An innocent tweet about eating great dim sum in Joburg got me a little more attention than I was seeking. So it’s time to reveal all, well almost. Saturday morning the sky over the city was grey and foreboding and having recently returned from a weekend away in Parys I was still hungry for adventure. Be warned my idea of adventure usually involves discovering good food and exploring Joburg’s inner city.
Collector’s Treasury, Commissioner Street
For years I have heard about a multi-storey book shop in Commissioner Street that holds all manner of precious goods within its walls. It’s called the Collectors’s Treasury and according to the brothers who have run it for the past 35 years it holds, among many other things, one of the most extensive local collections of books on Roman and Greek civilization as well as leather-bound volumes and first editions. Treasure and more treasure. Room after room of beautiful glass, fine china and ceramic pieces, displayed in covetable cabinets (these unfortunately not for sale) amid boxes and piles of fantastic books and magazines, and a room full of vinyl records, all stacked up, higgeldy piggeldy and leaving little space for group viewing. You can easily get lost among the stacks, and you should.
The brothers were good humoured – I asked where all this amazing stuff came from – and one answered “from knocking little old ladies over the head”. I said: “How Dostoevsky of you” and he assured me they weren’t the brothers Karamazov. The good humour did however fade when the lights suddenly went off and the two of them – until then, most refined gentlemen with superb tastes – let rip a chain of expletives directed at the city council.
On a more serious note he said the greatest source of their collection is from people moving house after many years. Great riches are unearthed and sold off to the Collector’s Treasury. And to discover them there takes time and should definitely be done at leisure. I was particularly taken with some pre-1950 boxing magazines, and impressed that a customer looking for Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart was immediately taken to the a shelf of African literature and the brother knew exactly where the book would be located – this among the more than one million titles they stock. I got the sense that there is no item unaccounted for, nor is there any book that they cannot locate for you. [May I suggest Exclusive Books send their staff here for training].
The Joburg website, which, by the way also carries a cool listing of Joburg shops has this to say about it: “Wanna lose yourself in up to two million books? Head into the CBD, ring the bell and wander around this store gobsmacked. There are books stacked everywhere, plus LP records, sheet music, maps, porcelain and postcards. One of the owners, Jonathan Klass, who has been in the business since 1974, says his parents were collectors and he grew up with 100 000 books around him. His family has never stopped collecting, and several floors of the eight-storey building the shop is in are filled with his collections.”
Kensington for antiques and collectable furniture
My curiosity partially sated we left town for Kensington and a a long overdue visit to Kensington Trading on Queen Street where around 20 years ago I bought the first pieces of furniture I ever owned. There we coveted an Art Deco sideboard that will soon have pride of place on our side of town.
Around the corner we walked into the Italian Delicatessen – a deli that looks to be straight out a film so perfect is its stock of Italian goods from espresso makers to pastas, and filled too with people who seemed to have come straight from central casting. Bon Giorno! From the little old lady who came to order her mortadella (in Italiano) to the men gathered in the back preparing a meal out of some chestnuts, and the man who served us and was happy to let us taste just about every cheese on display (including a wine-soaked pecorino) everyone was true to the script. We left with our hands full – fresh mozzarella, Parmesano, little bottles of San Pellegrino Aranciata Rosso and anchovies. The afternoon was getting on and we decided on a detour – heading to Derrick Avenue in Cyrildene, Joburg’s little Chinatown. We had a taste for dim sum.
It’s not a street I know well so my reliance was on Google to provide. We walked the place following a variety of recommendations only to find ourselves stumped by a lack of options beyond pork and prawn dim sum. Another search brought me to a review by Lebogang Mogashoa on Go Travel 24 “It ain’t China, it’s Chinatown” whose advice I took very seriously. It included the following injunction about buying pirated Hong Kong action flicks: “Make sure you don’t buy pirated copies. Do you really want to spend time figuring out what, “Fatty, you with your thick face have hurt my instep,” means? And just for fun, “Damn, I’ll burn you into a BBQ chicken! Take my advice, or I’ll spank you without pants” – and a recommendation for the street’s curious supermarket Yat Kee (16 Derrick Avenue). Now I was on the hunt for gyoza dumpling wrappers with the idea that we would go home and make our own. But lo and behold, in the frozen section of Yat Kee was bag after bag of dumplings – the choice greater than the one we had seen at most of the restaurants on the street. At 4pm were were happily at home, crowding around a bamboo steamer filled with chicken, vegetable, and beef dumplings and a dipping sauce of soy sauce and chili oil and my own no longer secret blend of sesame oil, soy sauce, lime juice, a pinch of castor sugar and some finely chopped spring onions. We had travelled the world in a day and we had struck gold.