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johannesburg

Car cruising on Rock Raceway in Brakpan

This Is the East: Rock Raceway in Brakpan

Second in an occasional blog series called This Is the East, featuring hidden spots on Johannesburg’s East Rand. Have you ever gone to a place where you feel like an alien, even though you’re surrounded by fellow human beings? This is how Ang and I felt at the Rock Raceway. We journeyed out to the Rock, which is in the East Rand town of Brakpan, to watch the SA National Hot Rod Championships. Ang was attending the race as part of a journalism project and I tagged along to take photos. Neither of us are “car people” and we’d never attended an auto-racing event before. I’ve done a lot of unusual things around Joburg but this felt more unusual than average. Brakpan feels like a remote, foreign place to me. It’s far from downtown Joburg in an area my boyfriend (who comes from the East Rand) calls “Deep East”. A sign welcomes fans to the Rock Raceway. The raceway is located on a barren, scrubby piece of land with nothing much around it. Nearly everyone attending the event was Afrikaans; I hardly heard a word of English, which made me feel like more of a foreigner than usual. Cars cruising around […]

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Outside Mallies Spice Works

Mallies Spice Works: The Place to Buy Spices in Joburg

Sometimes I buy spices, thinking the fragrant, colorful little packets might motivate me to cook something. Unfortunately that rarely happens and the spices get old and sticky and I wind up throwing them away unused. For this reason I rarely shop for spices anymore, even though South Africa — with its cacophonous mix of eastern and western cultures and cuisines — is a great place to do so. But if I did shop for spices, I would do so at Mallies Spice Works. Outside Mallies Spice Works on Carr Street in Newtown. I went to Mallies with Marie-Lais to take photos for a column in the Citizen newspaper. I’d heard there was a famous spice factory in Newtown but I never would have found it without Google Maps; Mallies is in an unassuming location, close to the highway and a notorious squatter camp. As we parked outside, I felt suspicious that we were in the right place. But as often happens in Joburg, we walked inside and discovered an alternate universe. Mallies’ crazy interior. Spices Galore at Mallies We went to Mallies in the middle of the day on a Tuesday and it was packed with both customers and employees. Everyone […]

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Outside Tilt Coffee in Melville

My Favorite Jozi Coffeeshops: Tilt Coffee in Melville

This post, featuring Tilt Coffee, is the sixth in an occasional series about my favorite new coffeeshops in Joburg.  I’ve lived in Melville for eight years and everyone knows I believe Melville is the best place to live in Johannesburg. Melville has pretty much everything and it’s all within walking distance: restaurants of every genre, bars, a grocery store, a park, a doctor’s office, a hardware store, art galleries, bakeries, hair salons, etc. But until recently Melville was missing one important thing: A coffeeshop. Tilt Coffee has just filled that gap. Tilt Coffee on 4th Avenue in Melville. A Melville Coffeeshop (not a shop selling coffee) Other Melvillians might argue this point, as Melville has always had lots of shops selling coffee. But a shop selling coffee is not necessarily a coffeeshop — at least not to me. When I say “coffeeshop”, I’m talking about a place that prioritizes coffee above all other offerings. I’m talking about a place where you can sit down and order if you want, but which also has a counter you can easily walk up to for a takeaway coffee without bumping into half a dozen busy servers. I’m talking about a place with a handsome barista, serving […]

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Inside Lexi's Healthy Eatery in Sandton

September Restaurant of the Month: Lexi’s Healthy Eatery

Halfway through my recent book club meeting, I felt compelled to interrupt the robust literary conversation with an important statement and follow-up question. “These salads are amazing!” I exclaimed to Cingashe, the host. “Where are they from?” The other women around the table nodded vigorously. The salads, Cingashe said, came from Lexi’s Healthy Eatery. Lexi’s Healthy Eatery. The salads had names like “Glow Bowl” and “Omega Punch” and “Italian Stack”. I can’t tell you now what they looked or tasted like — unfortunately I don’t have photos — but I know they were the best salads I’ve ever eaten. And trust me, I am not normally a proponent of salads as book club fare. When I host I normally serve cheese and brownies. In fact “salads” is a very poor descriptor for the platters of deliciousness we ate that night. I just don’t know what else to call them. Lexi’s is a brand-new, mostly vegetarian restaurant in Sandton. I almost never blog about Sandton these days — traffic there is a nightmare and I don’t get up that way very often anymore. But those salads convinced me to make a pilgrimage to Lexi’s. Brunch at Lexi’s I arrived at Lexi’s […]

