Blasting Stereotypes: Culinary Tour Turns Alexandra Township Chefs Into Tourism Entrepreneurs

Blasting Stereotypes: Culinary Tour Turns Alexandra Township Chefs Into Tourism Entrepreneurs

Tourists who want a sense of what life is like in one of South Africa’s oldest, poorest and most vibrant townships can tour Alexandra on a new culinary tour.

Located in Johannesburg near the Sandton neighborhood — Africa’s richest square mile — Alexandra is home to more than half a million people, according to The Sowetan.

Daniel Adidwa, founder and CEO of Tour 2.0, said he built a tourism company that creates new perceptions about Africa by exposing visitors to people living in communities once considered “no-go” areas. This allows tourists to get an authentic experience of the country and its cultural diversity, Adidwa said in a Times Live interview.

Tour 2.0 does more than township tours. It also offers tours of the Richtersveld Community Conservancy, the last refuge for the Nama people and home to rare botanical diversity. You can also spend three days in a Venda village, or choose from dozens of other tours.

Here’s how Tour 2.0 introduces its Alexandra township tours:

Townships have long endured an unfair rap in the minds of many South Africans and international travelers, fueled by a paranoia in the popular imagination that villainizes them as unsafe and no-go zones.

This is a perception that has been further frustrated by images and the rare incidents of unrest, which invariably make their way onto (news) bulletins around the world. But this of course does not paint the entire picture of what kinds of spaces townships are.

This tour chips away at the idea that townships are a hotbed of violence, tracing the history of what has contributed to this perception, which continues to stubbornly haunt the image of townships in South Africa. By visiting areas in Alexandra township previously labeled “no-go zones,” the tour shows visitors the changing complexion of such areas.

Tour 2.0 offers at least five different ways to experience Alexandra Township. You can do a bike tour, an art tour, a music tour, or a tour of historically and culturally important sites. Most of Tour 2.0’s tour guides are members of the community, knowledgeable and passionate about showcasing what makes their community unique, according to the company website:

By booking a tour through our platform you are helping their businesses grow and become more sustainable. In addition to this we ensure that businesses (artisans, restaurants and accommodation service providers) within the community benefit financially by playing a role in each experience.

The newest Tour 2.0 addition, a four-hour Cocktails and Culinary Tour, costs 1649 rand ($123US) including transportation. It’s offered Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Here’s what you can expect.

The culinary tour with guide Asanda Daza starts with “sly wat-wat” — a high-calorie street food from a local spaza shop. This is a “mini-skyscraper of a sandwich,” according to the Tour 2.0 website. The word “sly” is short for “slice of bread,” and “wat-wat” is a remixed version of the Afrikaans word “wat,” which, in this case, means “whatever.” As in you can put whatever you want between multiple slices of bread — usually some combination of cheese, fries, fried sausage, egg, bologna, cheese, archar (a local spicy mango relish), and ground beef.

The next stop on the culinary tour is a different variation of street food at Joe’s Butcher — a popular meat shop where you can get your meat barbecued on site and eat it there. This business model is known as tshisa nyama — often one of the easiest and cheapest ways to start a business in townships, and popular with locals, out-of-towners and famous personalities, according to Tour 2.0.

Next, the tour heads to Happiness Makhalenele’s home on the other side of Alexandra for a traditional Sunday lunch. Makhalenele and her husband started off catering out of a trailer and now they run a restaurant in their home. Here’s how Tourism Update describes the meal:

The meal begins with a small glass of mageu, a traditional Southern African drink resembling yogurt. Guests will enjoy traditional vetkoek (sweet fried dough) and mince (ground beef) as a starter, an arrangement of roasted vegetables, sirloin steak and mushroom sauce, oxtail, and tripe for the main course, and malva pudding and custard for dessert.

The entrepreneurial couple passed their love affair with food on to their son, Theo, who attends culinary school. A classically trained chef, he’s the last stop on the tour. He and his partner operate pop-up eateries under the name Theo’s Kitchen.  The food and cocktails they serve are very different from the other Alexandra food experiences on the tour, which all have their roots in township life.