South Africa’s two biggest cities have a long-fought case of sibling rivalry. But while beachy Cape Town may have won in the looks department, Johannesburg remains the business capital of the entire continent, giving it a pan-African cultural edge that wine farms and penguins can’t beat.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the city’s fast-evolving food scene. Overshadowed for years by Cape restaurants, drunk on views and international awards, Johannesburg’s restaurants have been quietly developing behind everyone’s backs.
Sub-Saharan cooking has never sparked an international hype in the way Asian or European food cultures have, which is one of the reasons why Johannesburg performs so woefully on those ubiquitous “best restaurant” lists.
But away from the forgettable white tablecloth establishments of the northern suburbs, the inner-city streets are rammed with Somali and Eritrean cafes, Mozambican piri-piri joints and Ghanaian restaurants, all serving a mix of spicy prawns, injera with chicken and baasto – the sticky, Somalian version of pasta.
“Jo’burg is a big, exciting, modern African city,” says Anna Trapido who along with Mpho Tshukudu co-wrote South African food guide, Eat Ting. “You can go to an Ivorian restaurant at 2 am or spend your afternoons exploring Little Ethiopia.
“It’s a lovely melting pot, but you have to be prepared to think outside the box – you might be in a former brothel with wobbly chairs, but if the food is good then that’s all that counts.
African chefs and mixologists are also now choosing Johannesburg as the launch pad for their new ventures. Coco Reinharz is from Burundi and recently opened Epicure in Sandton – a rum-focused bar and restaurant that sells food and drinks from around the diaspora, including Haiti and the Caribbean.
Read more: Indipendant-Johannesburg food
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