I won a fantastic weekend in Soweto with Getaway, Fair Trade Tourism South Africa and SoWeToo. The weekend was to include various activities not usually associated with common tourist activities or air-conditioned tour buses.
I made my way to Roots Restaurant (with Sipho from Aahaa Tours, a tour company that forms part of SoWeToo) from the Soweto Hotel. I’d heard stories told that the vibe at this ‘spot’ was amazing and the food as good. By this time however, it had been pouring down for a while over Joburg and, after dodging various Rea Vaya busses in unseasonably wet roads, I arrived at Roots Restaurant in Jabavu (also known as White City) with dark clouds overhead.
The restaurant is opposite the historic Morris Isaacson High School (connected to the youth anti-Bantu Education protests of 1976); close to the Oppenheimer Tower and inside the Makhetha shopping centre owned by the restaurant owner Reggie Makhetha and his family. On this particularly cold and dark Friday night, the restaurant was uncharacteristically empty save for four patrons and two staff members. I’d invited two friends, who joined me a while after I arrived so it only got fractionally busier.
Reggie says he opened Roots in 2008, believing that the restaurant’s difference to other establishments would stand it in good stead as the location and ambience is so quintessentially Sowetan. The spin-off for the larger area – apart from restaurant employees being drawn from the surrounds – has ensured that members of the community are becoming interested in the tourism business and are venturing into their own enterprises. Since the area isn’t as overrun with tourists as Vilakazi Street is, for instance, the opportunity for growth in the industry for locals in Jabavu are great. Its historic significance and enterprising spirit means the restaurant and the wider community are ready for business.
We had a good time despite the restaurant being quieter. The menu consists of staple home fair so don’t expect snobbish haute cuisine – this is real, delicious, unpretentious food. Menu items are sure to illicit laughter with their clever names which include the Chicken Murder Platter (lingo for an older person dating a much younger person), Chizboy Burger (nickname for children whose family could afford real cheese ‘back in the day’) and Model C Sticky Wings. Other items include mogodu (tripe), mutton and lamb stews and more burgers.
Roots Restaurant – true to its historic surroundings and the owner’s determination – is the only restaurant is Soweto that has a professional art gallery alongside it. Makhetha decided to open the gallery as a means of promoting and exposing local artists who may have difficulty in approaching and securing gallery space in more ‘traditional’ establishments. The entrance to the gallery leads on from the restaurant. Inside the gallery are artworks by local artists, one of whom – Capetonian Mongezi Gum – has done work for Oprah Winfrey and the Malcom X Art Gallery. The gallery though is not a stuffy affair but rather an extension of the restaurant, as seating is available in this area too. It also boasts a variety of African Interest literature on the bookshelves which bare testament to the desire to have people in the area uplifted in more ways than one.
Back in the restaurant, our food had arrived – all the earlier driving in the ‘driving rain’ had worked up my appetite! I had the succulent full portion rib meal which I only just managed to finish due to the size of the meal – one of my friends ordered the same, the other had the tender lamb stew. The portions are far from stingy so make sure your belt has a few more holes as you’re definitely going to need the extra room around your waist! We finished off with some warm Malva pudding served with custard – the perfect way to end off a meal so reminiscent of home truths. I fully intend to revisit Roots on a warmer, more agreeable day to properly soak up the warm ambience and delicious food.
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