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south africa

Inside Urbanologi restaurant

Urbanologi: My Number One Date Night Restaurant

Many of you read my previous post about the interesting experiences I’ve had recently on Tinder and other dating apps, and my plan to start a business helping people improve their dating app profiles. In conjunction with that I’m starting a series of posts about my top recommendations for Jozi dates. First up: Urbanologi. I have mentioned Urbanologi briefly on this blog but never devoted a full post to it, which is inexcusable because it’s one of my favorite high-end restaurants in Joburg. In fact it might be my very favorite. And Urbanologi is definitely my number one Jozi date night recommendation for people who are adventurous — in both the places they go and the food they eat. Urbanologi is downtown, which always feels like a bit of an adventure (although the location in Joburg’s 1 Fox Precinct is totally safe), the restaurant’s decor is the perfect combination of edgy and classy, and the food is innovative, beautifully presented, and insanely flavorful. Urbanologi is also vegetarian-friendly. And did I mention the drinks? Urbanologi shares its space with Mad Giant Brewery, which makes some of the best craft beer in the city, and also offers a great selection of wine. […]

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Savory dishes from TJIPS

This Is the East: TJIPS in Eastgate Mall

Sixth in an occasional blog series called This Is the East, featuring hidden spots on Johannesburg’s East Rand. A few weeks ago I saw some photos of a plate of chips — fries, to the Americans among you — on Instagram. These were no ordinary chips. They were beautifully presented, sprinkled with colorful sauces and herbs, and I could taste them right through my phone. My mouth literally watered. A couple of clicks told me these chips come from a place called TJIPS in Eastgate Mall. (Eastgate is the pre-eminent sprawling Joburg mall of the East.) The Eastgate food court is not the first place I’d expect to find a high-end, gourmet chip shop. I was intrigued all the more. Within minutes I was DM-ing with Jaron, the TJIPS’ founder, arranging a visit. The Story of Slap Chips Before I continue, I need to explain about slap chips. Slap chips (pronounced something like “slahp tchups”) are basically soggy fries — a South African staple food. Apparently slap chips originated during South Africa’s gold mining era, when miners ate a lot of fish and chips and food stalls sloppily fried huge quantities of thick-cut potatoes in massive vats of cheap cooking oil. The […]

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Looking up at Ponte City

That Time I Climbed Ponte

Let me tell you about that time I ran to the top of Ponte City. Every few months Dlala Nje and Microadventure Tours co-host the Ponte Challenge, which invites people to gather at the bottom of Ponte City at a very early hour and run or walk 54 storeys to the top. Last month I finally made the event and I (mostly) ran to the top. It really wasn’t that bad. Running Up Ponte City Here’s how it worked. I arrived at Ponte just before 7:00 on a Sunday morning, parked in the garage, and went up to the Dlala Nje headquarters on the ground floor to register for the race. The race costs R150, or about $10. (Dlala Nje is a Ponte-based nonprofit organization that runs tours of the surrounding area and community activities for kids.) I should mention, for anyone who doesn’t already know, that Ponte City is 100% safe. Yes, it was once a notoriously crime-ridden building but that was 20 years ago. Today Ponte is legally occupied and a joy to visit. Search my blog for other posts about Ponte — I have several. There were 30 or 40 of us there, laughing nervously and wondering […]

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Margherita pizza from Coalition Pizza in Pineslopes

The Best Margherita Pizza in Joburg (or maybe the world)

A million years ago, I remember reading Eat, Pray, Love and getting to the part when Elizabeth Gilbert has a religious experience while eating a Margherita pizza in Naples. And I thought: Someday I too will go to Naples and eat a pizza like that. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still love to go to Naples. But now that I’ve eaten a Margherita from Coalition Pizza in Joburg, the pressure is off. I’m sure I’ll get lots of comments from people who have eaten pizza in Naples, disputing the title of this post. And I realize I don’t know what I’m talking about. But seriously, people: Have you been to Coalition and ordered the Margherita? If not, go do it now and then we’ll have a conversation. I’ve been eating at Coalition since it opened in Rosebank a couple of years ago (although inexplicably I never blogged about it other than a brief mention in a post I wrote about cocktails). I loved Coalition’s pizza from day one but it never occurred to me to order the Margherita. Why get a pizza with only tomatoes, basil, and cheese when there are so many other toppings to choose from? Then a […]

