Browsing Tag


Restored wall at Rand Steam Laundries shopping centre

The Dramatic Story of Rand Steam Laundries

Once upon a time, about 130 years ago, a group of Zulu men called the AmaWasha ran a business washing clothes beside a stream, on the outskirts of a ramshackle mining town called Johannesburg.

The water in this stream was particularly good for clothes-washing. Soon a bustling laundry called Rand Steam mushroomed on the spot, displacing the AmaWasha. South Africans hotels shipped their linens from from as far away as Cape Town to be washed at Rand Steam.

The laundry closed many decades later but the original buildings — some of the oldest industrial structures in Joburg — received protected heritage status from the city.

The buildings remained until the early 2000s, when a company called Imperial Holdings — to the rage and dismay of heritage activists and other onlookers — illegally tore down the Rand Steam Laundries to build a car dealership.

Enter the heroes of this story: the formidable Flo Bird and her colleagues at the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation, who organized a resistance, picketed the site, raised a ruckus with the city government, and ultimately blocked the car dealership from being built.

There wasn’t much left of Rand Steam save a few discarded elements of the buildings and a small, round filtration tower, which now stands like a mini fortress on the site.

More than a decade passed. After endless painful negotiations between the Heritage Foundation, the City of Joburg, Imperial (who was forced to continue paying taxes on the land even though they weren’t permitted to use it), and a new development company called the Moolman Group, a plan was reached to develop the land in a way that satisfied all parties concerned.

In April 2019, the Rand Steam Shopping Centre opened and everyone lived happily ever after.

The end.

Restored wall at Rand Steam Laundries shopping centre
Tribute to the AmaWasha on a re-created wall at the new Rand Steam Shopping Centre. The developers worked to incorporate original elements from the old laundry buildings wherever possible.

The Rand Steam Shopping Centre

Okay, obviously that’s not really the end and the Rand Steam Laundries did not exactly live happily ever after. Not everyone feels a shopping centre on this site — complete with Pick-n-Pay, Woolworths, and Clicks (the equivalent chains to Safeway, Whole Foods, and CVS in the United States) — is a happy ending to this story. I was a bit suspicious myself.

Pick n Pay at the Rand Steam Shopping Centre
The Pick-n-Pay sign stands next to the old ventilators from the laundry, which were installed on the roof of the centre.

But I went to Rand Steam for the first time this week and I have to admit, the place is nice. Joburg has a lot of shopping centres but this is the only Joburg shopping centre I know of that has a blue heritage plaque, a beautiful artistic tribute to the original heritage of the site, and a century-old white-washed filtration tower that has been turned into a hip shoe shop.

The old filtration tower, which stands in the center of the complex.
Inside the filtration tower at Rand Steam
Inside the filtration tower. I love how this space has been renovated and I love these shoes by Six Kings.

I love the mix of retailers in the centre. Yes, the big brands are there; consumers need those brands and they’re essential to the financial success of the project. But the management of Rand Steam has worked hard to create space for small business and entrepreneurs beside those big brands.

Small businesses that have moved into Rand Steam include Bonafide Beards, Re-Trend, Cowfish, and the aforementioned Six Kings.

Inside Re-Trend at Rand Steam
Inside the beautiful Re-Trend home furnishing store.

On my first visit I met a friend at Bootlegger Coffee Company, a small-ish restaurant chain from Cape Town, and really enjoyed my flat white and hipster green smoothie. The restaurant was full, and kids were having a ball playing in the landscaped area beside the restaurant where the AmaWasha tribute wall stands.

A Joburg historical landmark was destroyed — a tragedy that has happened (and will probably continue to happen) many times over in Joburg and other cities all over the world. But some positive things have sprouted from that destruction. The site of the old Rand Steam Laundries is no longer a barren wasteland, but a place where the community can gather and shop and support South African business.

What more can we ask? Well done to everyone who made it happen.

Rand steam blue heritage plaque

Read more about Rand Steam in this article from the Mail & Guardian.

Rand Steam is at the corner of Barry Hertzog Avenue and Napier Road, Richmond.

Photo of Mother Theresa at Langwan Cleaners

Langwan Cleaners and the Mother Teresa of Albert Street

In March 2017 I receive a Facebook message.

“Do make a turn at my mom’s store, corner Albert and Mooi Street, called Langwan Cleaners. Will make a good story.

“My mom, a single mother now 70 years old, has been running a ‘general dealer’ for the past 40 something years. Her business has evolved over the years but she is truly a kind of Mother Teresa of the area.

Photo of Mother Theresa at Langwan Cleaners

Two years later in February 2019, in a comment to a comment on another post, I receive a gentle reminder.

“Reminder to visit my mom😘. 99 Albert Street.”

99 Albert Street. I write it down.

Three weeks later I return to that note in my day planner. 99 Albert Street. By this time I’ve forgotten the name of the person who sent me the message or where she sent it from. I know it’s an Indian name and begins with an S.

99 Albert Street. A laundry? Owned by a woman. Someone’s mom.

I can’t remember but I know it’s time to go.

In a WhatsApp message to Fiver, I write: “Any chance you’d like to go with me on a mysterious mission?” Fiver is always game for mysterious missions.

Langwan Cleaners.
Products for sale in the window of Langwan Cleaners.
Shop window at Langwan Cleaners.

A Visit to Langwan Cleaners

On Friday morning we pull up in front of Langwan Cleaners in Fiver’s Land Rover Defender. There’s a “Cash for Scrap” sign across the road and an endless stream of passing pedestrians giving us curious looks.

“What’s her name?” says Fiver.

“…I don’t know.”

Fiver shrugs and follows me inside.

Behind the glass we find Jay Patel, wearing a long, light green shift, dark brown hair pulled back loosely at the nape of her neck.

Jay Patel in Langwan Cleaners

“Can I help you?” Jay asks, smiling.

I fumble for words. “I’m a writer,” I say. “I tell stories about Joburg. Your daughter told me to come.”

Jay laughs. “Who?”


“Sharita?” Jay asks.

Sharita! Yes.

Jay gives us each a bottle of water and invites us behind the counter.

Langwan Cleaners, named for Jay’s father, opened as a dry-cleaning service in the 1970s. Jay still does some dry-cleaning: I spot a few jackets and dresses, neatly draped in plastic, hanging on a rod behind her.

“We would wrap the trousers in this paper,” Jay explains, pointing to a large brown roll on the counter.

As the dry-cleaning market began to dwindle, Jay expanded her offerings.

Shop wall in Langwan Cleaners
A wall in Langwan Cleaners.

