Lunch at Joe’s Butchery in Alexandra Township

People think African townships are scary places. They think they’re dangerous and need to be avoided. If you know anything about me, you know that I don’t buy into that sort of hype. It’s not that I am irresponsible and go to dangerous places, it’s just that often the places that people think are too dangerous to go just plain aren’t. Colombia is a wonderful place to visit. You should never go to Rio de Janeiro without visiting the favelas. You should never visit South Africa without visiting a township. Of all the major townships in South Africa, Alexandra (or Alex) probably gets the worst rap. Since the violent six-day uprising of 1986, Alex has had the perception of being a dangerous place that tourists have no business visiting. I went there for lunch.

An iconic sign in Alexandra Township

An iconic sign in Alexandra Township

Joe’s Butchery

Having lunch at a butchery may seem strange but it’s common practice in South African townships. After all, butcher shops have the meat, why not cook it and serve it to customers as a finished product? Vertical integration at its best. Joe’s Butchery is an Alex landmark and sits right in the center of the township. Coming straight from the incredible Apartheid Museum, I could tell my all-white group in our big white van was a little nervous as we pulled up to the open air elegance that is Joe’s Butchery. We were the only white people anywhere near the place. How would we be received? How far had South Africa really come in such a short period of time?

Masterful BBQ taking place at Joe's Butchery in Alexandra Township

Masterful BBQ taking place at Joe’s Butchery in Alexandra Township

 

As we piled out of the van and into the courtyard of the restaurant I think we were all surprised to see just how little everyone cared. The restaurant was grooving. It was Sunday afternoon and the grills were going full-steam. Soccer was on all the TV’s and a DJ was playing some outrageously good Afro-Pop music at the perfect volume. Everyone sat around enjoying the end of their weekend by sitting in the sun, enjoying some great food and throwing back a few beers. Meat was coming off the grill at a seemingly endless assembly line pace. Long picnic tables offered the perfect mix of private and communal seating.

Chicken, sausage and steaks being cooked to flame cooked perfection

Chicken, sausage and steaks being cooked to flame cooked perfection

Food is a mix of chicken, sausage, steaks and more exotic pieces like livers and such. Everything is delicious. Freshly butchered and cooked all on site. If you have a group of people, just ask the waitress for enough food for everyone and try a bit of everything. Don’t forget a case of Castle beers to wash it all down with.

Dig right in, everything is delicious

Dig right in, everything is delicious

Exploring the Township

After lunch be sure to explore the rest of the township a bit, especially some of the community centers and preschools. Soweto is Johannesburg’s most well known township but Alex offers an authenticity that’s hard to find anywhere else. If you think visiting a township might be scary or dangerous, I encourage you to face your fear and visit Alex. You’ll find that where you expected to see crime and poverty you’ll instead find a vibrant local culture and people that are warm and welcoming everywhere you look. The food is really good, too.

We might not look like we belong, but we were treated like we did

We might not look like we belong, but we were treated like we did.

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