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Chili sauce vendor in Maputo at the Mercado Central

15 Quirky Things to Do in Maputo

I spent six days in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Two friends joined me for the last two days but the rest of the time I was alone. Other than booking my flight and accommodation and buying a guide book — the Bradt Travel Guide for Mozambique, which has a short and rather disappointing chapter on Maputo but was helpful nonetheless — I made zero plans before going. Once there, I continued making zero plans and just wandered around looking at things. I realized Maputo is one of the most underrated travel destinations in Southern Africa (perhaps surpassed only by Johannesburg), especially for people who like cities. Maputo is cosmopolitan, with incredible food, history, architecture, art, and culture. There aren’t many cities like that in this sparsely populated corner of the world. Here are the top 15 quirky places/things I discovered in Maputo. This list is by no means comprehensive. Read to the end for a few tips about visiting the city. My Favorite Things in Maputo 1) Architecture Quirky architecture is everywhere in Maputo. 2) Museu De História Natural de Maputo (Museum of Natural History) This is one of the strangest museums I’ve ever visited. The building is stately […]

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Alexandra Township cycling group in front of the Alexandra Heritage Centre

Not Cycling Through Alexandra Township

I recently found myself not cycling on a cycle ride through Alexandra Township. I was supposed to cycle, but there weren’t enough bikes and it was blazing hot and when someone suggested I ride in the Jeep that was escorting the riders and take photos through the open top, I gladly accepted. The bike ride was hosted by Art Affair, a tiny art gallery and studio in Alex’s East Bank that also serves as an events venue/community gathering place. Artist and cycling enthusiast Mxolisi Mbonjwa owns the gallery and organized the ride together with Bicycle Stokvel. I’ve visited and blogged about Alex many times. (You can browse all of my Alex posts here.) I don’t want to belabor this point. But if you live in Joburg and have never been to Alex, please go. Alex is a five-minute drive from Sandton but many Joburgers are afraid to even drive past it due to Alex’s reputation for poverty and crime. In fact, Alex is quite easy and safe to visit as long as you go with someone who knows their way around. And it’s one of the most important parts of Joburg historically, being the first township in Joburg and the […]

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De Bakery windmill on Van Riebeek Avenue in Edenvale

This Is the East: The Windmill of Van Riebeek Avenue

Fifth in an occasional blog series called This Is the East, featuring hidden spots on Johannesburg’s East Rand. On a busy stretch of Van Riebeek Avenue in Edenvale, amidst hair braiding salons and car stereo places and dusty old bookshops, is an authentic, nearly full-sized Dutch wooden windmill. Inside the windmill is a Dutch pancake house and below it is the best Dutch bakery in Joburg. De Backery was founded by a Dutch family in 1963 — originally a small, single-story bakery. The place became popular over the years and continued to expand, with people coming from all over Joburg for its bread and pies and pastries. In the 1990s De Backery’s owners looked into commissioning a neon sign shaped like a windmill but eventually decided to build an actual windmill instead — a 3/4-sized replica of the Zeldenrust windmill in Gronigen, Holland. That’s when De Molen (“the Windmill”) Pancake House was born, inside the windmill on top of De Backery. The vanes even turn when there are no customers on the balcony. Breakfast on the Windmill Breakfast on a windmill — what more do I need to say? We sat on the balcony overlooking the busy street, feeling the breeze and […]

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Loretta Chamberlain, owner of Yukon House in Bezuidenhout Valley

