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Durban - Food hunting on foot

Story by Deni Archer

Stepping into another world

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There are parts of Durban that feel like something out of a cyberpunk novel. Muti stalls pepper the sidewalks, weird and wonderful wares adorning their tables. Its own version of the Grosvenor Hotel – a very exclusive hotel in London – is a dilapidated building close to the urban beach front, where other decaying buildings set a backdrop for eccentrically decorated rickshaws. At a moment when the odd car disappears and a rickshaw has the road to itself, you can easily be transported into some dystopian future. These settings make the Durban experience all the more exotic when coming from the relatively European city of Cape Town. In a good way.

Exotic spices intoxicate the soul

Durban is colourful. From Indian spice markets to muti markets, surf beaches to amusement parks, botanical gardens to rooftop farms - there’s a lot to explore. We decided to start on foot with the spice market at the top of Bertha Mkhize Street (previously Victoria Street). While it’s changed a lot from the intoxicating market I remember visiting as a child, the spices are still there and some of the character remains too. Dennis Spice Bar was the find of the day – on arrival our fingertips were coaxed into mounds of spice to taste, and ways of using the spices were being issued out at a tremendous rate. Dennis’ love of spice and sharing is palpable.

Within a few minutes of leaving Dennis Spice Bar (loaded with spice blends including the Honeymoon mix) we were wooed into another stall with calls of “darling, darling, you must smell our vanilla pods”. Unable to resist some good vanilla, or a good sweet talking, we succumbed and left with a package of pods and other tit bits.

A sensory experience

The fish market was a less romantic experience, albeit one to heighten the senses. A wide variety of interesting sea critters were for sale, from crab to cuttle fish. Ecological sustainability is probably not top of mind at this market, though waste minimisation could be celebrated as you can buy every edible part of an animal in the butchery section: tripe, trotters, tongues, heads - it’s all there (we were ‘lucky’ enough to be invited into a stall to watch an animal head being divvied up).

Getting our hands dirty

We then headed down the vibrant Dennis Hurley Street until we found The Workshop, where we’d been sent by Dennis to find the “best bunny chow in town”, at Oriental. It was the first time for both of us, and it took us a few minutes – and some gentle guidance from a neighbouring diner (who also sent us to Little India in Musgrave for an authentic Indian dinner experience) – to realise this meal was best attacked without any utensils. We don’t have anything to compare it to, but we were more than happy with Dennis’ recommendation.

Culturally and gastronomically satisfied, and with bunny chow coloured fingers, we ambled down the beach front before making our way home. Durban on foot – it’s a must do for any self-respecting experience-hunting traveller.

Deni with Dennis Chetty in Dennis Spice Shop at Victoria Market. Well worth a visit.

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Some creative names for spices at the spice market. Looks like someone has a bad relationship with the mother-in-law! (left) | The stall owned by two charismatic ladies who start almost every sentence with "darling!" (right)

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"Best bunny chow in town!" - at Oriental in The Workshop. This shot was taken shortly before someone kindly pointed out we should use our fingers (tourists!).

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Cuttlefish, crabs and sheep heads - just one of the interesting critters you'll find at the fish market on Dennis Hurley Street

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Scenes from Dennis Hurley Street

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