Spray paint, batteries, headache pills, toothpaste, airtime, shoe polish, Brut cologne, garden shears, playing cards, cough syrup, lemon creams, ginger tea. Plug adaptors, incense, hand soap, herbal remedies, lightbulbs, motor oil, rat poison, dish towels, bottles of Coke, energy drinks, and coffee cups. Blowtorches, tote bags, matches, pocket knives, cereal mills, screwdrivers, buckets and mops and moth balls.

Langwan Cleaners sells everything.

Jay in her shop
A customer at Langwan Cleaners
Shelf in Langwan Cleaners
Inside Langwan Cleaners in downtown Joburg.

Fiver commences a shopping spree, buying tape and toilet paper and rolls of string. I look curiously at the bottle of “Supermalt” in the refrigerator and Jay insists I take it to try.

Malt beverage at Langwan Cleaners
Supermalt. I love the bottle but the drink was a bit too yeasty for me.

There is no cash register or computer. Jay and her young shop assistant track everything by hand. Every spare piece of wall space is covered by scraps of paper with names and numbers.

“Eric” one paper reads, with a list below.

25/1 Bic 23.00
28/1 Powerade 13.00
29/1 Score 12.00
Fanta Or 11.00
Nik Nak 12.00

The list continues.

“I give credit,” Jay explains with a chuckle. “My daughter gets so cross with me.”

Credit and receipts.

Fiver and I notice the pictures of Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul and Jesus, mixed in with family photos and a little shrine on a shelf with Hindu deities, tiny Buddha statues, and a framed picture of Jay’s late son.

“You’ve got all the religions here,” Fiver observes.

“Oh yes,” Jay says. “I pick and choose.”

Shrine inside Langwan Cleaners
Jay’s sacred corner.
Bits and pieces from the life of Jay Patel.
Bits and pieces from the life of Jay.

Customers enter at a steady clip, one-by-one-by-two-by-one. They ask for change, or buy airtime or packets of crisps. Jay’s assistant comes and goes, hauling in new supplies of water and cold drinks. A woman comes in, stands shyly by the counter for a moment, then hurries out without buying anything.

Customers in Langwan Cleaners on Albert Street.
Buying chips in Langwan Cleaners

I ask Jay how old she is. “I’m 72.”

“My mother is the same age,” I say. “She looks young and beautiful, like you.”

“I’m sure she is,” Jay says. “Like you. Does she have green eyes?”

I try to shoot a portrait of Jay but suddenly she’s shy. And the shop is busy. I take down Jay’s number and we say goodbye.

The next day I get a message from Fiver.

“The trip to the shop yesterday was amazing,” she writes. “Still thinking about it today.”

I’m still thinking about it too. We learned a lot in that 30-minute visit.

I WhatsApp Jay with a photo I took, telling her how much we enjoyed meeting her.

“Wonderful meeting you too,” Jay responds. “God bless 🙏 🕉”

Langwan Cleaners is at 99 Albert Street, City and Suburban.

Learning About DNA (and Me) at Health Works in Hyde Park

Check the end of this post for details on how to win a R1000 voucher to Hyde Park Corner.

I haven’t blogged much lately. There are a few reasons for this but the bottom line is I’ve been busy and stressed. My brain is moving in ten directions at once and I can barely remember my own name, let alone blog.

It’s not the greatest feeling. As recently as 30 minutes ago someone said to me, “Slow down, Heather. Take 14 deep breaths.”

But the universe works in mysterious ways. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that amidst all this craziness I was invited, as part of a blogging campaign, to do something I would never have done otherwise: Get my DNA analyzed at Health Works, a funky health shop in Hyde Park Corner.

Health Works in Hyde Park

Hyde Park Corner is a fancy shopping mall — a Joburg institution, really — filled with high-end restaurants and stores. But Health Works is different. The owner, Linda Weech, is a self-proclaimed “old hippy girl” who used to work in the clothing business but eventually switched over to health food and supplements because “health is more creative than clothes”. Linda opened Health Works nearly 25 years ago and has been in Hyde Park ever since.

Inside Health Works. Linda is behind the counter.

Linda works closely with her colleague Tandy McLeod, who is a bit of a hippy girl herself and also knows a lot about diet, health, and DNA. These two women have taken a boring store in a mall and turned it into a fun, relaxing, zen kind of place. There’s even a buddha corner.

Health Works zen buddha corner.

My DNA Analysis

The Health Works DNA analysis is not ancestry DNA — the one where you find out the geographical origins of your ancestors and track down your long-lost adopted cousins. (Incidentally, my family recently discovered one such long-lost cousin through an ancestry DNA service in America. Shout-out to cousin Jeffrey!)

The Health Works DNA analysis is about — you guessed it — health. The genes we’re born with can tell us tons of information about how our brains work, what kind of diseases we’re prone or resistant to, and what diet and exercise regimes we should follow to live healthy, happy lives. This is the kind of information I learned from Tandy during my DNA analysis.

Here’s how it worked. For my first consultation, I went into the shop and talked with Tandy and Linda about which DNA tests I wanted to do. I chose the “DNA Mind” test, which looks at my genes in relation to brain function, and the “DNA Diet” test, which analyzes how my body responds to various foods and exercise.

Tandy pricked my finger and did a blood test (I’m A+, in case you’re wondering) and swabbed the inside of my mouth for DNA. Then my sample was sent off to the lab for analysis and I came back a few weeks later to go over my results with Tandy.

My blood gets tested.

I won’t go into a ton of detail as the analysis is extremely in-depth. But I will say this: After weeks of criss-crossing the globe, fighting illness and horrendous jet lag, arguing about politics, running myself ragged in the quest for an ever-elusive South African visa, getting a new passport, losing/finding luggage and laptops and phones, hitting curbs and getting flat tires, launching a book, shooting a wedding, crying incessantly, and allowing stress and anxiety to make my life — and the lives of those around me — downright miserable, it was a joy to sit down with Tandy in a quiet room and talk calmly about my mind, body, and what makes me me.

Tandy and I talked about serotonin and dopamine, about my family history of addiction, about my problems remembering names and my teenage struggles with body image and weight. We talked about boxing and bunjee-jumping and binge-eating and my love of cheese. We talked about olives and avocados and magnesium and melatonin. We talked about love, passion, life, and death.

I walked out of Health Works feeling way better than I did when I walked in, and with a better understanding of my own mind and body.

Thanks Tandy and Linda for helping me understand myself a little bit better.

The prices of Health Works DNA analyses vary and are discounted when one purchases multiple tests together (e.g. the DNA Mind analysis and the DNA Diet analysis, which I did). The prices generally range in the vicinity of R2000 per test. Contact Health Works at 011-325-5168/9 for more information.