Afternoon Tea in Bezuidenhout Valley

Bezuidenhout Valley, aka Bez Valley, feels like a forgotten suburb. Once home to wealthy Johannesburg socialites, the area has declined in recent decades. Many of Bez Valley’s stately old houses have been abandoned or fallen into disrepair. But Bez Valley maintains its sense of history. You can feel it while driving or walking its tree-shaded streets. Johannesburg’s oldest house is here and a few other historical landmarks remain. Yukon House is one of them. Yukon House was built between 1906 and 1911 and was home to two Johannesburg mayors in the early 20th century. The house suffered periods of neglect as it changed ownership over the years (read this article about the theft of its priceless stained glass windows) but its current owners, Loretta and Henry Chamberlain, have lovingly restored the mansion back to its original glory. I’ve been meaning to visit Yukon House forever but it’s not open to the public all the time. So when I heard Kennedy of Micro-adventure Tours was hosting a historical tour there — including afternoon tea, my favorite meal — I jumped right on board. Tour and Tea at Yukon House This isn’t your average historical house tour. Loretta and Henry live at […]

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Inside the Artivist in Braamfontein

Artivist: Braamfontein’s Must-Visit Art Bar

In Braamfontein there is a tiny, tree-lined street called Reserve Street. It’s more of an alley really, in a block created by Jorissen and De Korte Streets to the north/south and Melle and Biccard Streets to the east/west. Beams cross over the street, draped in vegetation, creating the illusion of a mini-forest in the middle of this noisy city neighborhood. On this alley/street is a place called Artivist. Happy Hour at Artivist I call Artivist an “art bar”, but it’s really a restaurant/bar/art gallery/music venue. I went early on a Thursday evening and found a nice smattering of guests, a friendly and talented bartender, tasty African snacks, and a thought-provoking exhibition by Zimbabwean artist Kudzani Chiurai. There’s a balcony above the bar with space for more art, and a secret music venue below — called the “Untitled Basement” — hosting regular jazz performances and other hip musical events. (Artivist’s owners, DJ Kenzhero and Bradley Williams, are current and former DJs.) Since the legendary Orbit Jazz Club is now closed (sob), I’m so happy there is another Braamfontein music venue to fill that void. Braamfontein is inhabited by thousands of university students, but William the bartender says Artivist is geared toward […]

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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. 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. A […]

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Loof Coffee in Norwood

My Favorite Jozi Coffee Shops: Loof Coffee in Norwood

This post, featuring Loof Coffee, is the seventh in an occasional series about my favorite coffee shops in Joburg.  Many years ago I wrote a blog post called Norwood: Almost as Awesome as Melville. I continue to stand by my proclamation that Norwood is the second-coolest Joburg suburb. But that old post has become woefully out of date. So I recently took a walk up and down Grant Avenue with Brett McDougall, Norwood’s informal ambassador, to refresh my Norwood knowledge. We started our tour at Loof Coffee. Breakfast at Loof Coffee Loof Coffee has everything a great coffee shop should have: bright and cheerful atmosphere, friendly service, tables full of locals, dogs, delicious coffee beans roasted in Joburg, and nice food. I loved everything about it. Basically Loof is perfect. If I lived in Norwood I’d probably go there every day. What’s a Loof? I actually met Loof Coffee’s owner during my breakfast but I forgot to ask him how Loof Coffee got its name. I googled the word just now and found some interesting definitions. From Merriam-Webster: “chiefly Scottish: the palm of the hand” From Urban Dictionary: “Fool backwards. You say loof because it sounds a lot better than fool. But, it basically means the same; […]

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Finishing process at the Workhorse Bronze Foundry

Casting Bronze in the Heart of the City

I’m stating the obvious here, but making art is hard. Writing words, shooting photographs, painting paintings, printing prints…It’s all freaking difficult. But sculpting sculptures — especially sculptures made from white-hot molten metal that turns into rock-hard bronze — at least logistically speaking, might be the trickiest of all art forms. I never thought about how bronze sculptures get made, just as I never think about how iPhones or microwaves or railroad bridges or pencils get made. They’re just amazing things created by people way smarter than me, put on this earth for my consumption. Then I visited the Workhorse Bronze Foundry and gained a whole new appreciation for the creation of this type of art. I went to Workhorse last week as part of the Long March to Freedom art walk. Several of the Long March to Freedom sculptures were made there, and it was cool to follow the path of these historic bronze figures that I’ve now visited several times in different locations. More generally though, it was cool to visit the place where so many of South Africa’s great sculptors make their art. The Workhorse Bronze Foundry The first interesting thing about the Workhorse Foundry is its location, […]

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