Durban - Durban’s streets are paved with culinary gold. That is according to the international television channel CNN, which this week rated it as one of 23 cities around the world to savour street food.
The city has three outlets highlighted by the American-based channel: Little Gujarat in Dr Goonam (Prince Edward) Street, Afro’s Chicken on South Beach, and Johnny’s Rotis, or, as it is officially known, Sunrise Chip and Ranch, in Moses Kotane (Sparks) Road, Overport.
“Our food is one of our greatest assets that makes Durban so special,” said an elated Phillip Sithole, head of Durban Tourism.
“Street food is extremely popular among locals due to the affordability, the freshness of flavours and the uniqueness of Durban-inspired dishes.
“We trust that this global recognition will boost and expand emerging businesses and increase the street food scene in Durban.”
Akash Birjanund, whose family has owned Johnny’s Rotis for three generations, said friends told him of CNN’s announcement after reading about it on Facebook.
One tagged a post to his page on Friday and by 6pm it had attracted 747 likes.
“I’m very proud,” he said. “We’re small. Normally you would expect the giant stores to take it.”
His trademark dishes are the world’s longest roti - 1m - which can “feed six to eight people” and the chip and cheese roti.
In the city centre, Little Gujarat is only a daytime venue. Hitesh Bhatt, who is from India’s Gujarat State, followed his father to Africa to start the outlet in 1990.
He said people he understood to be from CNN came to the restaurant to break the good news to him on Thursday.
Veteran customer Roop Goutham said he ate at Little Gujarat every day. “If you come here with R10 you can leave with a full stomach. Bhaji (chilli bites) and tea costs only R10. Then if you want a bunny it’s R12 and breyani R15. All food is under R20. You’ll go home with a full stomach.”
When Little Gujarat closes, hungry and homeless people receive whatever food has not been eaten.
On the beachfront, Afro’s Chicken has been around since Emil Venter started his outlet three years ago after winning a tender after the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
“It’s a very simple menu,” said Venter. “A chicken burger or strip and chips, which we spell tjips’, or coleslaw. Bacon or bacon and egg rolls for breakfast, coffee and cool drinks.”
It grills its meat on an open flame and has deviated from the European flavour offered by his competitors.
Like Birjanund from Johnny’s Rotis, he found out about his accolade on social media and immediately started spreading the word, virtually.
“I posted it up on social media straight away.”
One of his regular customers is Addington Hospital intern John Honiball, who on Friday collected take-aways for colleagues and enjoyed a breath of fresh air and a sea view while taking a break from working in the trauma unit.
“I also come here after being on call 24 hours and have breakfast before going home,” he said.
German students Saskia Schmid and Adrian Stangl, studying at the Durban University of Technology on an exchange programme and eating ice creams at Afro’s Chicken, said they enjoyed the influence of Africa and India on Durban’s cuisine.
“There is a lot of opportunity to eat outside,” said Schmid.
“And it’s cheaper than in Germany.”
A thrilled Zeph Ndlovu, president of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the city had again proved it was “poised for business”.
“Our collective economic
vision to become Africa’s leading and most liveable destination to trade and travel is fast becoming a reality.”
He hoped that the three outlets would be an inspiration to other city businesses becoming internationally recognised in being best at what they do.
“Being recognised by CNN as one of the world’s top 23 cities when it comes to street food and movable feasts, will certainly have a positive impact on Durban’s ability to successfully drive tourism growth.
“Our economy will be further impacted by the positive multiplier effect of tourism growth.”
Johannesburg-based Wendy Alberts, chief executive of the Restaurant Association of South Africa, said it was “about time” her old home town’s culinary offerings were recognised. She is originally from Durban.
The Cape’s tourism sector always earned attention and praise, “leaving Durban on the left leg”, she said.
“I hope this creates an opportunity for food entrepreneurs to become creative.”
Alberts added that exploratory dining had become a trend with the mushrooming of pop-up restaurants, food trucks and other less conventional outlets.
Mercury food critic Frank Chemaly said he was pleased people realised there was more to food in Durban “than beer and burgers”.
The closest city to Durban of the other 22 cities rated for street food by CNN was Port Louis in Mauritius.
Other African cities were Marrakesh in Morocco, Dakar in Senegal and Cairo in Egypt.
CNN gave recognition to India, which has strongly influenced Durban’s cuisine, by placing Mumbai on the list.
Istanbul in Turkey, one of the overseas cities you can fly to direct from King Shaka International Airport following the introduction of the Turkish Airlines’ flight, was also one of the cities featured.
As were the current Olympic Games host city, Rio de Janeiro, and the other fairly recent Olympic cities of Sydney and Beijing.
That leaves the remainder as Bangkok, Thailand; Tokyo, Japan; Honolulu, Hawaii; New Orleans, Miami and Portland, also in the United States; Hong Kong, China; Paris, France; Mexico City; Cartagena, Colombia; Bali, Indonesia; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and Rome, Italy.
Meanwhile, on Facebook the “I Love Durban” attracted comments from near and far.
“Amanda Stoffels-Perez, who is from Durban and now lives in Little Rock Arkansas, in the US posted: “Durban.... Reigning street food champ. Always has been and always will be. Miss my city.”