Browsing Tag

this is the east

Bacon-avo burger from Hodad's in Edenvale

This Is the East: Hodad’s of Edenvale

Seventh in an occasional blog series called This Is the East, about hidden spots on Johannesburg’s East Rand. This edition features Hodad’s, a locally owned fast-food joint in Edenvale.

I love supporting small, locally owned businesses that do their jobs better than big, international corporations. Hodad’s in Edenvale is a perfect example of this.

Hodad's restaurant on Van Riebeek Street in Edenvale.
Hodad’s on Van Riebeek Avenue in Edenvale.

Why would you buy a bland, assembly-line-style burger and fries from McDonald’s or Burger King when you can buy the same meal — only way better — from a charming, independently owned shop for basically the same price?

Hell if I know. Go to Hodad’s.

Hodad’s, Born in Edenvale

Hodad’s is owned by a guy named Dylan, who used to work for Nando’s (a South African fast-food chicken restaurant) and hence ate chicken for lunch almost every day. After work Dylan often craved a good beef burger, and he went everywhere looking but couldn’t find one to his liking. Dylan swore to himself that if he ever opened his own restaurant, he would serve the best beef burgers in town.

Dylan, owner of Hodad's, and his staff.
Dylan and his staff. Dylan was in the kitchen making burgers on the day I visited.

In 2014 Dylan opened Hodad’s, on a friendly little food strip in Van Riebeek Avenue, Edenvale’s main drag. And although Hodad’s does serve flame-grilled chicken, like Dylan’s old employer, burgers are their specialty. I ate one and it was delicious.

Hodad’s offers a large selection of burgers, with toppings like mushroom and bacon and avocado and biltong. They also offer a Mexican burger with jalapeños and a Dagwood burger with a fried egg on top.

I ordered the bacon-avo burger, which in addition to bacon and avocado has tasty fried onions and a light coating of mayo and barbecue sauce. (I used to hate how South African burgers always come with sauce on them — I prefer to add my own ketchup. But nine years after moving here, the South African burger sauciness has finally started to grow on me.)

Burger and fries from Hodad's.
My meal. The burger cost R60 (about $4) and the side of chips was R17 (about $1).

Hodad’s has friendly service, nice branding, and a pleasant atmosphere — far more pleasant than your average fast food joint. There’s a TV on the wall, and a group of young guys was watching soccer while I was there. I liked that the staff weren’t bugging the guys to leave even through they were only drinking Coke and not eating.

I also liked the fact that I watched a delivery guy walk in to drop off a cardboard box full of vegetables for the kitchen. You’d never see that at McDonald’s. Clearly Hodad’s uses local produce and supports other businesses in the area.

Decor in Hodad's
I’m guessing Dylan’s wife, whose name I forgot to ask, has something to do with the particularly pleasant vibe in Hodad’s.

Hodad’s serves breakfast, affordable toasted sandwiches, salads, milkshakes, and all the other usual South African fast food items. It’s the perfect place for a quick, affordable meal. When are you coming to Melville, Dylan?

Hodad’s is at 65 Van Riebeek Avenue, Edenvale. Call 081-737-7903 or follow them on Instagram.

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.

Chips with
Chips sprinkled with parmesan and black truffle mayo.

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 chips got soggy quickly and hence became slap chips.

TJIPS’ chips, however, are not of the slap variety. In fact TJIPS’ motto is “more klap than slap”. “Klap” is an Afrikaans word meaning “hit”. In other words, TJIPS’ chips are so crispy and tasty, they’ll klap you.

I love how TJIPS is building upon the story of South African slap chips. For a more in-depth explanation of how TJIPS got started and what the chips are about, read this article in the Daily Maverick.

A Potato-filled Lunch at TJIPS

Jaron gave my friend Megan and me six different TJIPS dishes to try.

Savory dishes from TJIPS
The first round: truffle chips (bottom left), chips topped with buffalo wings (top left), and the “El Supremo” chips with guacamole, sour cream, salsa, and jalapeños.
TJIPS with wings
Closeup of the chips and wings. I loved the sauce and seasoning on this dish.
“The Joburger”: A gourmet cheeseburger over chips. The sauce a classic pink sauce, popular on South African burgers.
Chips with sauce from TJIPS
Saucy chips: One order served with Thai peanut sauce and curry ketchup, one with pink garlic mayo and sriracha mayo.

I really loved these chips. The chips themselves were perfectly prepared — not too skinny, not too fat, and crispy and well seasoned. We also learned from Jaron that a lot of research and thought has gone into where TJIPS sources its potatoes from — not all potatoes are the same.

