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south africa

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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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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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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Mom on road trip in South Africa -- Route 62

The Ultimate Mother-Daughter South African Road Trip

As you may already know, my mother and I took an epic road trip from Cape Town to Joburg. I called it the #2SummersSARoadTrip. Our road trip route (roughly) between Cape Town and Joburg. I’d been wanting to do this for years: Take a full week to drive at a leisurely pace between South Africa’s two largest cities. (In case you’re curious, it takes about 15 hours to do this drive straight through.) There are many different routes to take but we chose a simple one, heading east from Cape Town through the Langeberg and Swartberg Mountains, northeast through the Karoo desert, then straight north through the grassy Free State back to Joburg. We spent two nights in the Robertson Wine Valley (one in McGregor and one in Ashton), one night in Oudtshoorn, two nights in Mountain Zebra National Park (outside Cradock), and drove the rest of the way home from there. As I mentioned previously, I hired a car for this trip through Around About Cars. Mom and our cute little white car, on Route 62 between Montagu and Barrydale. I can summarize this entire post in just seven words: South Africa is a fu*%ing beautiful country. The Naudesberg […]

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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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Rooiberg wine from Robertson Wine Valley

Two Days in the Robertson Wine Valley

After our epic two-day journey on the Rovos Rail, my mother and I embarked on an epic weeklong road trip from Cape Town to Joburg. Our first stop was the Robertson Wine Valley. Before I start talking about wine I need to give a shout-out to Around About Cars. Renting cars normally gives me huge anxiety, but Around About Cars was so easy to deal with and we couldn’t have made this journey without their assistance. Also we loved our little white car, which was perfect for wine country photo-ops. The Zandvliet Wine Estate and our cute car, which took us from one end of South Africa to the other. Anyway, back to the wine. The Robertson Wine Valley is about two hours north of Cape Town, consisting of about 50 wineries in and around the towns of Ashton, Bonnievale, McGregor, and Robertson. (This area is also commonly referred to as the Langeberg.) I’ve been wanting to visit for ages and I thought this would be a great time to do it because Mom loves hanging out in small towns. I was right. I love Stellenbosch and Franschhoek but Robertson has a totally different vibe — homier and more casual. […]

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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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Rovos Rail train outside Matjiesfontein

Living It Up on the World’s Most Luxurious Train

I took a ride on the Rovos Rail. The Rovos Rail, which bills itself as the world’s most luxurious train. I don’t consider myself a “luxury travel” writer. I generally blog about everyday places and things I happen to be doing anyway, or things I could at least conceivably afford to do if I wanted to. But every once in a while I receive an invitation to do something so luxurious and fantastic and magical that I simply can’t say no, because it would mean turning down the opportunity of a lifetime. Such was the case for my trip on the Rovos Rail. The Rovos describes itself as “the most luxurious train in the world” and I have every reason to believe this. I rode the train for two days and two nights, from Pretoria to Cape Town, and I can’t imagine how the trip could have been much more luxurious than it was. The old-school Rovos Rail cars on a brief stop outside Matjiesfontein, Western Cape. The best thing about my Rovos Rail experience was I could invite a plus-one. So I invited my mom and it was an offer she couldn’t refuse. Convincing Mom to leave warm, sunny South […]

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