As part of this campaign I have a voucher worth R1000 for a lucky reader to spend at Hyde Park Corner. (My apologies for not getting myself together soon enough to give this voucher out before Christmas — see complaints above.)

To enter, please go to my Instagram (@2summers) and find the photo of Linda and Tandy in Health Works. Add a comment to the post saying you’d like to win the voucher to Hyde Park Corner. I’ll randomly select a winner on 1 January. Good luck!

I wrote this post in partnership with Health Works, Hyde Park Corner, and Hello Joburg. Opinions expressed are my own.

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.

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.

Outside Mallies Spice WorksOutside Mallies Spice Works on Carr Street in Newtown.

Inside Mallies Spice in Newtown, JohannesburgMallies’ 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 shops here: restauranteurs, street vendors, home cooks…anyone who uses spices. Every spice and seasoning imaginable is on offer, along with flours, beans, hair products, textile dyes, herbal remedies, and love potions. Most of the spices sold at Mallies are organically cultivated.

Staff members at MalliesEmployees packing spices at Mallies.

Premul Jhina shows us around MalliesPremul Jhina, the accountant at Mallies Spice Works, shows us around. Mallies is a family-run business.

Indian liquorice bits Those pretty liquorice bits that get delivered with your bill at Indian restaurants.

Hot Spot spiceHot Spot.

Premul reluctantly allowed us to walk around the huge factory behind the shop, where workers were loading boxes and milling flour and packing mountains of bright red atchar spice into plastic packets. It smelled delicious.

Employees packing atchar spiceAtchar spice.

Thai tamarindOne of hundreds of boxes of tamarind paste.

On the way out I spoke to a guy named Shalav, who was sitting on a chair in the retail area surrounded by bags of spices on the floor. Shalav lives in Bela-Bela, a couple of hours from Joburg, but treks into town regularly to buy his spices from Mallies. Shalav is a vegan and quite particular about what he eats.

Shalav, a customer at Mallies Spice WorksShalav, who matches the Mallies Spice interior perfectly.

I’m sure I’ll go back to Mallies sometime, if only to buy pretty spices that I’ll probably never cook.

Mallies Spice Works is at 111 Carr Street, Newtown. Call +27-11-836-9517.

people walking in 27 Boxes park

10 Places to Visit in Melville’s 27 Boxes

27 Boxes is a retail center made out of shipping containers on 4th Avenue in Melville.

Outside 27 BoxesThe beautiful new children’s play area outside 27 Boxes.

I recently wrote a story about 27 Boxes for the Different, which goes into the interesting history of the center and of Faan Smit Park, the Joburg City park that used to be where 27 Boxes is now. So I won’t go into that in this post.

I just want to tell you that 27 Boxes has become one of the best places to hang out in Melville. The center didn’t get off to a great start when it opened in 2015; lots of the shops sat empty and Melville residents grumbled that the whole place was an eyesore and would soon go under and close.

But new management took over 27 Boxes last year and started fixing everything up. New shop tenants have moved in, and the outside of the center was completely overhauled. It looks fantastic.

I go to 27 Boxes all the time and I think everyone else should too. If you want an idea of what to do there, here are 10 of my top recommendations.

Ten Great Places in 27 Boxes

1) Krag Drag

Krag Drag is a popular clothing line: You might have seen Krag Drag’s distinctive, South-African-themed t-shirts and baby clothes for sale in the Sowearto and Big Blue retail chains, but the only actual Krag Drag shop is in 27 Boxes. This shop has become my favorite place in town to buy gifts — especially for my family back in America but also for my South African friends.

Krag Drag 27 BoxesKrag Drag.

Krag Drag has a huge selection of quirky t-shirts, baby clothes, home decor, and accessories, all made with local materials and with specific South African or Joburgian themes. I never walk out of there empty-handed.

2) The Countess

The Countess is 27 Boxes’ flagship restaurant — one of the few places in the center (along with Krag Drag) that’s been there from the beginning. The Countess has a steampunk vibe, with a cavernous, cathedral-style interior. I would describe the menu as upscale pub grub, with great burgers and a wide selection of craft beer. I love sitting in the loft area on the top floor, which has a great view of the Melville Koppies.

Inside the CountessInside the Countess.

3) Mwanawasa Art

I met Mwanawasa Mawelela a few months ago on a Saturday morning on Melville’s 7th Street. He was selling five-minute sketches to passersby. Now Mwanawasa has his own art gallery in 27 Boxes, and he recently put on an exhibition of my friend Fiver’s series of “Super Women” prints.

Super Women exhibition Mwanawasa ArtTwo men ponder Fiver’s Super Women. That’s Mwanawasa on the left.

Mwanawasa Art galleryA look inside the gallery.

Fiver’s exhibition came down recently, but you can still buy these prints from Mwanawasa and he has all kinds of other interesting artwork (including his own) for sale.

4) The Baker Brothers

The Baker Brothers, a small bakery just outside the Countess, sells the best bread in Melville. I love their ciabatta, their cheesy breadsticks, and everything else I’ve ever bought there. I also love the Baker Brothers themselves.

Sam of the Baker Brothers
Sam, one of the Baker Brothers, tosses some cheesy ciabatta into a bag for me.

I love supporting small businesses like this, especially when the product sold is truly superior to anything else available. If you go to 27 Boxes and leave with only one thing, this bread should be it.

5) Reserved Café

I already blogged about Reserved recently in my Restaurant of the Month series. This restaurant keeps getting better and it’s in the midst of expanding and adding a separate bar area.

Pouring gazpachoMy lunch at Reserved a few months back. 

6) Micogram Music Traders

I don’t collect vinyl, but Micogram Music Traders makes me want to. I don’t have a record-player but I love reliving my youth by browsing through the music in this shop.

Microgram in 27 BoxesRows of records at Microgram.

Micogram Music Traders occupies a double-story corner spot on the upper floor of 27 Boxes. When you go in, be sure to go upstairs to check out the view.

7) No Name Nursery

This nursery, which is at the top of the 27 Boxes property next to the park, is brand-new and I haven’t actually shopped there yet. But it is so pretty and blends in seamlessly with the landscaping around the center.

No Name Nursery at 27 BoxesThe No Name Nursery.

There is a little playground right in the middle of the nursery, with old-school swings that look out over the Koppies.

8) The Table

Recently opened by the same people who own the Countess, the Table is an unusual buffet restaurant serving incredibly elaborate breakfasts and lunches made with local and sustainable ingredients. The Table offers quite a few vegetarian and vegan dishes.

