I think Yeoville is the most interesting suburb in Joburg. I’ve been there many times — for meals, boxing tournaments, and tours — and yet I always feel like I should be going to Yeoville more. Once home to the city’s bohemian intelligentsia, Yeoville is now the center of Pan-African culture in Joburg — where Congolese, Ghanian, Mozambican, Ivorian, and Cameroonian immigrants flock.

The truth is, Yeoville still intimidates me. It’s brash and frenetic and very…male. Yeoville’s streets are filled with men, strutting in fancy clothes and looking me straight in the eye, with mischief. I’ve always heard that Yeoville is a fantastic place to go out at night, but I’ve never been brave enough to try.

When I saw that Dlala Nje was hosting a food tour, “the Taste of Yeoville”, on a Sunday evening, I signed up immediately.

I’ve done a couple of walking tours with Dlala Nje, a local community centre and cultural tourism organization. One of the best things about Dlala Nje’s tours is that they always begin at Ponte City. Ponte City — a towering high-rise shaped like a hollow cigar, which is the tallest residential building in Africa — sits on the border of Hillbrow, Berea, and Yeoville. The “core” of Ponte City is an amazing place to take photos.

Ponte looking up

Shot from Ponte City’s core, with my trusty iPhone. Incidentally, contrary to popular belief, anyone can walk into Ponte City off the street, enter through the public shopping center on the ground floor (which has been nicely developed over the last year), and walk down the stairs to Ponte’s core. You don’t need to know a Ponte resident or get permission from security to do this, although you do need special permission to go up into the building itself.

From Ponte, our group of 15 or so “tourists” took off on foot and hiked to Yeoville Ridge, another one of my favorite photography spots.

Ponte from Yeoville

Ponte City from the outside, as seen from Yeoville Ridge.

Ponte from Yeoville panoramic

Yeoville Ridge is one of the best spots in town to photograph the Jozi skyline. Read more about it here. I don’t recommend visiting Yeoville Ridge alone though — always go with a group.

After spending some time on the ridge, we walked the short distance down into Yeoville proper, where night was beginning to fall. We gathered in the suburb’s central square and our guide, Mike Luptak, provided some historical background on Yeoville. Yeoville was one of Joburg’s first “gray areas” under apartheid, meaning and that black and white people lived there together while segregation was still strictly enforced elsewhere.

We then proceeded to Kin Malebo Village, our first Yeoville dining spot.

Each African immigrant group has its own hangouts in Yeoville. Kin Malebo Village, on Raleigh Street, is a place where people of Congolese decent go to eat, drink, and dance.

Kin-Malebo

Kin Malebo Village.

We parked at a plastic table marked “Reserved”, ordered some Black Labels, and feasted on our first course of the evening: cakes of cassava (a starchy dish that tastes like pap), creamy spinach with peanut sauce, chicken gizzards, and fiery chopped chilies with garlic. It was all delicious.

Congolese food

Please excuse the poor photography — it was very dark inside Kin Malebo. The food tasted so much better than it looks in this picture.

This was just an appetizer so I tried not to stuff myself. After half an hour or so of soaking in the central African vibe — I love Congolese music now — we departed for our next destination.

Raleigh Street was not particularly busy at 7:30 on a Sunday evening. In fact, with the exception of the occasional drunkard, it was downright benign. I snapped a few cell phone photos as we walked.

Raleigh Street shop

A typical shop in Yeoville. Unlike most of Joburg, Yeoville stays open late.

We stopped into the Yeoville Market, which is one of the best places in town to buy fresh produce, spices, cheap clothes, and luggage. The market was in the midst of shutting down for the evening, and I didn’t take any photos because the security guards there are a bit feisty. (You can check out some photos of the market in this very old post.) I did buy some bright green bananas though — not plantains, the vendor insisted, although that’s what they look like — which I am going to attempt to fry.

Our final stop was La Camerounaise, a Cameroonian joint on Rockey Street with a long charcoal grill. The grill was crowded with fish.

Lucy and fish_edited-1

Fish on the barbie, tended by Lucy. I never found out for certain what kind of fish it is, but I think it’s red kabeljou.

Lucy is La Camerounaise’s grill chef. I love everything about her, and I also love her fish.

Grilled fish

Again, this photo is a very poor representation of what I actually ate.

As we gorged ourselves (with our hands) on spicy grilled fish, french fries, and plantains, Lucy walked around and asked each of us how we were enjoying the food. At one point Lucy set a bottle of hand lotion down on the table, which didn’t make sense at the time but now I get it. Eating fish by hand makes your fingers smell very fishy, and the lotion masks the scent. Unfortunately one of my fellow tour participants mistook the lotion for mayonnaise.

Once all the fish had been eaten and many quarts of Black Label had been drunk, we sadly bid au revoir to La Camerounaise and piled into a minibus taxi bound for Ponte.

Twenty-four hours later, my fingers still smelled slightly of fish. It was totally worth it.

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