CORRECTION: Since publishing this post yesterday, I have been informed by many angry members of the Gatsby Society Facebook group that Gatsbys are NOT sandwiches and should never, ever, under any circumstances, be referred to as such, upon pain of death. I hereby submit my humble apology for this insult to the Gatsby Gods. (Wikipedia is my excuse — they’ve also got it wrong.) I have carefully scrubbed the word “sandwich” from the title and remainder of the post. Sorry, Gatsby fans!
Last weekend I fulfilled a long-held dream of eating and documenting Gatsbys in Cape Town.
The Gatsby is Cape Town’s version of Joburg’s kota or Durban’s bunny chow: an entire meal surrounded by bread, designed to take away. But while kotas and bunny chows are served vertically in hollowed-out bread loafs, Gatsbys are served horizontally in fat rolls the length of a human arm. There are no side dishes because all the food — chips, meat, cheese, egg, salad, sauce, and whatever else — is contained inside the bread (at least until a person picks up the Gatsby to eat it, at which time half the ingredients quickly wind up on/in the person’s hands, face, and hair).
The Gatsby was invented in 1976 by Rashaad Pandy, a fish-and-chip shop owner in Athlone, Cape Town. Apparently the name is a reference to the Great Gatsby film (although I’m not sure exactly why), which had screened at an Athlone cinema around that time.
Like the other classic South African take-away meals mentioned above, the Gatsby is believed to have emerged as a response to apartheid, when segregation prevented people of color from living or eating in the places where they worked. People needed cheap, filling, portable food at the end of a long workday, and Gatsbys (or bunny chows, or kotas) did the trick.
I’ve eaten many bunny chows and kotas over the years but somehow Gatsbys had eluded me — probably because they aren’t available anywhere in Joburg, as far as I know. But it finally happened on my most recent trip to Cape Town, after stumbling upon Continental Take-Aways.
Gatsbys from Continental Take-Aways
Thorsten and I discovered Continental Take-Aways while staying with my friend Dee in Salt River, a super interesting Cape Town suburb that deserves its own blog one of these days. We first went into Continental for a quick breakfast (I highly recommend the samoosas and koesisters), but noticed the wide selection of Gatsbys and decided to come back with Dee for lunch a couple of days later.
Continental has incredible decor, including disco-y lighting and a huge, immaculately kept fish tank. I loved everything about the shop, but couldn’t fully capture the vibe during our second visit because there was loadshedding. (I didn’t have my camera the first time.) You’ll get the idea though.
Continental has about 20 different kinds of Gatsbys, but we went straight for two of the designer combinations at the bottom of the menu: the “Decoder” Gatsby with steak and egg, and the “M Net” Gatsby with steak and cheese. (There was also a Dagwood Gatsby with steak, egg, AND cheese but that seemed like too much.)
Gatsbys can be ordered in full or half portions. We decided to order one full Gatsby and one half, since there were three of us and we and figured each person could eat a half. But this was a mistake: One full Gatsby would have been more than plenty for the three of us.
When the meal came, we all got really excited and there was an insane feeding frenzy and I somehow didn’t manage to get photos of everything. But again, you’ll get the idea.
It’s hard to pinpoint what made these Gatsbys taste so good. But I think the tangy, chilli-based sauce — which infused the chips, meat, egg, and everything else — was the key ingredient (and also the thing that made the Gatsbys so hard to photograph). The sauce tasted like spicy magic. Abdul, Continental’s owner, would not reveal how they make it. The bread was also particularly crisp and tasty.
All three of us loved both Gatsbys but agreed the steak-and-egg Decoder was the better of the two.
Thorsten, a super-human eating machine, managed to eat a complete half Gatsby. Dee and I, who also have healthy appetites, each ate half of a half plus a couple of bites. We also had three delicious onion and chilli snacks called dhaljees, which we received on the house. I somehow neglected to photograph those, too.
I felt completely comatose after this meal and I did not eat dinner that night (a great rarity for 2Summers). My appetite didn’t fully return until the following afternoon.
I can’t wait for my next visit to Salt River. I want to try the Curry Gatsby next time, but I will try to limit my intake to half of a half of a half.
Continental Take-Aways is 350 Victoria Road, Salt River. Call 021-448-2812.