Breakfast at the Table in 27 BoxesA crazy selection of egg dishes and other breakfast delicacies from the Table.

The Table has a great indoor-outdoor setup, with a patio opening out onto the amphitheater and children’s play area.

9) Book Circle Capital

Another new addition to 27 Boxes, Book Circle Capital is an independently owned bookshop offering mostly South African and African literature, including the African diaspora.

Book Circle Capital in 27 BoxesShopping with Fiver at Book Circle Capital.

The last time I visited the shop there was a coffee bar in progress at the back, and a nice seating area for reading or relaxing with friends.

10) The 27 Boxes Park

There is a beautiful public park at the top of 27 Boxes, on the 3rd Avenue side. The plans for this center were approved with the caveat that a significant portion of the property be maintained as public park space, and the developers have come through on that commitment.

people walking in 27 Boxes parkStudents walk through the 27 Boxes park.

This park is beautifully landscaped with indigenous plants and is a perfect place to sit on a bench in the sun and contemplate the universe. I speak from experience on this.

Sitting in 27 Boxes parkContemplating the universe with a cell phone, an energy drink, and a cigarette.

I had trouble narrowing this post down to ten places. Honorable mention goes to XO Cronuts, Studio Facture, and Kidchen Concepts.

Get yourself to 27 Boxes and find your own favorites.

Heather in a dress from Dr. Pachanga

Fashion Makeover with Dr. Pachanga

As I’ve said before, I consider myself to be an unfashionable person. But the longer I live in South Africa, the more fashionable I feel. I find the fashion in South Africa — and Africa in general — more fun than fashion in the United States. (No offense, American fashion designers: It’s not you, it’s me.)

Dr. Pachanga is the embodiment of African fashion I like.

Fashion by Dr. PachangaDr. Pachanga, the last king of Congo.

Handbags from Dr. PachangaHandbags à la Dr. Pachanga.

Dr. Pachanga’s real name is Jean Rene Onyagunga. He was born in Kinshasa but grew up in Durban. Dr. Pachanga is a designer, an entrepreneur, a stylist, an actor, a photographer, and a social media persona.

This photo describes Dr. Pachanga better than my words can.

Dr. Pachanga jumpingDr. Pachanga, aka J.R., aka Doc. “I like to jump,” he told me.

Fashion Spree at Dr. Pachanga

I visited Dr. Pachanga’s shop in 44 Stanley last week to take photos for the Citizen. But somehow I wound up mostly on the wrong side of my camera lens, posing for photos instead of taking them. I also shopped more than I worked.

Heather in a dress from Dr. PachangaI bought this. (Photo by Marie-Lais Emond)

As part of the column she was writing, Marie-Lais asked Dr. Pachanga to “style” us. I was initially nervous. I loved the bright, geometrically patterned poncho-cardigan thing he chose for me, but I was suspicious of the light blue nylon pants. They were sort of tight but sort of loose and had a big bow at the top. Not something I’d normally wear.

But Dr. Pachanga likes to push people outside their fashion comfort zones and who am I to question him. “You’ve got to own it,” he said. So I owned it.

He turned out to be right.

Heather wearing Dr. Pachanga
I’ve been Dr. Pachanga’ed. (Photo by Dr. Pachanga)

I left Dr. Pachanga wishing I could stay all day. Besides the clothes, I just loved everything about being there — the pleasant light in the shop, the unpretentiousness, the color, the fun, Dr. Pachanga himself and his lovely assistant Thembi.

I don’t feel motivated to shop very often, people. When I do feel it, you know that place is on point. Go visit the Doc and you won’t be sorry.

Dr. Pachanga in his shopBy the way, he does men’s fashion too.

Dr. Pachanga is in the 44 Stanley Avenue complex in Milpark.

Papy at Urban Zulu

10 Really Cool Jozi Places I Didn’t Blog About in 2017

I blogged about a lot of Jozi places in 2017. But there are also a lot of places I visited but never managed to write up, for one reason or another.

Lots of these places are really cool and I don’t want their photos to languish forever in my Lightroom catalog. Also, I want you to visit them. So here is a quick rundown of the 10 best places I never blogged about in 2017.

Jozi Places I Should Have Blogged About in 2017

1) Urban Backpackers/Kafe Noir (Joburg CBD)

Urban Backpackers is a youth hostel smack in the middle of the Joburg CBD, at 98 Anderson Street. The ground floor of Urban Backpackers is Kafe Noir, a funky coffeeshop. The rooftop is a bar and party venue.

Heather on the roof of Urban Backpackers
Chilling on the rooftop of Urban Backpackers after the Hi-Tec #WalkMyCity event. (Photo: Fiver Löcker)

Urban Backpackers is owned by Papy Nakuw, a fashion designer who also owns the Urban Zulu clothing label. Papy is impossibly cool. His design workshop is just across the street.

Papy at Urban ZuluPapy at Urban Backpackers.

I like the Urban Backpackers because it’s an unexpected place in an unexpected location. Kafe Noir and the rooftop are generally open to the public but you should call first to be sure.

2) The Royale (Craighall)

The Royale is a Cuban-inspired restaurant, occupying the spot where Warm & Glad used to be. The Royale is notable for its colorful, Caribbean-inspired decor, which seems to be a trend in the Joburg restaurant scene at the moment.

Bar at the Royale in Jozi
The Royale bar.

Hip new restaurants popped up around Joburg at an alarming rate in 2017 — each one more trendy and glamorous than the next. I visited many and blogged about few. But the Royale was one of my favorites. The Cuban sandwich I ordered was tasty and the rum cocktails were strong. When I was there in late November, a speakeasy was in progress in a back room behind the restaurant. Hopefully it’s opened by now.

Royale entrance signNeon sign at the Royale entrance, which I think was designed specifically with Instagram in mind. 

3) Manny’s – Hillside Fish & Chips (Rosettenville)

Manny’s, which is also called Hillside Fish & Chips (I’m not sure which name is paramount but I’m going with Manny’s), is the opposite of the Royale. It’s not new, nor is it trendy. Manny’s has been around for decades and according to my friend Kate, who frequented Manny’s as a kid, it hasn’t changed one bit.

Staff at Manny's - Hillside Fish & ChipsThe staff at Manny’s. I seem to have lost their names but the man isn’t Manny.

I ordered a sandwich frighteningly named “the pregnant prego roll”. I can’t remember exactly what was on it but there was definitely meat (chicken, beef, or maybe both), a fried egg, slap chips (soggy french fries), and a lot of sauce. Maybe some cheese, too. It was delicious and cost R45 ($3.60).

Pregnant Prego from Manny'sThe Pregnant Prego Roll. Perhaps so-named because eating it gives you a food baby.

