A food safari through Mayfair

Mayfair food safari

The chef at Burhan’s Butchery and Kebab House carves schwarma meat from the spit outside the restaurant.

Mayfair, a bustling suburb west of downtown Johannesburg, is South Africa’s culinary frontier. Immigrants – mostly from the Muslim world – have been trickling into Mayfair for decades, bringing food from Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

If your stomach has the capacity, it’s easy to spend the better part of a day eating your way through Mayfair. It won’t cost much: Mayfair’s restaurants and cafés offer extremely affordable fare. Best of all, Mayfair provides an opportunity to interact with a diverse group of new South Africans, many of whom are happy to share their fascinating stories.

Mayfair’s dining highlights include:

Taste of Turkey: Burhan’s Butchery and Kebab House

This traditional kebab joint is easy to spot – just look for the sign featuring a huge red Turkish flag. Burhan’s has a twirling spit outside the entrance, manned by a chef carving off chunks of shawarma meat. The menu is simple and carnivore-friendly: kebabs, meat platters, pides (Turkish pizzas), Turkish coffee and tea, and insanely delicious baklava.

79 Church St. Tel: +27 11 025 1123

Turkish coffee and baklava from Burhan's.

Turkish coffee and baklava from Burhan’s.

Very Veg: Shayona

Shayona, a vegetarian Indian restaurant across from Burhan’s, is managed by Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), an organisation that is part of the Swaminarayan sect of Hinduism. There is no meat served at Shayona, nor is there any onion or garlic, which Swaminarayans believe is unclean. There’s plenty of flavourful curry though and spicy masala tea. Shayona also includes a small vegetarian grocery store and a large Indian sweetmeat counter.

74 Church St. Tel: +27 11 837 2407

Vegetarian samoosas and hot piping-hot pickle at Shayona.

Vegetarian samoosas and hot piping-hot pickle at Shayona.

Coffee and Cake: Ebrahim Qaxwo

Looking for an alternative to Jo’burg’s plethora of hip “coffices” serving single-origin beans in bland, wifi-enabled settings? Head to Ebrahim Qaxwo (Qaxwo means “coffee” in Somali). When Ebrahim Ali’s panel-beating shop was destroyed during the 2008 xenophobic violence, he abandoned the business and opened a coffeehouse. The walls of Ebrahim’s shop are covered in Somali memorabilia and the pavement is scattered with plastic tables and chairs that Ebrahim makes with recycled tyres. The Somali coffee is strong, sweet and spicy all at once, accompanied by moist Somali spice cake, coconut cookies, and fried bread (similar to the Afrikaans “vetkoek”) called “kackac”.

47 Somerset St. Tel: +27 82 367 9590 or +27 11 050 0192

Mayfair food safari

Ebrahim Ali inside his colourful coffeehouse. All images by Heather Mason.

Palestinian Paradise: King Arabic Sandwich

Mohammed and Hanan, husband-and-wife owners of King Arabic Sandwich, fled Palestine about two years ago and started a new life in Jo’burg with their two young daughters. They work long hours in their tiny restaurant, crafting delicately spiced pastries and other Palestinian specialties. The pastries, which resemble sandwiches or pies, sell for between 20 and 30 rand and are surprisingly filling, best accompanied by a steaming cup of Palestinian herbal tea.

Cnr Hanover St and 9th Ave. Tel: +27 74 292 6191

Note that Mayfair is a primarily Muslim neighborhood and most restaurants do not serve alcohol.

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