Saturday, May 8

Junk Food Heaven

Although I wasn't there at the time it started, there was a bit of a tribal warfare thing going on across the east coast of South Africa. I found this amusing because on the whole it seems South Africans are usually quite respectful and united in knowing what their relative strengths and weaknesses are. For example when it comes to beaches, Durbanites will say lots of good things about Capetonian sand, while the latter will always cede to the water of the former. People from Johannesburg will never oversell their fair city and always disclaim any visit with a "there's really not much to do here, you know". Oh and everyone seems to have the same opinion about Laudium girls.

So what exactly what this out of the ordinary dispute about? Was it land? Money? Women? No. It was actually something much more important than any of those things: food.

It started with Durban claiming that their Crystal's was superior to anything Johannesburg had to offer. Joburg responded with Akhalwaya's, a bunch of independently run fast food joints linked only by heritage. It was only afterwards that Cape Town entered the fray citing the Gatsby of Wembley as their entry into the contest. Frankly though it just seemed like they just wanted to be part of something that was turning out to be pretty damned big. Poor things.

But this dispute became important enough for us, the objective visitors from abroad, to make a point about leveraging our lack of loyalty to anyone in order to figure out what town did in fact have the best junk food. What follows is my findings, although be aware that my companions may have come to a different conclusion.

Since we started in Durban, first on the block was Crystal's Steak Sandwich. Steak in this context means shredded meat (maybe from an actual steak, I dunno); this was stuffed between two impossibly small slices of white bread along with chips, sausage and what I can only describe as some kind of magical sauce. What resulted was something I had only previously imagined - a deceptively small and neat package of dense goodness, which was paradoxically very light on the stomach and which ended way too soon. That was my only criticism of the sandwich - it was way too small. Perhaps I should have had another, but the price of one was quite prohibitive by Durban standards.

As a bonus Durban also offered us Bunny Chow: a hollowed out half loaf filled with various bean, meat or kebab curries. It was a novelty at best, although it did taste good and I did enjoy the throwback to messy Indian food eating.

Which brings us to Cape Town. To be honest they were never really a contestant; I think they just offered an entry into the competition just so they didn't feel too left out. Their entry was vague and confused too: we were supposed to have something called a Gatsby, but where we were to get one was some cause of contention. After some infighting between the Capetonians we were meant to go to Wembley, then some other place I forget the name of (which had run out of chips of all things). We finally settled on Aneesa's part of a chain of a couple of shops.

Despite the lack of co-ordination with their entry, the Gatsby did actually turn out to be a pretty good shot at the title. Similar in filling to Crystal's, this was less of a compressed affair and more voluminous; the foot long loaf was designed to be shared between four, although due to it displaying the same ability to feel light on the stomach I think I could have managed at least half on my own. Tastewise it lacked a certain oomph that the Crystal's had, but it gained points due to sheer size and party play - the way the eight of us had shared in a couple of Gatsbies that day was in stark contrast to how we each jealously guarded our Crystals.

Finally though, we're in Johannesburg. Things were as complicated here as they were in Cape Town, not least because of the diversity of Akhalwaya's. In fact we only got to eat at a store that others considered not to have been the Real Deal, the Akhalwaya's Express on Mint Road. Frankly though it was real enough for me, with the AK1 sandwich offering at least as much culinary joy as the offerings from the other two cities.

The bonus in Joburg was had during our stint in Laudium, an Indian township around a 30 minute drive away (where I was NOT looking for a wife). Although we had aimed to sample the local Akhalwaya's it turned out to be closed or something and so we picked up yet another steak sandwich variant from Mohideen's instead. Despite out best efforts to pace ourselves (we had a braai on tonight), half a shared sandwich became three quarters and then a whole one each. Now I'm not usually this weak with food, but I did give in in this instance. I crumbled like a cheap hooker soccer punched by her drunk pimp, but the funny thing is that I have no regrets for doing so.

But what you guys really want to know is which place had the best junk food? Well the irony here is that it was completely the wrong strategy to invite strangers from a far off land to judge on such a difficult decision - to be honest I was blown away by all of it, my undeveloped pallet not being able to distinguish between any of them. Still I must admit that I had a fantastic time trying to figure it out. I reckon Crystal's would have taken it if it had been a little bigger, while I've been told that I've not really given Johannesburg a fair go either. I can't call it I'm afraid. Maybe I'll come back here for more research one day.

Am I copping out? Well yeah maybe. The point is that I'm craving it all after writing this and struggling to think of what could ever be an equivalent over here. Thanks a lot South Africa: you've single-handedly managed to ruin the chicken burger for me forever.

The only real loser in this war is me.

1 comment:

  1. What is the consensus on Laudium girls? Mohideens' club special is the stuff that dreams are made of... sounds like u had one hell of a trip :)