Nestled snugly in a City that never ceases to stop for just a second is the most perfect reminder of home. A place that is not just a nostalgic reminder because of a name we all associate with our country, but the place bustles with the lively atmosphere of a typical South African shebeen. About 80% of the people there are all natives, so familiar accents and words that many of us hear so seldomly fly around like we are all sitting back at home catching up with old friends. You are greeted with a, “Hey China! Howzit going!” and you promptly respond with, “Lekker bru,” with no awkward glances and feeling for the first time in a very long time as if someone really gets this very unique thing we all share. It is a place for those us who long for the country we all dearly miss to have some sort of connection to, because ultimately that is what South Africa is made up of, a melting pot of amazing people and Madiba in New York City captures this so impressively.
I must admit I had my doubts about this place, recreating an atmosphere and place that completely symbolized the very way of life for every South African in a place that was so completely opposite was going to be a challenge. South Africa lives for the “just now’s” and moves on the ever unpredictable “African Time,” we seldomly stay strangers with people for very long and smiles are given away like candy. In New York City, despite how amazing this place is, you are hurried from one place to the next knowing that every second counts, and most of the time we are so busy glancing down at our feet we forget to see the people who pass by us on the street. Yet our first step into this place was like taking a giant leap out of the USA and stepping into the warm embrace of home.
Madiba was our choice of restaurant for the night because we were meeting some South African friends flying in from the UK. Familiar territory for all. As we walked through the door we were handed an original ballot sheet from the 1994 election, and they had even taken the time to mark off our vote for us. The place was jam packed with people squashing elbows in this knee and standing on that toe. The music playing in the background was a mix of up and coming South African artist, with some of the older more famous tracks in between. At our table we sat down in old style farm house chairs that were all miss matched, and sturdy looking tables that came out of our grandparents’ era.
The food was amazing! We started off with a light white wine straight from the vineyards in Stellenbosch to accompany our starter of “vetkoek” in a sauce of chutney and a hearty supply of “slap chips” drenched in vinegar. Now the hard part came, choosing from the multitude of traditional dishes which would satisfy our appetite and longing for home. At this point in the night when we have all starved ourselves the whole day for the anticipated meals ahead, the decision is a very difficult one. I settled on the tasty “bobotie” and more chutney which turned out impeccably capturing all the flavors of this very scrumptious meal. Kate, Mavis and Jen both tried the “pap en wors” with the side of chakalaka. I had a taste of the pap and have to say honestly that no one can truly make better “pap” then my wonderful “Goggo” back home, but it came a very close second. Kev and Nicole tried the very traditional oxtail, and both raved about the delicious meal.
At this point we were all stuffed to the seams, but how could I leave without trying “iets soets?” After selling off my beanie in exchange for a dom pedro I was hoping it would be worth it. It was great that Kate was paying, but it was also frigidly cold outside that door. The first sip was more than worth it and the rest of that wonderful glass was a delightful bonus.
The night turned into a great surprise. A time to reconnect with all that we left behind at home, to catch up with old friends and to be in a place where we could just have a “lekker jol.”