One of the things which makes Johannesburg a really exciting city to relocate to is its genuinely rainbow-like abundance of different cultural groups. Much like London or New York, this city has attracted immigrants from across the globe and they've all developed their own little corners, incorporating their indigenous styles and cultural identities into the fabric of the city.
The ethnic group most identifiable in the area where I live (Melrose/Illovo) is the Jewish community. On the floor of my apartment block, ten out of the 15 flats are Jewish. Some of the apartment blocks here even have their own temples! The Chinese community has their own Chinatown in Cyrildene, the Congolese are well set up in Yeoville's Rocky Road and Joburg's vibrant Indian/Pakistani/Bengali community is largely based in colourful Fordsburg, just west of the CBD.
During apartheid the government forced the "coloured" community to move out of Fordsburg, where they had established their own community, and made them relocate to the far off township of Lenasia (past Soweto). They did however let Asian business owners keep their shops - on the condition that they remain within the specially designated Asia Mall. Despite being forced to live several miles from their stores, the community's businesses continued to thrive through the difficulties of apartheid. Now that apartheid has long since passed the Asian community has reclaimed the streets of Fordsburg and the area is now bursting with a new generation of immigrants from the Indian sub-continent, further adding to the vibrant street life. 21st Century Fordsburg is a fantastic place to shop, eat, get a haircut, visit a tailor…you name it, you can find it here.
The most fun time to come to Fordsburg is Saturday evening when the night market is in full swing. During the night market the area around the main thoroughfare Mint Street fills with stalls selling clothes, jewellery, DVDs, Bollywood films, spices, sparkly shoes and lots and lots of street food. The predominantly Muslim community turn out in their finest clothes to wander the streets, shop, eat, get beauty treatments, gossip and meet with friends.
We parked up a few blocks from Mint Street with empty stomachs and went in search of some top quality Indian food. Following our noses we quickly found ourselves drawn to the smoking street-side grill of the Tikka House where at least 20 tandoori chickens were being grilled over an open fire. With our stomachs happily filled we then went looking for stuff to buy. Like all good Asian markets you arrive in search of food and then decide you want to buy 10 of the latest blockbusters on pirate DVD, a handful of jewellery, a bucket-load of spices and maybe some incense to top it off. Incidentally if you are looking for variations on the traditional long black Muslim abaya…there are at least 50 shops to choose from.
Our next task was to find the Juice Den which Heather Mason of 2summers.net had highly recommended to me. Here they grind up fresh sugar cane and mix it up with freshly squeezed juices and ice into a very satisfying drink. I had orange and cane juice, although there were more exciting options like guava, carrot and avocado to choose from too.
My husband wasn't going to leave Fordsburg without getting a 30 Rand haircut at the Asian barbers and I certainly wasn't going to walk past the Sweetmeats bakery without getting some sticky treats to take home. I have no idea exactly what it was I bought - but what the hey, it was nyom!
How we got there: Fordsburg is located to the west of Newtown which is easily accessed on the Rea Vaya. It is not at all recommended to walk here from Newtown after dark though - the industrial wasteland in between is dark, creepy and super sketchy. Essentially the night market is best reached by car. Park where you can and you will find there's no shortage of car guards around to watch your wheels.