#MyJoburg with Nick Hamman, radio DJ

28 Apr 2024
In our #MyJoburg series, we speak to people who add something unique to Joburg's creative mix and get the lowdown on what enthrals them about this city.

Nick Hamman is a South African storyteller and award-winning radio DJ. He’s most popularly known for hosting the Afternoon Drive Show on 5FM. Recently he’s been making the people of Joburg hungry as they follow his food adventures through the city on Instagram. Constantly in search of Joburg’s best food, Hamman shares what he finds along the way, using the platform to inspire South Africans to travel through food and influencing people’s perceptions of South African communities. So far, he’s searched for the best burger, steak sandwich, bunny chow, chisa nyama, and samoosa – just to name a few. The list is long and delicious. We spoke to him to find out more and to learn about the Joburg he calls home.
Nick Hamman on his search for the best steak sandwich. Photo: Nick Hamman via Instagram.

You're on a mission to discover some of the best food in Joburg. Tell us about this.
To me, food is just a conduit to culture; a delicious pathway into the lives of others. I've spent the better part of the last decade in Johannesburg exploring the people, places, and hidden gems that make it a truly cosmopolitan city, and I still don't feel like I've scratched the surface. For instance, Chinatown in Cyrildene offers a vibrant tapestry of Asian cultures, from Chinese to Thai, Korean, and more. Exploring these eateries isn't just about tasting delicious dishes; it's about delving into the traditions and customs of each culture and understanding the significance of ingredients and cooking methods passed down through generations. Then, if you explore Fordsburg you'll encounter the aromatic spices and flavors of Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine. Just by crossing the street, you can go from a Syrian to a Jordanian to a Turkish restaurant. Then you have all the South African and African cultures, Greek, Portuguese, and so much more. When humans travel to a different part of the world, they bring their culture with them, and with that culture comes food. I know I've seen more than many, but I still feel as though my adventures are only beginning. Countless stories are waiting to be discovered, flavours waiting to be savoured, and cultures waiting to be embraced.

"There's an energy to this city that's hard to describe unless you've experienced it."

Two standout meals? 
The quarter chicken and chips for R50 from Amaan in Fordsburg. Amaan is a Jordanian restaurant run by three brothers and the food is a beautiful blend of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean culinary traditions. Secondly, Chong Qing Hot Pot restaurant in Cyrilldene. If you're looking for a great Joburg east vista with the bustling streets of Chinatown below, I'd recommend a visit. The food is epic! Choose your hotpot ingredients based on your preference, make your own dipping sauce, and prepare your food with friends.
Chong Qing Hot Pot restaurant in Cyrilldene. Photo: Chong Qing Hot Pot via Instagram.

The food-related place you always return to in Joburg?
Inside the Oriental Plaza in Fordsburg is a homeware store that has been there since the '70s called Angamias. About 20 years ago, Ahmed (the father of the family-run business) got into coffee and started making it at the store. The coffee is really good and I'd highly recommend the masala coffee for something different. Be sure to add some sugar.

Most underrated food joint in Joburg?
I really believe that you need to risk a bad meal to have a good one. Plenty of places that look like holes in the wall serve both the best and at times worst food. I constantly take risks, some of which have led to the best experiences. For me, an underrated spot is Masha Allah in the Somalian community of Mayfair in an area known as Little Mogadishu. It's more of a canteen-styled eatery than a restaurant and if you're going it's important to respect the culture you're coming into, so do your research and follow the customs. I'd recommend the goat if you go.

The most memorable meal you have eaten in Joburg?
The Grub Lord burger from Grub Worx in Soweto, a restaurant that is the brainchild of Tiyani Maluleke. After the pandemic forced him to become entrepreneurial, Tiyani was inspired to bring quality burgers to his neighbourhood, an area not historically known for burgers. He's a deep soul, with great ambition and ideas. The burger is a 100-gram pure beef patty, one chicken fillet, one deboned rib patty, red onion, pickles, BBQ, and their secret self-made burger sauce. So cow, pig, and chicken all on one burger. The reason it was so memorable was that after posting a video about Tiyani's story, we helped turn his business around almost immediately. He has now become successful enough to open up a bigger store on new premises, which to me is the most rewarding thing ever!
The Grub Lord burger from Grub Worx. Photo: Grub Worx via Instagram.

You've recently also set out to find the best sports clubs in South Africa? 
There's just something charming about a sports club. It could be the sense of history you feel from the cluttered nostalgia on the walls, the sense of community you get from the sports teams coming in and out of practice, or the locals fixed to their regular seats at the bar. Whatever it is I really enjoy it. I also think sports clubs are important to the community and many do decent, well-priced food and drinks. My local hangout is Pirates in Parkhurst, but I'm looking forward to getting out and seeing more. People are welcome to send me any suggestions they have.

Where is your favourite spot in Joburg to get in some steps or reps in between the indulging?
I'm really lucky to have Candice De Mendonça aka The Fitness Hybrid as my trainer. We get together with our friend Craig at his home gym in the mornings to work out. Otherwise, I love running, although I've been bad of late. Delta Park is one of my favourite places to go for a jog.

"I really believe that you need to risk a bad meal to have a good one.​​​​​​​"

You travel often for work. What is it about Joburg that makes you excited to come back after a trip?
There's an energy to this city that's hard to describe unless you've experienced it. To me, it comes from the fact that nobody is really from here. Most residents can trace their roots back to a different part of the country, continent, or world. It creates a culture of hustle, which can be quite alluring. It can also make people friendly and approachable. There is, of course, also a downside to this exact phenomenon, but choosing to focus on the good makes the city something I have come to love and miss when I'm away.
Coffee from Angamias at the Oriental Plaza. Photo: Angamias via Instagram.