4) Rio Douro Fisheries (Rosettenville)

Rio Douro Fisheries is a legendary fishmonger and butcher in the South of Joburg. I went to Rio Douro on the same day I went to Manny’s, on a tour of the South with Kate, and intended to write them up together as a #Gauteng52 post. Somehow it never happened.

Rio Douro Fisheries in RosettenvilleRio Douro.

Rio Douro is worth visiting for its large selection of fish, which is a Joburg rarity. Rio Douro also sells lots of interesting Portuguese foods and cooking accessories.

Best of all, Rio Douro has the coolest security guards in town.

Security guard at Rio DouroPatrick, a cool Rio Douro security guard, in front of an equally cool ocean-themed mural.

5) Linden Swimming Pool (Linden)

I also considered including the Linden Pool in #Gauteng52, but I’d already done the Zoo Lake Pool and one Joburg swimming pool seemed enough.

But the Linden pool is particularly cool, first because it’s one of the few indoor public pools in the city and also for its interesting architecture.

Linden Swimming Pool in JoziThe covered Linden Swimming Pool, whose roof looks vaguely spacecraft-like.

Kids playing in the Linden PoolThe Linden Pool is popular on rainy Saturdays.

I visited the Linden Pool as part of a group project called #20Laps, which you can read more about on my friend Ang’s blog, Jozi.Rediscovered. I think Ang’s Linden Pool post is coming up next.

6) Agog (New Doornfontein)

I think I held off on writing about Agog because it’s difficult to describe. It’s a wine bar, whiskey bar, restaurant, and art gallery, with multiple floors and a rooftop with interesting views of downtown Joburg. Agog is part of the Maboneng Precinct, in a formerly industrial section of New Doornfontein.

Marie-Lais and Patrick at AgogMarie-Lais and Patrick, who works at Agog, enjoy a bottle of wine.

Agog’s ground floor is home to Nine Barrels, the wine bar, which features a huge variety of local and international wines by the glass. The middle floors house art exhibitions. The top floor is a whiskey and gin bar.

View from AgogA view to the north from Agog, featuring Ellis Park stadium and an evening commuter train.

Good wine by the glass is hard to find in Joburg, and Agog is the best place to find it. It’s also just a lovely spot to spend an afternoon in the city.

7) Tembisa

Tembisa is a large township in Ekurhuleni, Joburg’s East Rand.

I included Winnie’s Tuck Shop, a kota restaurant in Tembisa, in the #Gauteng52 series. But I never got around to writing about Tembisa as a whole, which I experienced with a local tour guide named Walter Msibi.

Tembisa has an interesting history. It used to be an Afrikaans family farm and there are some buildings still standing from the original farmstead.

Farmer in TembisaA farmer growing cabbages and spinach in the middle of Tembisa, on a plot irrigated from a natural spring. 

I can’t go into Tembisa’s full history here, but I encourage you to book a tour with Walter. His number is 078-248-8598. You can also book Walter through Mozee Tours and Transport.

Tembisa fieldNatural spring water flows through Tembisa.

8) The Stuff We Love (Melville)

The Stuff We Love used to be a vintage shop on 7th Street in Melville. But the owners, Susan and Gwynn, recently closed the shop and went mobile, selling their beautiful clothes at various pop-ups in Melville and surrounds. I visited one such pop-up a few months ago at Poppy’s Restaurant and had an insanely fun time.

Susan and Gwynn of the Stuff We LoveSusan (left) and Gwynn (right) at their Poppy’s pop-up.

Susan and Gwynn are fabulous. The clothes they sell are fabulous. Their customers are all fabulous. And they always have champagne.

Heather in skirt from the Stuff We LoveI didn’t buy this skirt but maybe I should have. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

The Stuff We Love is working on a website so they can sell online. In the meantime, follow their movements on Facebook.

9) Victoria Yards (Lorentzville)

Victoria Yards is also difficult to explain. It’s a brand-new complex in Lorentzville, which is between Bertrams and Troyeville, developed from a sprawl of old industrial buildings. Victoria Yards currently houses artists’ galleries and studios, event space, an urban garden, a chair factory, and a brewery/pizza parlor. There’s new stuff happening all the time.

Victoria Yards in JoziVictoria Yards.

Art gallery at Victoria YardsCrazy chairs at an art gallery in Victoria Yards.

I’ve got a couple of smaller posts planned about various businesses in Victoria Yards, but for now I think the whole place deserves a mention.

10) The Jazzfarm (Lanseria)

I hesitated to include the Jazzfarm as a #Gauteng52 entry because it is not a public place, per se. But it’s too interesting not to mention here.

The Jazzfarm is home to Myrtle Clarke and Jules Stobbs, aka the Dagga Couple. I found my way to the farm with Marie-Lais to do a story about the Dagga Couple’s labyrinth, which is extremely beautiful.

Labyrinth at the JazzfarmA labyrinth is kind of like a maze, except you can’t get lost because there is always just one direction to walk in. I loved it.

The Dagga Couple don’t publicize the location of their farm for obvious reasons. But they do have a Facebook page and they said people are welcome to come by appointment to walk the labyrinth. I recommend this. Also, it’s a great activity to combine with lunch at the nearby Culinary Table.

Thanks again to the friends who accompanied me to these places and especially to Marie-Lais, whose “Other Side of the City” column in the Saturday Citizen newspaper — Marie-Lais writes the column and I take the photos — motivated several of the visits.

There will be many more stories in 2018.

Heather at the JazzfarmFloating around at the Jazzfarm. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

Shoppers at Crazy Groceries

Shopping for “Best Before” Deals at Crazy Groceries

Several weeks ago I was ranting on Facebook about Black Friday. My friend Josef, also an American living in Joburg (in fact Josef and I grew up in neighboring towns outside Baltimore, Maryland), commented he doesn’t bother with Black Friday because he finds way better deals year-round at Crazy Groceries.

Black Friday is a hot Facebook topic, and my rant elicited dozens of comments. But Josef’s caught my attention.

“Crazy Groceries?” I asked. “What’s that?”

I was in for a treat.

Outside Crazy GroceriesOutside Crazy Groceries, in the blandest of bland Joburg shopping centers off Malibongwe Drive in Strijdom Park.

Crazy Groceries is, of course, a grocery store. But it stands apart from other grocery stores in that: 1) everything sold there is non-perishable; and 2) most of the products are past their “best before” dates.

Best before signs in Crazy GroceriesBest before warnings at Crazy Groceries.

As I understand it, “best before” dates are different from “sell by” dates. None of the products at Crazy Groceries are fresh or perishable, hence they can’t actually rot or make you sick just because the best before date has passed.

