If you are looking for harmony in the Middle East there is at least one place you are guaranteed to find it - in the food. The crossroads between Africa, Europe and Asia has - for centuries - been the site of a flavour exchange, resulting in national variations of similar themes and ingredients. Across Joburg you'll find an array of restaurants and small cafes serving authentic hummus, falafel, shaskshouka, Turkish kebabsand other classic Middle Eastern dishes. Here's our pick of some of the best.
GALATA BAKERY AND COFFEE
A charming bakery and café tucked into the corner of The Grove square in Braamfontein, this Turkish family-run business offers authentic Turkish cuisine at affordable, student-friendly prices. Try the Turkish Breakfast, a veritable feast for one, which includes menemen (Turkish-style scrambled eggs), gozleme (a traditional Turkish flatbread) as well as side dishes of cheese, tomatoes, olives and honey. Wash it all down with the strong Turkish tea that accompanies all breakfast orders.
BABA G ROTISSERIE AND DELI
Named for the Middle Eastern aubergine dish babaganoush, Baba G is a small rotisserie chicken takeaway spot tucked into Illovo's Post Office Centre that specialises in Afro-Mediterranean flavours. Try the Middle Eastern style rotisserie chicken (whose crisp skin is thick with fragrant herbs and lemon), the Marrakech couscous salad with roasted vegetables, herbs, sultanas, a sprinkling of feta and Baba G's homemade preserved lemon and make sure to order a few super soft 'pillow breads' to wrap it all up with. Baba G's druze-style flatbreads (typically associated with the Israeli-Arab minority Druze people) are made fresh with your order.
Not strictly a Middle Eastern restaurant, this fantastic art deco-inspired spot on Melville's 7th Street is a shrine to the free-range egg, just about any way you like it. Most people come here for the legendary green or red shakshouka, novelly placed atop a Yemeni flatbread, which is probably the most popular dish on the menu.
KING ARABIC SANDWICH
This humble bakery and café run by a Palestinian family has the best falafel in town. You can also choose from delicious pies, shawarmas and stuffed pita breads (‘Arabic sandwiches’), and look out for traditional daily specialities like maklooba and qedrah, a kind of Arabic biryani (note specials are not served every day). Find them at their cafe in the gritty downtown neighbourhood Mayfair or visit their stall at weekend markets Neighbourgoods, Market On Main and Rosebank Sunday Market.
EAT YOUR HEART OUT
Try the latkes (potato rostis) with a range of toppings or the excellent schwarma salad and order a freshly pressed juice to go with it. The decor of this intimate little eatery is inspired, and constantly evolving - a collaboration between innovative T-shirt designer Love Jozi and top fashion label Black Coffee. Tables along the pavement with witty “tochas” cushions (derived from the Yiddish word for bum) offer a great view of Maboneng’s cool streets and activity.
If Middle Eastern food is all about the Turkish kebab for you, travel to Fordsburg’s Istanbul Kebab for a dizzying array of halaal cooked meats which you select from the butcher counter to be roasted and served with fresh salads and dips. Service here is friendly, there’s hookah pipes aplenty and a covered courtyard with space for small people to run around in.
TEI AVON SCHWARMA BISTRO
Satisfy your hunger with the schwarma on a plate with side salads, hummus and tahini (carb-free or with warm pita bread) and the best fried eggplants in town. This is the real deal. Cosy dark wood interiors and free wifi make this a very attractive stop in an otherwise nondescript mall in Victory Park, especially if you have room for a dessert of homemade halva and pistachio ice-cream.
For the best shakshouka breakfast (a dish of poached eggs cooked in a spicy tomato sauce, and said to have originated in Tunisia) there’s this pretty cafe in Illovo serving generous portions of food that would bring comfort to any troubled soul. Other must-try’s are the vanilla-infused kitka French toast with mascarpone, halva and toasted almonds or the New York-Jewish classic Reuben Special of brisket on rye.
If schwarma is what you are after there’s the generally packed and fully licenced, Schwarma Company set across two storeys on Norwood's main street. Feast your eyes on towering displays of olives and other Middle Eastern staples. Choose your lamb, chicken or beef schwarma on a platter, in a pita or a laffa with plenty of sides or opt for something else off the large menu like a Ful Medames (a traditional Egyptian dish of mashed beans with cumin, garlic and lemon juice) or falafel.