Street Food in Downtown Johannesburg? I wish

The only time I’ve ever been a bit nervous while traveling somewhere was at twelve years old, when I was with my family in Cincinnati, Ohio; that was marginally more unpleasant than getting followed around Tangier, Morocco for an hour, if only because I prefer usually couscous to chili  (Link thanks to skyline chili).

Fast forward to January 2011, alighting the Gautrain from Johannesburg O.R. Tambo Airport in Sandton, a leafy though exceedingly dull business, shopping and hotel district, where many of the originally downtown-located companies relocated to in the 1990s.  Apart from a few West African natives hawking masks, t-shirts and your car keys, this wasn’t quite the Johannesburg, the dilapidated, seedy, don’t-stop-at-red-lights Johannesburg I wanted to see.  My goal was the downtown/CBD (central business district), and my ride was the minibus.  The asinine guidebooks warn travelers (I’d posit those of the lighter-skinned variety) that there’s no reason to check it out, and like ANYWHERE ELSE, try to blend in.  Well, I’m…not sure how I could blend in, but that was the least of my issues.

‘Twas a good vintage

For each day of the few days I was in town, Hillbrow and its minibus terminus were my go-to points  (Link thanks to google maps).  Although two other goals were met, those being the observation deck of the Carlton Centre and hopping on a Metrorail from the main train station, I really just wanted to walk and eat.

It appeared to me that around Hillbrow, every few city blocks was composed of an African region’s or country’s expats; there was an Ethiopian/Eritrean bloc, a Senegalese section, a Nigerian flock, and a DRC ‘hood, to name a few.  Textiles and grey market goods were the usual, and food from those parts of the continent were on offer as well; granted, it isn’t street food, but the notion deserves a photo:

Injera with Lentils, Beets and a Few Question Marks

On the whole, the street food in Johannesburg city center (not just in Hillbrow) was a grand disappointment.  I reckon after living in East Asia most places would not come close to variety, abundance of actual vendors and hours doing business, of course, if you aren’t much of a fan of food from that part of the world anyway, perhaps you’re just as sated by red-paint popcorn in Rio de Janeiro, sheep face in Marrakech or giblets and clay in Jo’burg  (Link thanks to thekitchn.  Oh, don’t those last two options sound riveting?:

Have you heard of pica?

Although it was a bit of a downer, I only scratched the surface of expatriate neighborhoods of the downtown.  Barring an actually successful visa application to Angola or either Congo, I’d definitely be intrigued to revisit.

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6 Responses to Street Food in Downtown Johannesburg? I wish

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  3. Pingback: Street Food in Sub-Saharan Africa - FlyerTalk Forums

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