The topping combinations are so fun and tasty. My favorite dish was the parmesan chips with black truffle mayo — simple, luxurious, and delicious. The buffalo wing chips and Mexican style chips tied for second. The buffalo sauce was tangy with just the right amount of spice, and the salsa on the Mexican chips was one of the best salsas I’ve had in South Africa. I could tell a lot of thought and care goes into the selection of every ingredient.

The dishes range in price from R29 for plain chips to R100 for the chips with black truffle mayo.

For dessert we tried the chips topped with Paul’s Homemade Ice Cream and caramel sauce.

Ice cream over chips.
Yes, it’s true: chips topped with ice cream.

I posted the photo above on social media and was surprised by the numerous extreme reactions it received. Lots of people seemed put off, even offended, by the idea of chips and ice cream together. I don’t understand why — I love salty/sweet combinations. And didn’t you ever dip a French fry into your chocolate milkshake at McDonalds?

Anyway I thought the chips and ice cream tasted great together, especially combined with the caramel sauce. Although I confess I loved the savory combinations more. When I go back to TJIPS (and I’ll definitely go back) I’ll probably go for the truffle mayo or Mexican chips.

Eastgate Mall is TJIPS’ only location for now. But TJIPS will soon be spreading beyond the confines of the East. Follow their Facebook and Instagram feeds for announcements about new shops opening up in the near future.

My lunch at TJIPS was complimentary. Opinions expressed are mine.

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 Bakery windmill on Van Riebeek Avenue in Edenvale
De Backery and De Molen Pancake House in Edenvale.

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.

De Backery’s entrance on Van Riebeek Avenue.
The whole place is filled with charming Dutchy things. I don’t know who this guy is but I admire his tiny waist.
Famous Backery pies.

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.

Tables inside the molen/windmill.

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 eating pancakes and pies and drinking coffee. It was a perfect East Rand Saturday morning and I wish I could have stayed there forever.

I had the Dutch apple pancake with bacon, topped with honey.
Kevin’s breakfast: steak pie and chips with gravy. Also delicious.

De Backery is a worth a trip to Edenvale, no matter where you live. Go this Saturday and get there early before the best pastries sell out.

Even the bill is charming.

De Backery is at 47 Van Riebeek Avenue, Edenvale.

O' Peri Peri restaurant in Edenvale

This Is the East: O’ Peri Peri of Edenvale

Fourth in an occasional blog series called This Is the East, featuring hidden spots on Johannesburg’s East Rand.

The original inspiration for my “This Is the East” series was a giant tub of peri peri chicken livers ordered from O’ Peri Peri, a Portuguese restaurant in Edenvale. Back then I vowed to eat a sit-down meal at O’ Peri Peri and write a proper post about it. Now I’ve finally done that.

O' Peri Peri restaurant in Edenvale
O’ Peri Peri.

A Brief Discussion of Peri Peri

Before I proceed, I need to explain peri peri and the significance of Portuguese food in South Africa.

Peri peri — which means “pepper pepper” in Swahili — is an informal term for the African Birds Eye chili. The Portuguese were introduced to this blazing hot chili pepper centuries ago, when they began colonizing East Africa. Peri Peri became a staple flavor in Portuguese cuisine and the African cuisine entwined with it.

Peri peri, which is usually served as a sauce on chicken or prawns, is very prevalent in Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony. (The hottest meal I have ever eaten was a piece of peri peri chicken at a beach resort near Vilankulo, Mozambique. I will never forget the searing pain that enveloped my mouth that night.)

Peri peri is also huge in South Africa, which has large populations of Portuguese and Mozambicans who migrated here during the wars in Mozambique and Angola. Portuguese restaurants are everywhere in this country, especially in Joburg.

Peri peri eventually rose to worldwide prominence thanks to Nando’s, a wildly popular South African food chain serving Portuguese-Mozambican food.

Dinner at O’ Peri Peri

O’ Peri Peri is a classic East Rand neighborhood joint. It’s in a strip mall with indoor-outdoor seating spilling out onto the parking lot. The restaurant is cheerful and nicely decorated, like your grandmother’s kitchen. The menu is authentically Portuguese (at least according to me, someone who has never been to Portugal). The portions are generous and the prices are cheap.

Inside O’ Peri Peri.
Portuguese-inspired decor.
O' Peri Peri takeaway
The takeaway area, which has a giant, smiling chili pepper hanging in the window.
O’ Peri Peri’s homemade “Porra” sauce. (Porra is slang for Portuguese.) The side of the bottle reads: “If it’s too hot, it’s too late!” I totally get that.

