#49. Eat out while the global economy winds down, Terror Lekota winds up the ANC — first by divorcing the party and then by making plans to start a new one — and rolling bailouts take the place of rolling blackouts as a conversation piece. The place to do it is at the bottom end of Commissioner Street, deep in the heart of Joburg’s old Chinatown.
There on an unassuming corner (and I use that word with caution — the last time I was there a vagrant was peeing on the wall outside the restaurant), with yellow paint peeling from its walls and sticky plastic tablecloths (are they still called table”cloths”?) is the Yung Chen Noodle Den, one of the few destinations left on that street for Chinese food since Chinatown upped sticks and headed for Cyrildene.
I can only speak for the crispy chicken, the sizzling peppery beef and the chicken and sweetcorn soup — after five visits in less than three months I have never managed to order anything else. It would take a lot to beat any of those dishes. Regardless of the time of day or night that I have visited (consider this one of the safest nightspots in the city — it’s 10 metres from the door of the very imposing and once ominous Johannesburg Central Police Station previously known as John Vorster Square where I was once briefly imprisoned for a small crime against the state — It was 1990 and I was in good company although it will be a while until I am able to trespass again with impunity) the same waitress has presided ensuring efficient service and looking desperately in need of a vacation.
The tragic history of John Vorster Square is captured eloquently by a monument created by artist Kagiso Pat Mautloa which stands directly across from the entrance of the Noodle Den on the corner of Henry Nxumalo and Loveday Streets. Titled “Simakade” (which is Zulu for “forever standing”), it features an enormous rock bound by wire, symbolising resilience, and marks the place where seven people died under apartheid’s detention laws. It was created as part of the Sunday Times Heritage Project that — to commemorate the centenary of the newspaper — set about creating a trail of memorials across the country to some remarkable people and events that have shaped it. If not for the Chinese food, head downtown to see the artwork, and be reminded that wherever we are going can/should never be as bad as the place we have come from.
* Yung Chen Noodle Den, 011 833 5924. For more on the Heritage Project click here