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Trixie chases the Melville Cat's tail

From the Melville Cat: A Kitten in My Castle

Dear readers, A kitten has invaded my home. Please help. Sincerely, The Melville Cat Yes, I’m sure you find her charming. But I assure you, this kitten is a terrible menace. Several days ago, Heather came into my house with a large crate. I peered between the bars and hissed with disdain: Inside were several piles of squirmy, dun-colored fluff. Four young felines? Five? I couldn’t count. Dirty, dun-colored baby felines in my house. Ha! “They’re from Hillbrow,” Heather told me. “Remember the other kitten I brought from Hillbrow, many years ago?” I have never been to Hillbrow. I do not remember, nor do I care. An hour later Heather left the house and took the crate with her. I was relieved. Alas, she returned the next day. This time she emptied the crate of Hillbrow fluff onto my bathroom rug. Three squirmy piles of feline fluff on my bathroom rug. Two filthy fluff balls. The kittens’ eyes were dirty and runny when they arrived from Hillbrow.  There were three young felines. I could see their noses and paws through the crack under the bathroom door. Heather spent lots of time in the bathroom. Sometimes she took other humans in with her. […]

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Blog course banner

Learn How to Blog From a Reluctant Blogger

I’m teaching another blog class. It’s happening on 13 October at Bridge Books in Maboneng. The class is limited to 10 aspiring bloggers and there are six spots left (as of today, 19 September). You should sign up. A couple of months ago I confessed that for the first time in eight years, I was struggling to blog. I had hoped that feeling would have gone away by now but it hasn’t. The feeling is weird and disconcerting. Perhaps this post isn’t the best place to focus on my current lack of blogging motivation. But then again, maybe it is. This is reality, baby. Blogging is a wonderful form of creative expression but it ain’t no walk in the park. I like to talk about reality in my blog classes. In these classes, we don’t focus much on making money or building massive social media followings. Instead we focus on ideas. We focus on the best reasons to blog and how to create a blog that’s honest and compelling and emotionally fulfilling for the person who writes it. We talk about how writing a blog can change your life, as it has mine. We share with each other, eat some nice […]

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Inside Betrand in Maboneng

My Favorite Jozi Coffeeshops: Bertrand in Maboneng

This post, featuring Bertrand in Maboneng, is the fifth in an occasional series about my favorite new coffeeshops in Joburg.  Yesterday morning I was hurrying down Fox Street in Maboneng. I was in a rush but needed coffee and food. In the corner of my eye, I glimpsed wooden tables on the pavement that I hadn’t seen before. I looked up and there was Bertrand. I’d seen a few pictures of Bertrand on social media but hadn’t yet discovered its whereabouts. Here it was. The waitress tried to show me around but I only had ten minutes and sustenance was paramount. Hardly glancing at the menu, I ordered a croissant and a flat white in a take-away cup. I sat down at a sunny table near the coffee bar, drummed my fingers for a moment, then grabbed my camera. Ten-minute time limit aside, I couldn’t leave this little wonderland without documenting it. Opened for coffee. Inside Bertrand. Comfortable-looking couches I didn’t have time to sit on. The back of Bertrand. There are hundreds of charming knick-knacks inside Bertrand. I’m not sure what this one is or why my eye settled on it.  As I shot my pictures, a charming man in sneakers […]

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Wooden Newtown heads in downtown Joburg

The Newtown Heads Are Back in Action

As I float down a canal in the Netherlands, I thought I’d write a quick post about the Newtown heads. If you live in Joburg you know the heads I’m talking about — the hundreds of wooden sculptures lining Mary Fitzgerald Square and several streets in the downtown neighborhood of Newtown. Newtown heads in the center of Mary Fitzgerald Square. The heads, all 500-something of them, were originally erected in 2001. But over the years quite a few of them were stolen/vandalized/cracked or eroded due to weather. Joburg city enthusiasts mourned the heads’ demise. Here’s what all the heads looked like until recently. The head in the foreground is badly weathered and the head in the background is gone completely. The decoration on the concrete plinths is part of a separate project by artist Food Baby Soul.  In 2018, as part of the Newtown Now! festival in July, artist Americo Guambe — who spearheaded the creation of the original Newtown heads — received funding from the Joburg City government and the Johannesburg Development Agency to do a major head renovation. Nearly 100 of the heads have been replaced and/or refurbished, and they look positively glorious. The New Newtown Heads Feast your […]

