The month of Ramadan is the most sacred month of the year for Muslims the world over. During this time, they don’t eat or drink anything the entire day, and finally break their fast after sunset. Iftar is a festive, spiritual time and many go to the best eateries to celebrate. Nicki Gules rounded up some of the city’s most sumptuous spots.
If you’re wondering why your Muslim friends seem tired, unusually quiet or even somewhat grumpy, it’s because it is Ramadan.
During this, the holy month on the Islamic calendar, Muslims are required to fast from before sunrise (that’s about 5.15am in Johannesburg) to after sunset (about 5.30pm). That means no food, nothing to drink and, sadly for me, no cigarettes, either.
But, after sunset, there’s no shortage of delicious delicacies for those breaking their fast at the Muslim-run eateries around town. Before the faithful head to mosque each evening for Tarawih prayers, many head to their local restaurants, which serve everything from Turkish kebap, pide and baklava, to Pakistani curries, biryani and gulab jamoons.
My family and I have been invited to a number of these iftar (fast-breaking) dinners, where sharing a meal takes on a spiritual dimension and the festive, community atmosphere is something to savour.
Pop into one of these eateries before Ramadan ends in two weeks’ time.
Turkish Kebap House, Church Street, Mayfair, Joburg
Owned and managed by a Kurdish family from the Far Eastern Turkish city of Van, this restaurant has been around for years. The original Turkish restaurant in Joburg, it’s come a long way from the wrapped Adana kebaps its previous owner used to grill and sell on the pavement outside his butchery. The restaurant first expanded into the pokey shop next door and through to another shop on the block. Thankfully, the new owners have got rid of the sky-blue wallpaper with clouds on it that was pasted on to the ceiling.
But, also thankfully, the food has remained largely the same traditional Turkish fare. Ali Karacan, the mastermind behind the restaurant’s excellent doner kebap, and his trusted sidekick Necip Yildirim are still there.
Karacan’s doner is the best you’ll find in the country, and better than many restaurants in Turkey as well (believe me, I have eaten my way around Turkey). Karacan is a treasure, and must never be allowed to move back home.
The atmosphere is relaxed (we behave like we’re sitting in our own lounge) and the patrons come from the neighbourhood – locals, Somalis, Ethiopians, Chinese, Egyptians and Turks.
The prices are reasonable too. A plate of doner kebap with all the trimmings will set you back R80, and a pide will cost R80. The portions are so large, you’ll end up taking some home.
We staggered out of there having eaten far too much.
I blame Karacan for fact that I will never be thin.
LaL Qila, cnr Church Street and Main Reef Road, Amalgam, Joburg
I ate at this restaurant for the first time this month – I’d not ventured there before mainly because it’s situated at the Palm Continental Hotel in one of Johannesburg’s most dodgy areas. But I will definitely be going back.
This restaurant, which has franchises in Pakistan, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and India, serves mainly Pakistani cuisine – 72 different dishes in all. On offer are a variety of different mutton curries, beef curries, chicken curries, biryanis, dhals and rice dishes. The food is typical Pakistani style: more flavoursome and tasty than paint-stripper hot. To cater for everyone, they even serve Chinese fried rice, battered prawns, pakora, spiced fish and grilled meats basted in tandoori spices.
But the highlights for me were the traditional Pakistani puddings. Cardamom-spiced ice-cream, jalebis (a koeksister-type delicacy) and gulab jamuns (a milk-solid based dessert), made famous in Vikram Seth’s seminal novel A Suitable Boy.
The buffet dinner will set you back R199 per adult. It is well worth it, just don’t go there if you’re dieting. And don’t worry too much about the neighbourhood either – it’s close to the highway and parking is secure.
Deffne, Jan Shoba Street, Hatfield, Pretoria
Owned by Turkish chef Fatma Kilic, this restaurant focuses on southeastern Turkish cuisine from the city of Hatay.
She offers the ubiquitous mixed grilled platters, mezes and salads. Kilic, who has made a name for herself among the Turkish expat community, also serves many other regional delicacies. Her icli kofte (bulgur wheat shells stuffed with mince, walnuts and spices, and then fried until crisp) are divine, and her slow-cooked lamb stew on mashed potato and bulgur wheat is to die for.
Her desserts are very different from standard Turkish fare: revani (syrup-soaked cake) and kunefe (finely shredded oven-baked pastry with cheese and syrup). Not diet food. Not even slightly.
Kilic’s Saray sherbeti (Palace juice) which is a drink made from stewed fruit, honey, mint, lemon and basil, was well worth taking the trip to Pretoria for.
It’s only R300 per person for a five-course dinner. Arrive hungry.