What is a surprising thing people might learn about Joburg by having a conversation with you?
As someone who explores the world for work and pleasure, I am constantly going on missions and adventures. One interesting tidbit that most tours like to include is that Joburg is one of the few major global cities in the world that was built without a major natural water source. The main reason major development started here is because of the gold in the ground. That's where the city's story starts. Gold is in some way responsible for all of what is bad and good about the city.

Home is…
Wherever my wife Sarah and our two dogs Willow and Bailey are.

Your favourite Joburg suburb, and why you choose it?
I don't have one, but if forced to pick I'd say Fordsburg. It just has everything about the city that I love. From the outside looking in it is the victim of a lack of service delivery and all the ills of a neglected inner city. But when you get to know it for what it is you see it's a beautiful expression of culture and community, rich in story and personality, and easily has some of the best food in the world. Its history is intertwined with the city, right back to the days of the gold rush. It has experienced all major turning points in history from the Rand Revolt to segregation to democracy, and today it's a living consequence of all of these things.
A city skate tour from Curiocity Backpackers. Photo: Supplied

What three things should a visitor not leave Joburg without seeing or experiencing?
It depends on the individual. The exciting thing about Joburg is that it has so much to offer. When friends visit I typically curate itineraries based on what they're into. As an entry-level experience, I would recommend that someone start with the major things the city is most known for and take it from there. One, Soweto. The area and its people's contribution to the country's history alone make it worth the stop. Two, Sandton. It's what some say is the richest square mile in Africa. It has a sense of opulence and energy that you don't really see anywhere else in South Africa. Three, Maboneng. Although unfortunately, the cracks are already starting to show, this place is an example of an attempt to gentrify the inner city. It's a living example of all the ways that can be a good and bad thing, and it has plenty of spots worth checking out. You can also do a skate tour with City Skate Tours from Curiocity Backpackers, which will give you a good sense of the city's past and present. This would be a good starting point for how to begin to try and understand the city: its past, present, failures, and successes.

Your favourite Joburg author or favourite Joburg book?
Literature, Life & Cricket – Tales of Fietas by Yusuf Chubb Garda and The Joburg Book by Nechama Brodie

One song on your Joburg soundtrack that either is about Joburg or makes you think about this city?
Grazing in the Grass by Hugh Masekela.

If you could buy one Joburg building, which would it be?
Johannesburg City Library. It's an 88-year-old building that closed in 2021 and despite promises of re-opening, it has yet to. Public libraries, especially in places like Johannesburg, play a crucial role in providing access to information and educational resources as well as safe spaces for people from different backgrounds and walks of life. I would buy it and get it back on its feet.

"If you consider Joburg your home you are a Joburger. There's no right or wrong way to do it."​​​​​​​

​​​​​​​If you were the Joburg mayor for one day (average tenure) what would you change?
Service delivery. It breaks my heart to see the city decaying the way it is. From the inner city to its most affluent suburbs, there is a general sense of neglect. Robots not working should never be the norm, water and power outages, delays in repairs, and lack of maintenance. It's all so heartbreaking for a city with so much potential.

Favourite Joburg label, and why?
Limited Edish. They are based at The Bioscope at 44 Stanley and make cool prints and T-shirts from amazing designers from all over the world. I just love the curation, creativity, and aesthetic.

What makes someone a Joburger?
If you consider Joburg your home you are a Joburger. There's no right or wrong way to do it. That's its beauty. It's a place where so many different cultures and communities live together, many of whom weren't born here.

What do you love most about Joburg?
The genuine diversity. There are more cultures to explore in Johannesburg than in any other part of the country. Nobody seems to be truly from here and if there wasn't gold in the ground there probably wouldn't have been a major city. Despite this, Joburg is vibrant, diverse, and very much alive. But the beauty in Joburg isn't natural. Our gold-mine dumps certainly don't rival the mountains of the Cape. The beauty is in the people. It's not initially obvious. It's something you need to go and find. It reminds me of that Leonard Cohen line, "There's a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in".

What do you least like about Joburg?
The lack of development and maintenance.
Sanza Sandile from the Yeoville Dinner Club. Photo: Kate Liquorish.

Your number-one tip for a first-time visitor to Joburg?
Be willing to explore. It's the same advice I would give to so many of the citizens of Joburg who never go outside of where they live. There's a Mark Twain quote that I would read to them, in the hopes of sparking a sense of wander: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

One Joburg personality whom you would honour with the freedom of the city if you could, and why? 
Sanza Sandile. Sanza runs the Yeoville Dinner Club where guests are invited to join fellow strangers for a meal where Sanza shares stories of Yeoville's past, making a compelling case for its present. Yeoville had a previously held reputation as a vibrant melting pot of cultures and communities. It was easily one of the most electric and exciting places in Johannesburg. Over time, confidence in the area dwindled and, to many, it's now considered a no-go zone. Sanza is proudly playing his part to rekindle that magic by offering dinner guests an outstandingly creative menu of foods from all over the African continent, celebrating all the positive and delicious aspects of a place like Yeoville. Sanza is a proud ambassador of his 'hood and to me embodies the kind of spirit you need to keep the city alive.

The perfect weekend in Joburg includes...
The ideal recipe for a great weekend would include good conversation in a dingy bar, live music, and food from a place I've never eaten.

Three words that describe this city.
Brilliant despite itself.

Check out some of our previous #MyJoburg interviews for more insights into the city:

#MyJoburg with Lesley Kellerman, founder of Heart & Heritage
#MyJoburg with Mbongeni Buthelezi, artist
#MyJoburg with Greg Homann, Market Theatre Foundation's artistic director

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For all the latest news of what to do around Joburg, keep up to date with our weekly events and exhibitions guides.


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