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Pizza from Ben's Pizza in Marshalltown

August Restaurant of the Month: Ben’s Pizza in Marshalltown

There’s a brick oven pizza restaurant in downtown Joburg and it’s open on Saturdays. It’s called Ben’s Pizza and it’s delicious. Ben’s Pizza. Really, this is all you need to know. It’s not easy to find decent restaurants in the Joburg CBD. And Ben’s is more than a decent restaurant. It feels almost exactly like a New York City pizzeria, right down to the red-and-white checked tablecloths. The sign off to the side reads: “You can’t buy happiness but you can buy pizza and that’s kind of the same thing.” Although it’s not visible in the photo, Ben’s has a brick pizza oven behind the counter. I went to Ben’s on a Saturday evening with my friend Koketso. We split the Brigadier pizza, which has bacon, spicy chicken, and salami, and paired it with bottles of a Belgian cherry beer called Liefman’s. It was perfect. (Ben’s also serves pasta, burgers, calzones, and some other dishes. But I can’t imagine going there and not having pizza.) While we were eating, Ben himself walked in wearing an Old Navy t-shirt with an American flag on it. There couldn’t be a more quintessential New York pizzeria owner. Don’t ask me why I didn’t take his […]

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Somerset House, Fox Street entrance

JoburgPlaces and the Restoration of Somerset House

About three years ago, I was roaming around downtown Joburg on a drizzly Sunday afternoon with some photographer friends. As we walked along Fox Street near the corner of Rissik Street, just behind Gandhi Square, we noticed an open doorway and walked inside. I didn’t know it then but this doorway led to Somerset House. What I saw when I first walked into Somerset House, sometime in 2015. The Fox Street entrance is behind me. The building’s staircase is somewhere behind those metal grates. I had no idea what I was looking at but I could tell this building was special. My eyes went immediately to the dazzling black-and-white checkered floor and the bright green tiles along the walls. I looked up; the building was three stories tall and the two stories above were painted in various shades of red and blue, with ornate wood and iron railings lining the balconies overlooking the atrium. I now know the vaulted ceiling is made of glass, but the ceiling was covered in metal sheeting back then so I couldn’t see it. One end of the building was closed off so I didn’t know Somerset House was actually an arcade, with one side […]

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Oldest house in Johannesburg in Bezuidenhout Valley Park

The Oldest House in Johannesburg

A few weeks ago I visited the oldest existing house in Johannesburg. I’m a little confused as to exactly how old the house is. The house standing beside the oldest house was built in 1852. At least that’s what the historical plaque on the house says; this article by the City of Joburg says it was built in 1863. This second house (not the oldest one, but the one standing beside it) is referred to as the Bezuidenhout Farmhouse. It was built by the Viljoen family and later taken over by the Bezuidenhout family when a Viljoen married a Bezuidenhout. The Bezuidenhout Farmhouse, built in 1852 (I think) and currently used as a Rotary Club office. Blue plaque on the Bezuidenhout Farmhouse. But the actual oldest house, which the Viljoens presumably lived in before building the larger house next door, doesn’t have a plaque. Isabella Pingle, the heritage activist who showed the houses to my friend Marie-Lais and me, says it was built around 1850 — more than 35 years before Johannesburg itself became a city. The oldest house in Johannesburg, built sometime around 1850.  The most interesting thing about this house, to me at least, is that there are a bunch of regular people living […]

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Staff at NGC Blairgowrie

July Restaurant of the Month: NGC Blairgowrie

NGC is not what you’d expect to find at the busy intersection of Barkston and Conrad Drive in Blairgowrie. There’s a tire store across the road and a lawnmower repair shop next door, and it just doesn’t feel like the right place for a classy restaurant. And yet here it is, amidst the Joburg sprawl: a little bistro that could pass for a Paris pavement café. Outside NGC: The man in the photo is the chef, Gareth, who owns NGC with his wife Emma. In case you’re wondering, NGC stands for “Neighbour Goods Café”. I had lunch at NGC on a Saturday afternoon when I was really, really hungry and busy catching up with friends. So I don’t have many photos and this will be a short post. But I don’t want to delay writing it any longer. This is a restaurant not to be missed. Saturday Lunch at NGC In many ways the NGC menu is standard 2018-style bistro food, with a selection of “small plates” and larger main dishes and burgers. All very classy and what a lot of nice Joburg restaurants are doing. But NGC stands out because it’s particularly unpretentious, and because the food is So. […]

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