Anthony Bourdain was always the first to admit that the more he travels, the less he knows, and his visit to South Africa in 2013 shines a light on a country and people that is a world apart from the trouble and turmoil of the 1990s and preceding decades.
Anthony Bourdain visited South Africa to film season 2 (episode 6) of Parts Unknown; it was his only visit to the country, though he certainly packs a lot in. Additionally, he traveled extensively in Africa, including other Southern African countries like Namibia and Madagascar.
Over the past few decades, South Africa has become a popular destination; if you’re planning a trip and are keen to eat at some of the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in South Africa, you’ve come to the right place. Below you’ll find a breakdown of all the spots Tony ate in South Africa (primarily in Johannesburg), as well as what he ate. Let this be a guide to help you dive deep into the culture of South Africa.
Ma Willies Inn (Johannesburg)
Bourdain begins his exploration in the company of the Blk Jks, a local band that performed during the opening ceremony of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Together they visit a typical local restaurant, Ma Willies, in the area of Soweto known simply as an eat house. Often a little hard to find, eat houses are a remnant of the country’s apartheid era, where black citizens weren’t able to own property.
To get around this, “eat houses” were often private houses converted into informal restaurants. In the case of Ma Willies, the restaurant is housed in a converted garage with a small lawn area out back.
On the menu today are smilies, chunks of fire-roasted pig’s heads that are chopped into tasty pieces and served with a pinch of salt and pepper, and an ice-cold beer.
There is also pap or mieliepap, a maize porridge and the South Africa version of the ugali dish that is found across the African continent, together with a stewed beef, flour and yeast dumplings, as well as stewed greens, vegetables, and beans, all topped with a ladle of thick gravy.
Eat Arabi (Johannesburg)
For his next stop, Tony meets with local restaurant entrepreneur Sanza Sandile in his Eat Arabi restaurant. Sanza is an example of the resourcefulness of the South African people, coming to the food industry as he does with no formal culinary training, and instead relying on picking up bits and pieces of information where he can, mixing recipes, techniques, ingredients, and traditions as he sees fit.
Given the area’s varied influences, the dishes on offer can best be described as Pan-African, showing a range of influences from across the wider region.
On today’s menu (which changes daily) there is egusi (a Nigerian dish made of beef stewed with melon and pumpkin seeds), phutu (cornmeal porridge with a more crumbly texture than pap), basmati rice with rosewater, atchar (a type of spicy pickle, made here with aubergines and mangoes, Congolese casava, and spiced falafel.
Sympathy’s Restaurant (Johannesburg)
Traveling next to the somewhat notorious Hillbrow area of the city, Anthony meets with local musician DJ Les, and visits Sympathy’s, a fried chicken restaurant.
They try a plate of the regular menu, consisting of fried chicken, stewed greens, and mieliepap, all heaped on a plate with beets and coleslaw to provide a heavy gut filler of a meal.
Mazondi Restaurant Zwangobani Grill (Johannesburg)
Nothing excites Bourdain like the smell of grilled mystery meat, and for the next stop, he is taken by local taxi driver Mdu to the Mazondi Restaurant Zwangobani Grill, situated near a market under a heaving overpass.
A simple meal is served up, featuring brisket, sausage, and heart, all cooked over an open flame. The meat is then served on a cutting board with the bare necessities – a knife, some salt, sliced tomato and raw chiles.
Maders Butchery (Pretoria)
Leaving Johannesburg and traveling north to Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative capital, Tony next visits Maders Butcher Shop, and meets with local chef Andrea Burgener.
Here, he tried first biltong, a dried snack made by first sprinkling freshly butchered meat with salt, brown sugar, and malt vinegar, then packing it into layers for 24hrs, before finally removing and hanging to dry for a week. The result is a slightly tough but delicious snack that serves as a perfect accompaniment to a cold beer.
There are also hot meats on offer, including grilled t-bone and rump steak, boerewors (a type of spicy sausage made from beef and pork), and the local take on BBQ sauce known as monkey gland sauce. This is all cooked up and served with pap and fries.
Monaghan Farm (Centurion)
Bourdain and Andrea travel to the Monaghan Farm north of Johannesburg to meet with owner Prospero Bailey, son of Jim Bailey, one of the founders of the influential African “Drum” magazine.
On the private game farm, they shoot and kill an eland, the largest antelope in the world, before butchering and utilizing the meat to its fullest. There is sliced heart grilled over fire, liver dredged in flour and sauteed, loin meat seared and glazed with alcohol, and eland paprikash, a take on the Hungarian stew with paprika, peppers, tomatoes, onions, and cream.
“Meat on the plate, blood on my pants. Life is good”, says Bourdain as he mops up the assorted juices with a piece of Portuguese flatbread.
Private Family Meal (Johannesburg)
Nearing the end of his South African trip, Tony visits the home of local comedian and actor Joey Rasdien for an iftar, the meal that traditionally breaks the fast during Ramadan.
Ablely provided by Joey, his wife, and children, there is an array of dishes on offer here. Pengang curry with beef and boiled eggs, chicken pie, a typical Ramadan shake made with dates, together with barley soup, and cheese & beef samosas.
Neighbourgoods/Playground’s Market (Johannesburg)
For the final stop on this mammoth trip of culinary exploration, Bourdain meets with local writer Percy Mabandu to visit the Neighbourgoods Market (formerly called Playground’s Market). Yes, there is hipster artisanal cheese on display here, but Percy and Tony gravitate towards the cooked meat side of things.
The chosen option is the Balkan Burger, flattened ground beef seared over flame, served in a bun with kashkaval and mozzarella cheese, cabbage, tomato, onion, lettuce, and hot peppers.
As the two take their burgers to enjoy on the rooftop terrace with a cold beer, Anthony Bourdain reflects on his time in South Africa, and the coming together of its people and their style of food: “If they can make it work here…maybe there is hope for the rest of us”.
South Africa Food Tours to Try
Want to try even more flavors of South Africa? One great way to accomplish that is on a food tour, and here are a few that caught my eye because they align with the adventurous eating spirit Tony embodied:
Have any other questions about the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in South Africa, or what he ate there? Let me know in the comments!