(Incidentally, there is a lot of debate about sell by dates and best before dates and whether they mean anything at all, ever. Check out this episode of one of my favorite podcasts, 99% Invisible, for more on the subject.)

So some of Crazy Groceries’ groceries are a bit past their prime. So what? We live in a post-ageist society. Old, young, or somewhere in between, the array of Crazy Groceries products is always changing, always new. And best of all, everything is discounted.

Monday Afternoon at Crazy Groceries

Crazy Groceries is slightly tricky to find. Strijdom Park is one of those bland, industrial suburbs on the outskirts of every big city — a busy, four-lane highway flanked by shopping centers three-deep on each side, with street vendors wandering between cars in the traffic selling cokes, hats, remote-control cars, pumice stones, and everything in between.

It took Marie-Lais and me a few minutes to find the tiny Pheonix Centre amidst the Malibongwe Drive melee (luckily Josef told me Crazy Groceries is next to Luv Land — a popular porn shop — and those are always easy to spot), and then a few more minutes to actually manoeuvre through a series of connecting parking lots to reach it.

Marie-Lais and I went to Crazy Groceries because we both wanted to write about it; I hadn’t planned to shop. How naive I was.

Shoppers at Crazy GroceriesA long shelf filled with cleaning products and toiletries in Crazy Groceries.

Christmas-themed toilet paper at Crazy GroceriesA nine-pack of two-ply toilet paper for R44 ($3.50). The same toilet paper at Spar costs R60. I guess it’s a reject because of the Christmas theme, although oddly it is the Christmas season now. And the holiday picture is only on the package, anyway — the toilet roll itself is plain white. I bought one.

The other cool thing about Crazy Groceries is the eclectic international nature of its selection, with lots of imported foods not easily available in normal grocery stores. I spotted cans and jars from the U.S., the U.K., Italy, Thailand, Mexico, and many more.

Mixed pickle from Crazy GroceriesMysterious mixed pickle.

Golden syrup from Crazy GroceriesI have no idea what this is but I like the look of it, and a can costs less than $1.

Apparently Crazy Groceries receives big pallets full of merchandise and they never know exactly what they’ll get. As Josef said, it’s like a lucky packet of groceries.

I like that Crazy Groceries is selling merchandise that would otherwise be thrown away and end up landfills. And I like that it’s a small, family-owned business.

Inside Crazy GroceriesMarlene, behind the counter, is the sister of the owner.

Here’s what I came away with:

What I bought at Crazy GroceriesA nine-pack of toilet paper, two cans of black beans (hard to find in South Africa), a box of Italian pasta, two packs of dried cranberries, a bag of banana chips, 20 off-brand ziplock bags, two toothbrushes, a tube of Colgate, three snack-sized packs of mixed nuts, and a jar of spicy mustard. I spent R204, or about $16.

‘Tis the season when we’re all broke, so there’s no better time for Crazy Groceries. I think they sell school supplies, too. So get out there before everyone comes back from holiday, while the traffic on Malibongwe is less unbearable.

Crazy Groceries is at Shop No. 718 Phoenix Centre, Malibongwe Drive, Strijdom Park. Call +27-11-791-3140.

Colorful handbags at Via La Moda

#Gauteng52, Week 47: Joburg’s Best Handbags (and there’s a sale)

Welcome to Week 47 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit Via La Moda, a workshop producing luxury handbags and other leather goods in Industria.

I can’t believe I named this post “Joburg’s Best Handbags” because in America we call them purses, not handbags. But during my years in South Africa I’ve gradually adopted “handbag” over “purse” (much in the same way I’ve adopted “petrol” over “gas”), because it just sounds cooler and more sophisticated.

And when it comes to handbags, no one is cooler or more sophisticated than Via La Moda.

Colorful handbags at Via La ModaFinely crafted handbags (not purses), made of ostrich leather and python skin, await completion in the Via La Moda workshop.

Before I get into this, I should mention Via La Moda is holding its big annual sale next week, from 30 November to 2 December. (Not on Black Friday, thank goodness. Black Friday is the devil.)

I’m not a big shopper and usually don’t care about sales but I think this one is worth mentioning. These bags are exquisite and not cheap (like, really not cheap at all). If you’re a normal person — i.e., not an Oppenheimer or a Gupta — the sale is your best chance to own a Via La Moda handbag. Read more about the upcoming sale. 

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of visiting the Via La Moda workshop, meeting the founder and owner of the company, and watching big pieces of leather get crafted into beautiful bags.

The Crafting of a Handbag

Hanspeter Winklmayr, who founded Via La Moda in 1989, comes from a long line of leatherworkers. Originally from Austria, Hanspeter’s family has been crafting leather since 1691. His family’s leather business is older than America! I guess it’s no surprise he knows what he’s doing.

Hanspeter in the Via La Moda workshopHanspeter in the workshop, showing us some of his designs.

Via La Moda creates all of its products using ostrich leather, crocodile leather, and python skin. At first I felt a little uncomfortable looking at these animal skins and thinking about where they come from. But then I reminded myself, as I often do, that I am not a vegetarian. Buying leather is no different from eating meat. All of Via La Moda’s leather comes from factory farms that are compliant with strict industry regulations and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

The leather arrives at Via La Moda already dyed, but still in the shape of the animal it came from.

Hanspeter and ostrich leatherHanspeter shows us a piece of ostrich leather. You can see how the piece is shaped like an ostrich. The holes are where the ostrich’s feathers were.

Hanspeter and python skin
A colorfully dyed piece of python skin.

After examining the different leathers we walked through the workshop, watching Hanspeter’s staff cutting, sewing, and hammering the leather into bags, belts, hats, and other accessories.

Crocodile leather becoming beltsStrips of crocodile leather destined to become belts.

Via La Moda workshopThe workshop is beautiful and immaculate.

Worker in via La Moda workshopConcentration.

Hammering leather at Via La ModaI loved watching this lady hammering the leather.

Sewing at Via La ModaSewing.

Making a handbag at Via La ModaWatching the artisans work gave me immense respect for the value of these products. Hanspeter told us it often takes well over 40 hours of work to create one bag. In comparison, a new Volkswagen takes three hours to build.

Final touches at Via La ModaThe final touches.

An Obsession with Python Handbags

Walking around the workshop, I found myself returning again and again to the white and gray python handbags. The texture of the scales was strangely beguiling and I loved the shape and functionality of the bag.

I hardly ever carry a handbag, as my recycled truck-canvas camera bag is perpetually glued across my shoulder. But this python bag…It tempted me. Who would have guessed?

