I’ve written several times about Joburg’s Oriental Plaza — a giant Indian shopping mall in Fordsburg. “The Plaza”, as locals call it, is one of my favorite spots in town. So when my friend Anita called me up on her birthday and invited me to go to The Plaza to pick up a rabbit fur coat, I dropped everything and complied. I know what you’re thinking: Anita’s birthday, The Plaza, a rabbit fur coat? WTF? Anita, Johnson, and me at The Plaza.
I still remember my first taste of Indian food — chicken tikka masala from the Bombay Peacock Grill in Columbia, Maryland, sometime in the late 1990s. It was love at first bite. Years later, my passion for Indian cuisine soared when I spent two weeks volunteering in Chennai, India. I got terribly sick halfway through the trip, but an upset stomach couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm for eating curry, briyani, and chapati at every opportunity. I hit the jackpot when I moved to South Africa. There are well over a million ethnic Indians here; Indian food, clothing, and culture pervade society. Since most South African Indians come from families that have been here for many generations, a specialized South African Indian cuisine has developed that you can’t find anywhere else.
I’ve been looking for an excuse to hang out at the sprawling outdoor market in Fordsburg — Joburg’s “Little India” — on a Saturday night. The market, called “the Square,” is where Fordsburg residents go to see and be seen on Saturdays. It’s also a great place to buy clothes, DVDs, spices, jewelry, and tasty Indian and Pakistani street food. Spices, packets of Indian food, and popcorn for sale at a stall in the Square.
Five years ago I visited Chennai, India, and fell in love with Indian sweets. Indian sweets are difficult to describe — there are hundreds of different kinds and they vary by region. The ones I’ve had are colorful little balls or squares, made mainly of sugar and condensed milk and flavored with things like coconut, pistachio, and cashews. (Read about Indian sweets on Wikipedia.) Fordsburg, Joburg’s Indian cultural center, is just a few minutes from Melville. I’ve written previously about Fordsburg’s Oriental Plaza and I intend to write more about this area because I love Indian food. But in observance of Valentine’s Day weekend, I’m writing a post specifically about Indian sweets. Shalimar Delights in Fordsburg. The sign says “sweetmeats” but there’s no actual meat in the sweets.
Joe is shooting a rugby match at Soccer City this Saturday – South Africa’s reigning world-champion Springboks against the New Zealand All Blacks. It’s a rematch of the 1995 Rugby World Cup championship, featured in Invictus. I wanted to go to the match but the tickets (all 94,000 of them) are sold out. So I settled for going to the stadium with Joe yesterday to pick up his media credentials.
On our way home from Soccer City we decided to visit the Oriental Plaza – a city-block-sized mall packed with Indian-owned stores. It’s a bargain-shopper’s paradise.