There were so many authentic-sounding Portuguese dishes on the menu, most of which I’d never heard of. I chose at random and ordered Febras no Prato, which is marinated and grilled pork medallions with a fried egg on top.

I added some of the Porra sauce — you shake up the bottle to mix the red and green sauces and then pour it out. The pork was perfect and the Porra sauce was just the right level of hotness for my tastebuds.

I decided to be healthy and order vegetables instead of chips (fries) — a mistake because this creamed spinach was hardly healthy. Oh well, it was delicious.
This aerial shot provides a nicer view of the fried egg. Nice Guy Kevin, my dining companion, ordered a giant platter of meat. Because he is South African and This Is the East.

O’ Peri Peri is not fancy, it’s just good. I challenge anyone to go there and not have fun. This Is the East.

O’ Peri Peri is at the corner of Harris and Wagenaar Streets in Edenvale. Call 011-023-8949. Note O’ Peri Peri is closed on Sundays.

Pasta from Cremalat

This Is the East: Cremalat

Third in an occasional blog series called This Is the East, featuring hidden spots on Johannesburg’s East Rand.

Cremalat, like many great food places in the East Rand (a.k.a Ekurhuleni), is hidden behind the gates of a bland industrial complex, in a location that’s hard to describe. The place itself is hard to describe as well.

Outside Cremalat
Cremalat, a little bit of Tuscany inside the Greenhills Industrial Estate.

In this case the complex is the Greehills Industrial Estate, in a suburb called Elandsfontein, which is kind of close to Bedfordview but also close to Germiston. Cremalat is kind of a shop and kind of a distributor and kind of a restaurant. It’s hard to visit Cremalat if you have a nine-to-five job and don’t live in the East Rand, because it’s only open during office hours and for a few hours on Saturday.

Despite all these challenges, Cremalat is worth making time for. Because pasta. And because cheese.

Cheese counter at Cremalat
The cheese counter at Cremalat.
Pasta display.

Cremalat started out as two Italian-South-Africans — a husband and a wife — selling Italian cheese in a little stall at the Bryanston Organic Market. Eventually they expanded the business and opened a shop in Kensington. Then they expanded again and opened the current store in Greenhill Industrial Estate. Eventually the owners added a small restaurant, La Cucina, which serves an innovative Italian-style menu. Read the whole story on Cremalat’s website.

Lunch at Cremalat

I first went to Cremalat — the name is a combination of the words “crema”, Italian for cream, and “latte”, Italian for milk — years ago, when I was doing some research on hidden places in the East Rand. The work was for another client so I couldn’t blog about it at the time.

Then I forgot about Cremalat until recently, when my friend Fiver called me a in a frenzy of excitement about the amazing panettone (Italian Christmas cake) she’d found there.

We went for lunch last week and I couldn’t believe how nice Cremalat looked and how good the food was.

Menu board in La Cucina at Cremalat
The specials board at La Cucina in Cremalat.
Inside the Cremalat restaurant
It’s such a beautiful little restaurant.
Pasta from Cremalat
Lunch at Cremalat: “Pasta with chorizo and prawns, served in a juicy Napoletana sauce and a hint of harissa chili pepper sauce”. This was a truly scrumptious creation, with large quantities of chopped sausage and prawns, for the very reasonable price of R115 ($8.40)

I was feeling broke (Janu-worry and all that) so I didn’t buy anything in the shop. But Fiver bought half-price panettone and I admired all the beautiful baked goods and cheese. Most of Cremalat’s products are imported from Italy but they also make their own cheeses (some of which are award-winning) and meats.

Cremalat baked goods.

Don’t miss Cremalat the next time you find yourself near the Greenhill Industrial Estate.

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 Eastfeaturing 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”.

Welcome Rock race fansA 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 driving around the trackCars cruising around the track during an exhibition lap in the middle of the day.

We spent a lot of time wandering around the racetrack and the “pit”, where all the drivers and their crews hang out and work on the cars between races, just trying to take everything in. Ang and I spent much of the day pondering how out of place we felt and why. (Ang will write about this feeling a lot more in her piece.)

But the main thing I want to communicate is the electrifying, gut-churning, eardrum-piercing thrill of watching a whole bunch of souped-up, fire-breathing race cars speed around an asphalt loop.

Family watching the Hot Rod Championships at Rock Raceway A family watches the cars race by. I envied those little boys for their headphones.

Hot Rod Racing in Brakpan

There was a lot of downtime between races, when nothing much happened and we felt a little bored.

