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.
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:
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?:
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.