Vegan in South Africa

MARCH 7, 2020 : Writing this from Johannesburg, where I am spending a few days with my daughter and her family on my way to Australia.

Meat is such a big part of the South African diet that it is hardly ever left out of meals. So I was pretty surprised when my daughter suggested going to Leafy Greens Cafe, a highly recommended vegan restaurant. I did not really expect vegan restaurants to exist here, let alone be highly recommended. On the other hand, Joburg has a thriving fresh produce market scene. The wide variety and the good quality of the local fruits and vegetables offers the potential of creating delicious vegan dishes.

Towards noon, we drove a half hour northwest of the city to reach the place. In true South African fashion, upon arriving we first needed to pass a quick security check. Once past, we found ourselves parking the car in a grove of trees. The restaurant is outdoors, under a tent top with open sides, that overlooks a beautiful large lawn with rolling hills in the background.

Leafy Greens Café operates as a buffet – you fill your plate and then pay by weight. The buffet offered a nice selection of cold and hot dishes – all vegan. There were spring rolls, humus and different vegetable salads among the cold dishes. Vegan pizzas, stuffed cabbage, breaded tofu and much more in the hot.

One of the salads had a vegetable I did not recognize – it resembled a green orange. Turns out this is what they call African Cucumber, also known as Horned Melon. It has a very distinctive taste – reminiscent of cucumbers but stronger.

Besides the buffet, there is a large beverage menu – including many smoothie variations. There is also a wide selection of vegan desserts, some even gluten-free. Chocolate was a predominant ingredient.

This restaurant, like many in South Africa, is very family friendly. Besides the large lawn for the kids to run on, there was a playground, a trampoline, and a nice kiddy menu for them to choose from. The baby highchair had a distinctive African style, very different from the simple white plastic Ikea high chairs that are pretty standard in Israel.

After eating and frolicking on the lawn, we noticed a pathway and decided to go exploring. The path led to a large organic garden full of many vegetables, some recognizable and others less so. There were carrots, peppers, eggplants, lettuce, and much more.

We also stumbled upon The Green Bean –– a small local coffee bean company, that besides roasting and selling coffee beans, also has a coffee café for tasting their brews.

As we were starting to head back to our car, a helicopter flew low overhead and landed on the large lawn, thrilling the grandkids and adults alike. Next door to the restaurant, the Joburg Gin & Tonic Festival was taking place, and we assume the helicopter brought a VIP to the event. The festival drew hundreds of people and had a live band to provide us background music for our wanderings.

What started as a trip to a vegan restaurant became a very enjoyable three-hour excursion. A day to remember.

P.S. If you ever get to go to the Leafy Greens Cafe, making reservations is recommended.

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