During my Rosebank jacaranda tour last October, I held a contest: The first participant to spot the lone white jacaranda tree on our route could choose a new place in Joburg for me to visit and blog about.
It took a while for the winner, Caroline Talotta, to cash in on her prize. But it finally happened this past weekend when Caroline and her son, Josef, guided me on a whirlwind tour of Mediterranean restaurants and food shops in Joburg’s East Rand.
Before embarking on this journey, I need to explain Caroline and Josef’s story. Caroline is originally from Croatia but lived in America for most of her life — in fact, Caroline and Josef spent many years living in Frederick, Maryland, which basically around the corner from my own hometown of Sykesville, Maryland.
Josef moved to South Africa three decades ago and never left; he and I have known each other for years through Joburg circles. Caroline, who recently turned 80, relocated to Joburg a couple of years ago to live near her son; they live in the two halves of a charming duplex (semi-detached house) in Modderfontein.
Caroline’s late husband — Josef’s father — was Italian. And because of their Mediterranean heritage, Josef and Caroline do a lot of shopping and eating at the multitude of Italian, Greek, and Portuguese food shops around Joburg’s East Rand.
Mediterranean Cuisine of the East Rand
There are tens of thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of Italian, Greek, and Portuguese people living in Joburg, and a huge percentage of those people live in the city’s eastern suburbs. I had visited a couple of Mediterranean restaurants in the East — the legendary O’ Peri Peri of Edenvale, for example — before this, but Josef and Caroline introduced me to a whole new universe. We visited more than half a dozen places — none of which I had been to before — in half a day. I was freaking exhausted and full at the end.
Here’s a quick rundown of where we went. I’ve kept the descriptions short, in the interest of time. But each of these places is worthy of its own blog post.
Stop #1: Familia Pinto
We started the day at Familia Pinto, a Portuguese shop and restaurant in the middle of historic Modderfontein. Familia Pinto is a family-run business specializing in Portuguese-style meats, cheeses, and pastries, among other things.
Unfortunately last Saturday was Familia Pinto’s final day of operation at that particular location. (Apparently the landlord was charging too much rent.) This is really sad because it’s a great space. But apparently the business is still operating online (Facebook seems like the best place to find it) and will hopefully open soon at a new location.
We bought some pasteis de nata, which we devoured later in the day, and some delicious rissoles, which we devoured in front of the shop. Then we headed off to our next stop.
Stop #2: Adriatic Fine Foods
Adriatic is an enormous warehouse in Germiston, filled floor-to-ceiling with imported Italian foods.
Josef and Caroline are regulars at Adriatic, which means the staff serves them cappuccino when they visit. (Adriatic is not a coffee shop but they sell both coffee machines and Italian coffee beans. They make coffee on site for their best customers.)
Josef told me he thinks Adriatic’s cappuccino is the best in Joburg. After tasting it myself, I cannot disagree. We also sampled some delicious, fresh-baked olive focaccia.
Stop #3: Italian Cheese Deli
We continued our Italian journey at the Italian Cheese Deli in Bedfordview, which wins the prize for most patriotic shop design.
We were already behind schedule so we had to speed through the Italian Cheese Deli. But it’s got a great vibe and sells parmesan and mozzarella at rock-bottom prices. Josef and Caroline rave about their Italian sandwiches and I saw they serve gelato. Apparently the biltong (not Italian, obviously) is delicious, too.
We did a quick breeze-through, grabbed some cheese and a couple of Italian orange sodas, and hurried on.
Stop #4: Olive You
Next came the Greek portion of our Mediterranean food tour, with a stop at Olive You (like “I love you” — get it? Took me a minute) in Edenvale. Olive You sells both South African olives and imported Greek olives, in addition to many other Greek foods, pastries, etc. Every visitor is encouraged to do a tasting of the different types and flavors of olives. They’re all scrumptious.
I bought a container of “dessert olives” sweetened with blueberry juice. They are so good and different from any other olive I’ve tasted. Shopping at Olive You was a delightful experience.
Stop #5: Meze Emporio
Somehow I did not get a single decent photo from the Meze Emporio in Senderwood, despite the fact that I had never been there and it totally amazed me. I guess I was momentarily tired out from all the riding around and sampling foods. But this massive restaurant, which was packed to the gills for Saturday lunch, is owned by the same company that owns Meze Foods.
We didn’t have time to eat at the restaurant but I bought some nice Turkish bread in the adjoining shop. The entire shopping center is Greek-owned and all the signs are in both English and Greek. I need to get back there soon for a proper visit.
Stop #6: The Italian Club
The Italian Club is a massive Italian complex in Bedfordview, with a school, an indoor bocce club, and an Italian grocery shop. In recent years the club has become best known for Sette Bello, the fantastic Italian restaurant on site.
We were not very hungry, having eaten something in almost every shop we’d visited up until this point, but Josef was adamant we must make space for Sette Bello’s margherita pizza. We sat at a table outside and split a pizza between the three of us. It was, indeed, spectacular.
Stop #7: da Graziella
We had one more must-visit Italian restaurant on the list and it was a grand finale: da Graziella Restaurant.
da Graziella is incredibly quaint — the kind of Italian restaurant that would fit in just as easily in Brooklyn as it does in Edenvale. The owner, Graziella Giacomazzo, spent her younger years traveling the world as an air hostess before opening da Graziella in 2006. Graziella is charming and adorable and her restaurant smells delicious inside.
I didn’t think I could eat another bite. But — shocker — I managed to eat a cannoli. I have zero regrets.
Grazie, Josef and Caroline, for taking me on this marathon tour that has now become a marathon blog post. You did it — I love the East Rand even more now than I did before. I’ll be back soon for more cannoli.