But during the races, when 20 or so helmeted drivers (some of whom were teenagers, some of whom were women, and some both) dressed in fire-retardant jumpsuits rounded that loop again and again, jostling for space in a tight clump of fluorescent-colored, low-slung, ad-smeared metal machines, Ang and I stared in awe.

Cars racingCars racing.

Pink and yellow racecarThis beautiful pink and yellow car was driven by a 17-year-old woman.

The noise. It’s impossibly loud — like standing next to a speaker at a rock concert but way louder than that. The noise penetrated my skin and reverberated through my bones.

The cars collided, slid off the track, sent up huge clouds of dust, caught on fire, and sometimes jumped right back into the race. I saw one car lose its bonnet (the hood, for the Americans among you) — like it just flew off as the car was driving — and keep on going.

Cloud of dust after a car slid off the trackA cloud of dust flies up after a car slides off the track.

Cars drive byImpossibly loud cars.

I had no idea what was going on. I don’t know who won any of the races or how fast the cars were driving. I didn’t much care and I still don’t.

But I would make the long drive back to Brakpan tomorrow — I’d go again and again and again — to experience that thrilling, bone-jangling, adrenaline-soaked feeling all over.

Cars racing at Rock Raceway

Racecar and beautiful light

Read Ang’s story about our visit to Rock Raceway on her blog, Jozi.Rediscovered.

The Rock Raceway is on Main Reef Road in Brakpan.

Bread from Croydon Bakery

This Is the East: Croydon Bakery

Welcome to an occasional blog series called “This Is the East”, featuring hidden spots on Johannesburg’s East Rand. First up: the Croydon Bakery.

Some background:

A few weeks ago, a nice guy named Kevin presented me with a takeaway container of peri peri chicken livers from O’ Peri Peri in Edenvale. I had been expecting a small portion — maybe four or five livers — with some sauce and a few chips (fries) on the side.

Instead I received: 1) A plastic tub the size of an unabridged dictionary containing the livers of at least a dozen chickens swimming in half a gallon of sauce; 2) A large bag of “slap chips” (South African term for soggy french fries — oddly delicious) too big for me to hold in one hand; and 3) two large rolls combining to the size of a small baguette. All for R70 (about $5).

I stared at the pile of food. “How will I eat even HALF of this?!” I cried.

Kevin cocked his head, spread his hands wide, and said: “This is the East.”

If you’re from Joburg then you know what he meant. If not, let me explain.

“The East” is the East Rand, aka Ekurhuleni, aka Joburg’s far eastern suburbs. The East Rand is its own municipality and many East Rand towns — Benoni, Brakpan, Springs — are far from from the city, too far to even be considered suburbs. (Joburgers often joke you need to take your passport with you to the East Rand.)

But there is something quintessentially Joburgian about the East, filled with sprawling shopping malls and crumbling Art Deco buildings and eccentric people and divey food joints. The East Rand, like Joburg but also in its own specific way, is grimy and charming and weird.

I’ve always liked the East and lately I’ve been spending a bit more time there. Hence, this series.

The Croydon Bakery

Croydon is a small suburb between Edenvale and Kempton Park, right next to O.R. Tambo International Airport. The Croydon Bakery stands proudly in a sprawling parking lot next to Brabazon Road, surrounded by run-down offices and apartment buildings and a liquor store and a Chicken Licken.

Outside Croydon BakeryCroydon Bakery.

Inside Croydon BakeryInside the bakery.

I arrived at the Croydon Bakery on a Monday afternoon, starving, with nice-guy-Kevin. We bought two pies — one chicken and mushroom, one pepper steak. (South African pies are not like American pies. Usually they are savory, not sweet, and served in individual portions. A pie is a classic South African fast-food lunch.)

Croydon Bakery piesPies at Croydon Bakery.

We also ordered a piece of “apple slice”, which is also kind of like a pie but not.

Apple slice from Croydon BakeryApple slice: Like apple pie, but not.

It was all delicious.

I fell into a chat with the Croydon Bakery’s owner, Tim Moustakis. He told me the bakery is 38 years old, opened in 1980. Tim runs the bakery with his son, Jimmy.

Tim and Jimmy, owner of Croydon BakeryTim and Jimmy.

The Croydon Bakery serves coffee and has a couple of small tables for eating in. If you find yourself near the airport and craving a pie (or an apple-pie-like slice), give it a try.

Croydon Bakery is at 90 Brabazon Road. Call 011-974-4549.

Bread from Croydon Bakery