Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Taste of Johannesburg

Lekgotia Sandton City JohannesburgFor all the travel I do, I had not visited the Middle-East or the African continent until now. Last weekend I flew Emirates and got into Johannesburg on a bright, sunny morning. While the city itself is no different from other modern cities, as you begin to look closer you see the electric fencing and notice the signs proclaiming Armed Response on perimeters of every gated residencial colony you pass by. Violent crime seems to be a real thing here. On the positive side, all the South Africans I met were friendly, fun-loving people and very hospitable. As an Indian visitor, it was also fun to see sports pages devoted to IPL even when the country is preparing for the FIFA World Cup! It was a revelation to see so many South Africans of Indian origin, who came here as traders or indentured labor many generations back.

As for the foodie, Johannesburg has much to offer. I found South African food very exciting - they have brought together influences from their European, native African and Indian heritage and created a cuisine that's very appealing indeed. South African food is a delight for lovers of meat and spicy food - some of the stuff I tried were fiery even by Indian standards!

Intercontinental Sandton TowersDuring the four days I spent here, I stayed at the Intercontinental Sandton Towers in Sandton City, a posh commercial and residential suburb of the city. Wanting to try something exotic, I picked the Loin of Gemsbok from the menu for lunch at the hotel. Googling quickly from my Blackberry as I sat at the table, I discovered the gemsbok to be a large antelope common in this region.

Loin of Gemsbok at the Intercontinental Sandton TowersMy lunch arrived soon. The meat was grilled to perfection with a peanut and ginger basting that was heavenly - bringing together the Malay influence in their country. The hasselback potatoes and wilted boy choy in spiced olive oil went perfectly with the splendidly done meat which was robust, gamey and very flavorful.

BiltongOn another day, after a full quota of meetings and events, my host introduced me to the local Castle beer and another comfort food ubiquitous here - the Biltong. Biltong is air-dried meat and similar to beef jerky but far more tasty. While Biltong is made of a variety of meats including ostrict, the one I tried was beef which was quite addiction forming I must say!

African drums in JohannesburgJohannesburg owes its origins to the mining industry. South Africa witnessed a gold rush to Witwatersrand (from where the local currency got its name) in 1886 and eventually led to the creation of Johannesburg. This region alone has accounted for almost 40% of all the gold mined in the world until now! Castle beer was founded to cater to the tastes of the miners and prospectors and has been popular ever since. Biltong and Castle beer - no better combo at the bar to wash away your tiredness at the end of a busy day.

Lekgotia JohannesburgUpscale dining places are aplenty in Sandton City, Johannesburg - all within walking distance of the Intercontinental. I walked out of my hotel and into the nearby Nelson Mandela Square home to some of the largest shopping malls and restaurants. A large bronze statue of Mandela dominates the square.

For a taste of Africa, there is no better than Lekgotia. Drummers, staff dressed in African clothes and face painting make for an exotic dining atmosphere. Local wines abound in their celler: South Africa has a rich tradition of wine that dates back to the 17th century. Much of it comes from areas in and around Cape Town.

African music at LekgotiaGoing with my hosts' recommendation, I settled for a carpaccio of Springbok and an entree of Beef Fillet. The springbok is a gazelle that is also the national animal of South Africa. I was also introduced to the pap, a porridge made of coarsely ground maize topped with a fiery savoury relish of peppers and vegetables called Chakalaka.

Carpaccio of springbok at Lekgotia
Chakalaka on pap at LekgotiaThe springbok was interesting, but it was the Beef Fillet that was really fantastic! Extremely well-seasoned, the meat was tender and a medley of flavors and textures on the palate. The pap and chakalaka made the meal even more satisfying. I had ordered a pepper sauce for the steak which added to the spice level! After all that meat and starch, I just couldn't find place for a dessert. :)

Beef Fillet at LekgotiaOn another night, I walked into Montago Bay located in the same area. The outdoor seating looking out on the Square and candles on the tables made for a lovely ambiance after sunset. Montago Bay specialized in seafood and their menu straddles sushi and local creations with equal panache.

Montago Bay Sandton City Johannesburg
Seafood display at Montago BayI started with the popular Knysna Bay oysters, freshly shucked and served on a bed of ice with green and red Tabasco, coarsely ground black pepper and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Doesn't get any better than this, especially on a lazy evening with a tall glass of chilled Castle.

Knysna Bay Oysters at Montago Bay
Castle Beer at Montago BayThe entree that followed was as terrific. Fresh line fish perfectly blackened in Cajun spices and served with rice and creamed spinach. This dish was another hit with me. A must have in my next trip to this food-loving city. As I look back at the food I sampled in this city, I can't remember anything I tried that I didn't like.

Fresh Line Fish in Cajun Spices at Montago BayAnother much recommended restaurant I didn't have time to sample is the Butcher Shop & Grill right opposite Lekgotia. This is a must for steak lovers or those looking to sample game meat in Africa.

Soon, this city is going to flooded with soccer lovers. For the foodies amongst them, there is going to be a double bonanza waiting - quality soccer and fantastic food!

Coming Next: I was here first! - A tour of the National Stadium where the FIFA World Cup 2010 will kick off in June.


Aathira Nair said...

"Fresh line fish perfectly blackened in Cajun spices and served with rice and creamed spinach. " Sounds so yummy.. I am a total killer for well made seafood!

beaverboosh said...

Love SA, and the food and wine!

Shantanu said...

@Aathira: Tasted even better! :)

@Beaverboosh: Now, so do I!


My my

Shantanu said...

@Harekrishnaji: :)

@Lydia: Thank you.