casserole oven at Delicious Casserole Food. Photo courtesy of Hennie Fisher.

The casserole oven at Delicious Casserole Food. Photo courtesy of Hennie Fisher.

Fisherman’s Plate

An institution on the strip, Fisherman’s Plate has long been a refuge for people who might find some of the other restaurants a little too daunting. The owners understand western insecurities around Asian food and will make the experience enjoyable and uncomplicated. Deep-fried garlic prawns (R75), pan-fried sweet prawns (R79), curry prawns (R89), curry crab (R149), chilli crab (R140), three-cup chicken (R79), sweet-and-sour chicken (R75) and seafood fried rice (R49) are examples of the elegantly simple menu, where the food is high-end and very tasty. They have revamped the interior, so the light blue wall with the huge floating goldfish sadly has been replaced by a new artwork.

Inside Fisherman's Plate. Photo courtesy of Hennie Fisher.

Inside Fisherman’s Plate. Photo courtesy of Hennie Fisher.

Homeland Dumpling Restaurant

Tucked away in a corner, and so tiny that you could almost miss it, sits a little restaurant that serves dumplings and other Chinese delicacies. Apart from a range of à la carte items such as crispy lamb chops, braised beef with radish, braised ribbon fish with brown sauce, braised green beans with mince, sizzling beef with black pepper sauce, and many more, they also sell dumplings by the kilogram. These include fillings like pork and coriander, pork and cabbage, pork and leek, pork and celery, chicken and mushroom, chicken and cabbage, beef and coriander, beef and celery, and beef and cabbage (R35 to R38).

Outside Lian Fu Restaurant. Photo courtesy of Hennie Fisher.

Outside Lian Fu Restaurant. Photo courtesy of Hennie Fisher.

Lian Fu Restaurant

This vibrant yellow and black restaurant is probably the only spot on the strip where any conscious attempt was made at interior decoration, albeit from the 1980s. Very helpful ladies run the front of house, giving reassurance that new menus are on their way as the current ones are slightly worse for wear. Try braised duck with rice (R50); salted fish and chicken with rice (R50); Singapore fried noodles (R50); beef-and-mushroom hot pot (R100); chive flower with fried clams (R60); pork ribs with garlic (R75); and cumin lamb or red lamb curry.

Mongkok Chinese Restaurant

This restaurant is distinguished by a display of glistening duck and red dried pork in the window. It’s simple and fuss-free, run by attentive and friendly people. Its location on a corner of the first block in the more established part of what is casually described as ‘Chinatown’ makes it easy to find. Their normal à la carte menu is being revamped, so pricing is a bit vague, but choices are varied and interesting. Try the dry scallop soup, fish ball and bean curd soup, deep fried pork dumplings, salted chicken feet, fried chicken with Szechuan pepper, fried pork rib with honey, prawn foo young and many more. Their special tables for Chinese New Year look particularly inviting, including the likes of corn soup, spring rolls, barbecue pork, prawns with butter and garlic, sweet-and-sour pork, crispy beef, crispy chicken, pork ribs with garlic, tofu with Chinese vegetables, and egg-fried rice. Prices: R836 for a table of four; R1 210 for six; R1 480 for eight; R2 013 for 10; R2 376 for a table of 12.

Sai Thai

Sai Thai, situated on the corner of Marcia Street and Derrick Avenue and in the capable hands of Thitiporn Micky Liu, has been around for a while. Even though it doesn’t serve Chinese cuisine per se, this is probably the easiest introduction for a newcomer to Chinatown, since the waiters understand the art of making suggestions, and because the food is different but still accessible. Regular starters include chicken satay (R55), Thai fish cakes and Thai prawn cakes (R59), deep-fried tofu, and deep-fried pork ribs (R65). Tom kha gai, tom yum goong and tom juud woon sen (a Thai cabbage soup) are familiar soup choices. For mains, choose from green, red, pineapple, fruity and Penang curries using various meats like duck, prawn and mussel, pork, beef, chicken or calamari. There are also various stir-fried, noodle and rice dishes and a number of vegetarian dishes such as vegetarian Massaman curry (R73) to sample.

Inside Sai Thai. Photo courtesy of Hennie Fisher.

Inside Sai Thai. Photo courtesy of Hennie Fisher.

Shun De Restaurant

Delicious dim sum at Shun De Restaurant. Photo courtesy of Hennie Fisher.

Delicious dim sum at Shun De Restaurant. Photo courtesy of Hennie Fisher.

This is another restaurant with a confusing disparity between the sign outside and the name on the business card (Shun Dek). The restaurant is similar to those massive eateries found from Hong Kong to Beijing that can seat 5 000 people. The only difference is that instead of servers coming around offering trollies with steaming baskets of dim sum, here the diner collects dishes from a serving station.

On Sunday morning at 11am this place buzzes with families gathered around tables, everyone talking loudly and sharing in the fun. Apart from a massive fish tank outside housing fresh crayfish, the menu also features items such as abalone, sea-cucumber, shark fin and fish tripe soup (R138); seaweed-and-egg soup (R48); cashew-nut chicken in bird nest (R108); and salted chicken gizzards (R58). There is also a large selection of more familiar items and a comprehensive, easy-to-understand dim sum menu. They are offering a special set menu for the Chinese New Year celebration at R228 per person, including a special soup and a platter with five varieties of items such as fried salt-and-pepper prawns, a mushroom and steak dish, butterfly ribs and much more.

Thai Meals

Here the special for Chinese New Year (R1 200 for a table of six) includes starters, mains and two desserts each with a two-litre soft drink and two-litre of bottled water. Starters that should not be missed on the regular menu are moo ping (four pork skewers with a basting for R30); sai oua (three spicy Lao sausages with sweet pickled ginger for R40); Thai sour ribs; and, of course, Thai fishcakes. Som tam (salads) include papaya salad, crab salad, noodle salad, long bean salad, cucumber salad and egg salad. A second special section of Thai salads (which could be enjoyed as mains, given their substance) includes spicy seafood salad, crispy fish salad, Thai pork salad, spicy Isaan salad, and Thai glass noodle salad. There are various other seafood main courses, Thai curries, rice dishes and stir fries – just be sure to indicate what level of chilli-heat you can withstand, because the chef likes it hot.

A beautiful building on Derrick Avenue. Photo courtesy of Hennie Fisher.

A beautiful building on Derrick Avenue. Photo courtesy of Hennie Fisher.

Xu Chinese Restaurant

As the young man at the fish monger next door explained, this restaurant was recently taken over by new owners, so language could be a problem, and it explains why the name displayed outside states Dazhonghua Service Centre Restaurant while the menus give the name as Xu. They seem to serve food buffet-style over weekends, as a notice listing a seafood feast for R98 indicates. But there is a menu (with pictures) available for à la carte choices as well. Items include Chinese buns with red-bean paste (R48); asparagus lettuce with black fungus (R58); Yangzhou fried rice (R48); 15 pieces of fried dumplings, similar to pot-stickers (R45); sweet-and-sour chicken (R48); chicken-and-sweetcorn soup (R38); hot-and-sour soup (R38); deep-fried salt-and-pepper sardines (R78); and soya-sauce duck (R88), to name a few.


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