On the edges of the Johannesburg Central Business District, you will find the area of Fordsburg. With an interesting history, the area has gone through many cycles of renewal and degradation. Emerging from one such cycle, the area is now home to a thriving immigrant food culture. On just one block you can find Pakistani, Turkish, Palestinian, Indian, Syrian food courtesy of the immigrants who have set up shop in Fordsburg. SHAAZIA EBRAHIM and FATIMA MOOSA went exploring in Fordsburg with empty bellies and open minds.
We started off at Mandi Palace on 48 Park Drive. A huge sign outside the restaurant reads “Mandi Palace. Authentic Arabic Braai.” If you’re looking for Yemeni food, you’ve come to the right place. Mandi is a Yemeni meat and rice dish, cooked with a blend of spices called Hawaij slow-cooked in an underground pit. Biryani for who? Of course, you’ll also find a selection of other dishes on the menu including lamb haneed, chicken curry, and masoub (a Yemeni banana bread pudding). Once we managed to tear ourselves away from Mandi Palace, we were ready to walk.
From Mandi Palace on Park Drive, we walked left onto Albertina Sisulu Road. After the Mint Road robots, we found Taj Mahal BBQ on your left hand side.
Taj Mahal BBQ
Don’t be fooled by the modest interior of Taj Mahal BBQ. The small restaurant, which features makeshift, outdoor grills and plastic tables and chairs, is busy from as early as 10:00. By lunchtime it’s teeming with hungry customers, all waiting to get a taste of the spicy chicken tikka. A quarter chicken tikka meal at Taj Mahal can cost you as little as R20! But we carried on walking, it’s time for something sweet.
House of Baklava
Rows and rows of delicious syrup soaked pastries greet you as you enter the House of Baklava. The popular Turkish sweet treat in all its different forms line the counters of the store. There are round ones and square ones and all different delicious shapes. The store might be relatively new – it’s only been around since November 2017 – but it seems to be an established part of the fabric of Fordsburg.
Wandering around the store and looking at all the interesting baklavas and desserts will make you feel like you’re walking down a street in Istanbul. There’s even a wide selection of purely South African snacks like dried fruit and meerbos if baklava isn’t your vibe. Lined on the wall shelves are olive oils and Palestinians spices to give the shop a cosmopolitan mix.
Walking out of the shop, our next stop was for Pakistani sweet stuff.
Lahore Falooda Palace
The first thing that catches a person’s eye when they walk by the Lahore Falooda Palace is a huge round machine. This machine contains smaller containers in which malai kulfi is made. This is a type of ice-cream eaten in South Asia. Ali, the owner of the store told us that he made the machine himself as it isn’t available in South Africa. While the store’s main draw is definitely the ice-cream which is delicious in any flavour, they also make many other Pakistani desserts – all freshly made daily. If you have a sweet tooth, you won’t be leaving the store anytime soon.
If you’re a fan of meat, our next stop was the place to visit.
House of Shawarma
Syrian fast food shop House of Shawarma has stood on the corner of Central and Albertina Sisulu Street for seven years now. The owner says he doesn’t cook, he sells Syrian fast food. “Nothing cooking, only fast food here,” he says when we ask what’s cooking. The restaurant has big rotisseries where meats are being slow-cooked. When you order a shawarma, your pita bread will be stuffed with salads, pickled vegetables, hummus, yogurt and the succulent meat — or falafel if you’re not a meat-eater. The restaurant also has fresh juices and laffa bread (Middle Eastern flatbread) served with chocolate or cinnamon, coconut and syrup for dessert. Ali says everyone loves the food at House of Shawarma, and it isn’t difficult to see why.
If the dessert at House of Shawarma didn’t whet your appetite, we have a treat in store for you. All you have to do is cross the road to the other side of Albertina Sisulu Road.
When you step into Shalimar Delights, its an assault on the senses from the gleaming display of colourful sweetmeats to the smells of cardamom and rose syrup in the air. Boasting freshly prepared Pakistani and also some Indian sweetmeats, Shalimar Delights has stood on its shop corner on Albertina Sisulu Road since democracy. There’s all the popular sweetmeats including burfee, chana magaj and jalebi. Everything is made using ghee and milk, and lots of patience, love, and dedication. Just looking at the intricacy involved in creating the confections is an adventure.
Enough of sweets, it’s time to cross the road to Amaan for some Palestinian fare.
On the corner of Albertina Sisulu and Central road, we walked into the Palestinian restuarant Amaan. The restaurant which is next to the Orient Hotel has a very dim and intimate interior. Even at 11:00 on a weekday, the restaurant had about three families sitting down to enjoy the food. From chicken to pides and more, the restaurant has something to satisfy every palate. Their drinks menu is particularly interesting with fresh juices and milkshakes which are the perfect thing to accompany the yummy food.
Dosa Hut has been around since 2010 but in the past couple of years the restaurant has really become popular. It could be because South Indian food isn’t really available in the area but we think it’s because the food is so delicious. Their speciality is the dosa of course. The dosa is a kind of Indian pancake made from rice flour. It is served with a variety of chutneys and soups. However, the dosa doesn’t even cover half of the delicious dishes on the menu at Dosa Hut. From curries to meat dishes to thalis (a selection of small portions of different dishes) the menu is extensive.
And don’t forget to leave room for the lassis and Bombay Crush drinks to soothe away any of the spiciness of the food.
Leaving Dosa Hut, we headed down Central Road, past a barber/beautician and grocery store to Turkey.
Istanbul Restaurant is a little hidden gem in a smaller square on Central Road. Walking to the restaurant, we passed a man making tea. He told us that he makes a fresh pot every 15 minutes which shows the popularity of his chai. At the back of the mini square is the Istanbul restaurant. The owner told us his shop has been open since 2012. He started the business which has another branch in Rivonia because his family told him there was an opportunity to make Turkish food in South Africa.
The restaurant has many items on the menu like the Turkish version of pizza called pide and all different kinds of kebab. According to the owner the doner kebab is the most popular. If you visit the restaurant in the winter, you’ll be able to get a delicious bowl of lentil soup as well. Outside the restaurant is a selection of baklava and kunefe which makes for an excellent palate cleanser.
If any of the restaurants aren’t your flavour, there are plenty of amazing street vendors selling delicious street foods like parathas, curries, and tea.
Fordsburg has changed over the past decade but one thing that has remained the same is that is still has so much to offer. We suggest you arrive hungry because you’ll certainly be in for a treat!