Mayfair is one of Joburg's ethnic food frontiers. Church Street, the main road through Mayfair, is lined with Halaal butcheries, Turkish kebab joints and Indian bakeries.
The butcheries have the largest signs, grabbing the most attention on this cacophonous thoroughfare. But Mayfair isn't all about meat. If you're a vegetarian, or just feel like something different, keep your eyes peeled for BAPS Shayona.
Shayona is run by the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha - BAPS for short - an organisation that is part of the Swaminarayan sect of Hinduism. I won't get into BAPS' religious doctrine; my brain almost exploded after reading a few thousand words on Wikipedia. But for the purposes of this review, you should know three things:
1. There is an organisation of BAPS volunteers in Joburg, and those volunteers run Shayona to raise funds for their charitable projects.
2. Shayona's food is 100% vegetarian (not vegan) and is also free of garlic and onions, which the Swaminarayans consider to be dark and unclean.
3. Despite the exclusion of meat and two of the earth's tastiest flavorings, Shayona's curries and sweetmeats are among the best I've had in Joburg.
The menu is confusing, as the first pages are filled with western-style foods. Skip those (masala pizza with paneer sounds intriguing but it's not Shayona's best offering) and go to the curry page near the back.
Don't be deterred by the complicated descriptions - some curries are described as "normal", some are "regular", and some are simply called "curry." But they're all good and you can't go wrong. Plus the food is served on traditional Indian tin plates, which make everything taste better.
If there are two (or even three) of you, order the "Deluxe Lunch", which has some of everything and costs R65. Wash it down with milky masala tea.
The portions don't look huge but trust me, you'll be full before you finish. Don't leave yet, though. Stop off in the shop adjacent to the dining room where you'll find a dizzying array of snacks, spices, and even toiletries and household cleaners, all free of animal products and other unholy ingredients.
Don't skip the sweets counter, either. I usually find Indian sweetmeats (which aren't meat at all, but a special Indian candy) too oily and rich. Shayona's sweets, however, are pleasantly indulgent but don't sit like rocks in your stomach.
You might have to roll yourself out the door by the end of your visit. But at least you'll have stuffed your stomach with the holiest food in town.
Where? 74 Church Street, Mayfair, Johannesbur
When? Breakfast, lunch and dinner Tuesdays to Sundays
by Heather Mason