Johnny’s Rotiby Creepy Steve / 06.01.2011
A free lunch you say? Already I’m skeptical; the Jewlord at Mahala is not known for being a big spender – ah Sunrise Chip and Ranch. That explains it. Affectionately referred to as Johnny’s. One of Overport’s acclaimed eateries. It’s a cosmopolitan affair attracting blue collar laborers and white contractor types over lunch, through to Sydenham gangsters and the post-jol drunken munchies crowd arrive through all hours of the night, as the sign says 24/7. And let’s not forget the pack of street kids living at the robots on the corner of Alpine and Sparks, that beg for money to play the descending hook arcade machine thing. Pretty much a smorgasbord of flops eating curries out the wrapping off the hood of their cars, blaring Boys2Men at decibels it was never meant to be appreciated at. (Was it ever meant to be appreciated?) Even cast-iron-gutted Indian colleagues of mine have warned against buying the food there and much folklore surrounds its reputation. Its notoriety has made it synonymous with Durban.
It’s lunch time and there’s a take no prisoners attitude in the queue. I ask the chunky guy with the mullet, (which is sometimes tied up in a ponytail for hygiene reasons), if I can take a photo for a magazine. The guy has served me for the last decade of my patronage and one has to appreciate an eating establishment that has weighty staff, it’s an indication of quality. He’s flattered and hospitable, tells me the place has been around for about 42 years and avoids my tricky questions surrounding the urban legend that it was shut down by the Health Department and was only able to re-open by changing the name from Johnny’s to Sunrise. He also vehemently denies that anyone has ever found a penlight battery in their roti.
It strikes me that Johnny’s has been around before either myself or the uncle were born and that it’s continued success is in no small way attributable to it’s savvy marketing strategies. I get the feeling the ponytail mullet chap might formerly have been an advertising executive who returned to run the family business, the signage and slogans are state of the art and cutting edge respectively; best offal shop in town, baboo special buy one for the mother in law. They now boast a formidable franchise with a branch in Cape Town’s Mowbray, I think, and a Sunrise Lodge which I’m sure is nothing short of 5 star.
I order the mutton bunny avoiding the chip and cheese roti the place is renowned for, on the advice a wise man once gave me: “You don’t mix cheese and curry – everybody knows that!”
It makes quite obvious sense. Indian take out can be a gastronomical mine field, it’s almost as if there’s a surprise flavor hiding in every corner about to make your face sweat and your lips convulse: chili pips, pieces of bark, bay leaves and elachi seeds. Sometimes it’s best to order conservatively. I’m in no rush to order the prawn curry.
The uncle invites me round back to take more photos, it’s about three times the size of the foyer take away area in the front and, in another swift marketing move, offers me the quarter mutton and a buddy Coke for free. Fuck now I’m obliged to be nice and give a rave review. Ha! This is not the New Age and this ou isn’t Aptul Gupta. To further my disappointment Mahala is now off the hook for his “lunch, it’s on me” deal. For me it’s a morally awkward area. I tell the uncle our magazine is on the internet “ma-ha-la”. The bunny is actually quite amazing – But I’m sure they only prepare the best for a visiting press delegate.