Python handbag
The beguiling python bag.

At the end of our tour we went up to the showroom. I couldn’t find the exact same python bag that I’d seen downstairs, but there was a similar one. The price tag read R30,000. That’s $2154.

Via La Moda showroomThe Via La Moda showroom.

Okay, maybe no python handbag for me right now. But a girl can dream.

Via La Moda is at 19 Banfield Road, Industria North, Roodepoort. Click here for opening hours. And don’t forget the sale — apparently some of the bags will be up to 60% off. Get there early on 30 November; apparently people line up outside in the wee hours of the morning.

Thanks to Laurice at the Johannesburg In Your Pocket Guide for the tip-off about this fascinating place.

Read all of my #Gauteng52 posts and check out the interactive #Gauteng52 map.

Gin and tonic from Cedar Square Night Market

A Visit to Fourways and Some Thoughts on Markets

Joburgers love markets.

I’m not talking about farmers markets or flea markets. In Joburg, the term “market” usually refers to a gathering of eclectic food and craft vendors where people go to eat, drink, shop for specialty products, and to see and be seen. The markets always happen either on weekend days or weekday nights, either weekly or monthly.

These markets are popping up all over the city, and they are very trendy, and for a long time I was judgey about them. I had this idea that all the offerings at all the markets are basically the same, and I couldn’t see the point of going to a market when I can just eat in an actual restaurant or shop in an actual store.

So when I was invited to attend the Stall Night Market at Cedar Square Shopping Centre and write a blog post about it, I hesitated. A night market in the parking lot of a shopping mall, in Fourways? (I’m also judgey about Fourways, exurban land of massive malls and housing complexes.) I wasn’t so sure.

Cedar Square night marketThe night market at Cedar Square.

Then I told myself to stop being a diva and open my mind. So I went to Fourways, to the shopping mall parking lot, to the night market. And I had such a good time.

A Night Out at the Market

I arrived at the market at 5:00 p.m., right when it starts. The first place I noticed was a bakery stall, run by a group of friends who were selling cupcakes and donuts to raise money for charity. The cupcakes cost R10, or about $.70. I bought a peanut butter cupcake and my friend Frances (who I just happened to bump into in the parking lot) chose a chocolate brownie cupcake. They were delicious and the bakers were charming.

Cup cakes from night marketCupcakes.

Cupcake bakersThe adorable cupcake bakers.

After the cupcakes, we moved on to craft gin cocktails. Yes, craft gin is totally trendy and hipster in South Africa at the moment. But that doesn’t mean it’s not delicious.

Making a gin and tonicThe makings of a craft gin cocktail by Eighteen13.

Blueberry gin cocktail at sunsetI chose the blueberry gin cocktail because I thought it would photograph well. I was certainly right. It also tasted very good. It was a pricey drink at R60, or about $4.50, but worth it.

After consuming a cupcake followed by a cocktail, I realized I was having my courses in the wrong order. I said goodbye to Frances, who had another appointment, and decided to wander around for a while to work up an appetite before buying my actual dinner.

I met Winnie Maluleke, who runs a fashion business called Voila Feel Beautiful. Winnie makes amazing clothes and accessories out of recycled T-shirt material.

Winnie from Voila Feel Beautiful
Winnie with one of her beautiful shawls.

Watches from Voila Feel BeautifulI was very tempted to buy one of these watches.

I met Thabs Mtimkulu, who specializes in colorful, tasty sauces. I was keen on the hot pink beet pesto, but eventually walked away with a jar of bright yellow habanero hot sauce. I will definitely be eating some of that on my veggie burger tonight, as soon as I finish this blog post.

Thabs from Culinary on CallThabs Mtimkulu of Culinary on Call.

I met the lady at the Prickly Pear Mexican food stand, who makes something called a “burrito burger”.

Burrito burger from Cedar Square Night MarketBurrito burger. Unfortunately I didn’t have space in my stomach for one of these — I’ll have to go back next month.

My final stop was Ole Smoki, the place I’d been scouting out for my dinner all evening. Ole Smoki, a father-and-son operation, sells massive platters of smoked meat (their specialty seems to be pork but I saw chicken, too) smothered in fried onions and mustard sauce.

Platter from Ole SmokiA “medium” pork eisbein platter from Ole Smoki.

Small platter from Ole SmokiThe “small” platter I ordered, which cost R60 (same price as my gin cocktail, which is kind of crazy). I ate half and just finished the rest of it today.

Some Thoughts on Markets

As I was driving home, I thought about all the interesting market vendors I’d met — how diverse they were and the innovative products they were selling. I thought about how attending markets is one of the best ways to support small entrepreneurs, many of whom can’t afford to open brick-and-morter shops or restaurants.

I also thought about the diversity of clientele I’d seen at the market, and how Fourways is more than just an exurban land of malls and gated complexes. If I lived in Fourways I’m sure I’d be on the lookout for places like this, where I can get out and connect with other people and buy things that might not be available in the strip mall up the road.

Yes, the market is in a mall parking lot and yes, I struggled to keep that ugly Virgin Active sign out of my photos. But parking lot or not, markets are great community gathering spots.

Family eating at Cedar Square MarketA family eats an early dinner at the market.

I was wrong to be judgey about markets. From now on I’m going to more markets.

The Stall Night Market takes place on the third Thursday of every month from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the Cedar Square Shopping Centre in Fourways.

This post was commissioned by the Cedar Square Shopping Centre. Opinions expressed are mine.

Salmon sushi at La Marina

#Gauteng52, Week 41: Fresh Fish at La Marina Foods

Welcome to Week 41 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit La Marina Foods, a fish and specialty food supplier in Modderfontein.

Marie-Lais and I drove into a bland office park in Modderfontein. We blew right past La Marina Foods the first time, asked directions twice, and eventually made our way to an imposing metal gate. Is this place really open to the public? I thought. It looks very warehouse-like from the outside.

But the security guard opened up for us. We parked, stepped inside, and found ourselves in a culinary dream world.

La Marina deli and fish counterThe La Marina deli.

La Marina is first and foremost a food supplier — mostly seafood — supplying restaurants and hotels all over Joburg and South Africa. If you live in Joburg you’ve probably driven past many La Marina delivery trucks without noticing.

But La Marina also has a retail shop and deli, again mostly seafood, but also selling cheese, meat, and exotic packaged foods from all over the world.

The food at La Marina made me really, really happy.

Kirsten Jooste, owner of La MarinaKirsten Jooste, owner of La Marina, in front of the retail shop.

Dried mushrooms at La MarinaExotic dried mushrooms for sale.

