The fast food industry in South Africa is perhaps one of the most diverse that I have seen. The food groups are split roughly into wait times, taste and marketing.

1. McDonalds (Yes, they do have them here) is my pick. While my experiences with burger king tend to be better, McDonalds is definetly the cream of the cool. Short wait times (D'oh) and arguably good product

2. Steers - a very South African buisiness specialising in superbly long wait times and sloppy, greasy burgers put together with the minimum effort and wage. Wait times average 5 minuites for a bloody packet of chips... but their actual chips are damn good.

3. Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets are all over the country and have atleast one in all small towns. Their product is greasy, [deep fried and so are their chips. but it tastes good, especially the batter. The best thing is the short wait time.

4. Nando's chickenland - essentially a grilled chicken outlet with lots of hot sauce. Their product is actually quite good (Except the 'farm-style chips' with no salt). I believe they have outlets internationally, in England and Australia.

5. Al's gourmet chicken - essentially a Nando's without the hot sauce exept that the chicken is spit-griled. They have decent shwarmas and horrible burgers.

6. Bimbo's. I'm not going into this inane bunch of escaped loons.

McDonalds arrived in South Africa in the second half of the 1990's, when it was politically correct to do so, and have become ubiquitous. They are quite popular with many teenagers and other undiscerning trendoids. I am proud to say that I have never stepped inside a McDonald's in South Africa. I wouldn't do so either unless you paid me a whole heap of cash.

Other global, I mean American brands that need no local introduction include The Seattle Coffee Company, Subway and KFC.

Spur Steak ranches are the original, essential South african fast food chain, right down to the fake American name, the fake leather seats the and cheesy Wild West décor.

Steers are a lot like Spur. Spur are a bit more upmarket and they've been around longer than Steers, since the 1970s or something. Burgers, chips and other bits of greasy cow meat are a speciality, but there are also grilled mushrooms dipped in monosodium glutamate, log-cabin waffles (no, I don't know what the waffles are doing in a gosh darned African Log cabin) and other tasty unhealthy treats.

They play loud pop-rock, cater mostly to sit-down diners, but will do takeaways.

Wimpy have also been around for a while, and serve burgers and stuff. I never go there so I can't say more.

Kauai are quite new and not everywhere yet. My favourite - this is just about the only fast food that I'm willing to eat regularly (I am a vegetarian). They are Hawaiian themed with lots of fruit juices, salads and other health-conscious and vegetarian options on the menu. The smoothies are good. They cater mainly to take-aways.

Nandos were originally a South African franchise, but have since branched out into the rest of the world. Hot Portugese/Mozambique-style peri-peri chicken is their mainstay. They also do spicy rice and chips. This concept is not as surprising as it may seem, given the community of people of Portuguese extraction in Southern and south-east Africa. The name comes from a founder, Fernando.

There are several pizza delivery services, notably Butler's, St. Elmo's and Debonair's. Of these, Butler's is my choice for fast delivery, friendly service and great pizza. Mmm, pizza! This is not American style pizza. Even the thick base has a thin crust compared to those substandard fluffy pies that you Yanks eat.

If you want to avoid the franchises, you can also get frozen yoghurt, Indian food, Fish and chips, Chinese food or Indian Food from any number of small shops. Just up from fast food, Cape Town has plenty of decent but affordable restaurants. Unless you're really poor you should try them. Italian/Mediterranean (i.e. more Pizza!) is common, but you can get others such as Thai or Sushi

Indian may be most "authentic" since the South African Indian community has been around for hundreds of years and has developed it's own dishes. Watch out for Durban Curry and bunny chow.

Or you could try the mystery meat and boerewors rolls from a person cooking it at the side of the road.


NB: Throughout South Africa and this writeup, chips means what Americans call French fries. Chips can also mean what the English call Potato crisps, but not in this node.

The real South African Fast Food ™®© is makota, a Ngunification of 'quarters' and so called because they are made with a quarter of a loaf of white bread.

The kota (singular) is made with the aforementioned quarter-loaf which is hollowed out and filled with a variety of ingredients of the customer's choosing. Some ingredients have arcane names, completely impenetrable to the uninitiated. The basic kota has cheese and "French" (french fries). From there, you can add "Russian" (a peppery sausage - almost certainly not from Russia), "Vienna" (another variety of sausage), chutney and any of another half-dozen fillings.

At an authentic makota joint, the cheapest kota will set you back R1,50, about 20 American cents (as of October 2007). The most expensive, with every ingredient available, is about R12, or US$1,60. Considering that you're getting a real belt-loosening meal and often a delicious one, the bang/buck ratio is excellent.

An authentic makota joint is hole in the wall. Not a hole-in-the-wall, like a tiny atmospheric café, but literally a hole in the wall of a larger building, exposing a cavity just big enough for two guys, a till and a hotplate. Turning down a residential street to find a queue outside a hole in the wall of one of the houses is somewhat surreal, to say the least.

The first time I was taken for makota, it was as one of two abalungu in a packed kombi speeding back to Jozi from a township school in Soweto. Suddenly something caught the eye of one of the people I was with, who started speaking scamto very quickly to the driver, who swerved into a side street.

"We're stopping for makota." I was told. "It's like black bunny chow" they explained. After everyone buying one, and me buying another for the old, ragged gentleman waiting there who asked but who clearly wanted money for beer, we hopped back in the kombi and sped back home, munching happily. Since then, makota has been indelibly assocociated in my mind with hip, urban, black Johannesburg.



Source: My own meandering experience.

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