Fresh sea bass from La MarinaFresh sea bass.

Behind the Scenes at La Marina

Marie-Lais and I took an in-depth tour at La Marina, donning hairnets and white lab coats before venturing into the huge warehouse/factory area at the back. We watched bright pink salmon being filleted and gazed longingly at massive wheels of cheese.Salmon fillet
This guy knows how to slice a fish.

Stacks of cheese at La MarinaStacks of cheese in the dairy storage area.

In the retail shop I found my favorite craft vinegar from Stellenbosch and my favorite tortilla chips from Midrand, among many other exciting things. There’s a nice mix of both local and international foods. Manager Henry Fourie says La Marina has a policy not to refuse any food order, no matter how exotic. If they can find a food, anywhere in the world, they’ll order it and stock it.Pretty pasta at La Marina
Rainbow-striped pasta hats imported from Italy.

And then there was lunch. This was by far the best part of my visit to La Marina.

Marie-Lais and I shared a salmon sushi platter, followed by a massive cooked seafood platter that we could only half finish between the two of us. It was the best fish I’ve eaten in South Africa.

Salmon sushi platter from La MarinaNot only was this the best salmon sushi I’ve ever eaten, it was also the cutest. I’ve made this photo the lock-screen image for my phone because it’s impossible to look at it without smiling.

Seafood platter from La MarinaThe seafood platter, which includes hake, calamari, mussels, halloumi cheese, french fries, and enormous Mozambican prawns. The calamari was my favorite.

An 18-piece salmon sushi platter costs R180, or about $13. The seafood platter costs R320, or $23, and is more than enough for two people. (Full disclosure: Our lunch was on the house, which goes against my normal “no freebie” policy for #Gauteng52. But how could I say no to this?) La Marina also serves oysters and sparkling wine.

Don’t be put off by the office park or warehouse-like exterior. La Mariana is a serious lunch destination (although only during the week and until noon on Saturdays) and well worth a journey to the East Rand.

If you like seafood, please go. And bring shopping bags as you definitely won’t get out of there empty-handed.

Sushi from La MarinaOne more angle. Because smiling sushi.

La Marina Foods is at 7 Platinum Drive in the Longmeadow North Business Park, open Monday to Friday from 8:00 to 4:30 and Saturday from 8:00 to 12:00. Call +27-11-608-3277 or email

Read all of my #Gauteng52 posts and check out the interactive #Gauteng52 map.

Hindu temple in Marabastad

#Gauteng52, Week 38: Exploring Marabastad

Welcome to Week 38 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit the Pretoria suburb of Marabastad.

Marabastad, like Sophiatown and District Six, has a history that can exist only in South Africa.

A suburb of Pretoria just west of the city center, Marabastad has always been a multicultural neighborhood populated mostly by Indian and black South Africans. The area experienced forced removals during the 1940s and 50s, when everyone was forced to move out and people of different (non-white) races were relocated to various townships outside the city.

Building in MarabastadA Marabastad street corner.

Muti shop in MarabastadA traditional medicine (muti) shop in Marabastad.

Unlike Sophiatown and District Six, much of Marabastad was never demolished and the people who were forcibly removed continued to do business there. (There’s a decent Wikipedia entry about Marabastad, although the history section peters out after about 1950. Read more about Marabastad here.)

Marabastad was supposedly named for the Ndebele Chief Maraba, who headed a village of the same name in the 1880s. Even today, Marabastad is the place where Ndebele artisans (like the women I wrote about a few weeks ago) come to buy beads.

Which brings me to the reason for my visit: After my recent beading class at piece, Beauty and Eugenie invited Marie-Lais and me to tag along on one of their bead-shopping missions to Marabastad.

Marabastad Today

Marabastad is what South Africans would call “hectic”. It’s noisy and chaotic and haphazard. Marabastad includes a frenetic shopping area called the Asiatic Bazaar, similar to Joburg’s Oriental Plaza but far less orderly, where you can buy African fabric, pots and pans, cheap Chinese toys, fruits and vegetables, traditional medicine, and everything in between.

And of course there are beads.

Glass beads for saleColorful glass beads for sale at Kalbro.

Our first stop was a shop called Kalbro on 11th Street. Harish, the owner, says Kalbro has been open since his grandfather’s time — more than half a century ago.

In additional to piles and piles of colorful glass beads, imported from the Czech Republic, Harish sells African fabric, blankets, pots, walking sticks, and all the other items given as gifts (lobola) in traditional South African marriages.

Spears, pots, and other items for sale at Kalbro in MarabastadPots, spears, and various traditional weaponry at Kalbro.

Shangaan fabric for sale at KalbroBeautiful Venda fabric.

Busy counter at KalbroThe busy shopping counter at Kalbro.

Harsha Kalan, owner of KalbroHarish Kalan, third-generation owner of Kalbro. Note the Ndebele and Basotho blankets behind him.

Beauty and Eugenie bought some silk beading thread at Kalbro, then we walked through the Marabastad maze to another shop called Makkie, Shop D4 in the Asiatic Bazaar.

After some discussion with the manager, who wasn’t too keen for me to take photos at first, I finally received a green light.

Beauty inside MakkieBeauty (center) peruses the merchandise.

Selinah and beadsSelinah, who has been working in this shop for 35 years, shows me some lavender beads.

Selinah and YasinSelinah and her colleague Yasin, who decided to model some necklaces for me.

From Makkie, our band of four women tramped all around Marabastad — up and down various streets, through the fruit and vegetable market, and a final stop for Beauty to buy mopane worms at an outdoor stall.

Mopane worms in MarabastadMopane worms (in the buckets on the right), a type of caterpillar, are a southern African delicacy. They are bought dried, then eaten as is or boiled and topped with sauce. I can’t stomach them, mainly because of the caterpillar-y texture.

The Mariamman Temple

Back in the car, we drove a few blocks to Marabastad’s most famous landmark: The Mariamman Temple. The temple was built in 1905 and is stunningly beautiful and completely incongruous with its surroundings.

Mariamman temple in MarabastadThe Mariamman Temple, surrounded by minibus taxis.

Beauty and I tried to get inside the temple but alas, we had no luck. This area is what South Africans would call “dodgy” and we couldn’t really hang around waiting for someone to let us in. Hopefully I’ll be able to go back another time and get better photos.

The Mariamman Temple is at 23 6th Street in Marabastad. If you want to explore Kalbro and other Marabastad shops, 11th Street is as good a place to park as any. Be sure to hold on to your valuables and be well aware of your surroundings while walking in Marabastad.

Read all of my #Gauteng52 posts and check out the interactive #Gauteng52 map.