It’s snowing in London as I’m writing this, which feels a far cry from the weather I was enjoying last week in Durban, South Africa. Even just catching the tail end of their summer meant sunny skies and temperatures of 29°C.
Durban is a bustling port on the East coast of South Africa, with some really beautiful golden beaches especially towards the North. I was visiting on business so didn’t have a huge amount of time to explore them, but I’ve definitely been able to soak up a bit of vitamin D to see me through this British winter now I’m back home.
Durban has a large Indian community as well as it’s African population and the city’s culture and cuisine really reflect that mix. One of Durban’s signature dishes has got to be bunny chow – half a loaf of bread overflowing with beautiful curry. An authentic bunny chow certainly isn’t a pretty dish – that’s what I love most about it because it’s not trying too hard, it’s just genuine and delicious – and the way to eat it like a local is to get your hands dirty!
Chakalaka (which let’s be honest I can’t say without dancing a little bit…) is another common South African dish usually with veggies, often beans too and always plenty of spice. And of course a good braai is just as much a feature in Durban as it is elsewhere in South Africa and meat takes centre stage. Needless to say I didn’t have many veggie days during my stay…
Where to stay in Durban
Whilst there’s plenty to do in central Durban, a lot of locals were wary of the area and advised that it wasn’t particularly safe to walk around, especially after dark. It’s worth staying a little bit North of the city in Umhlanga where it’s generally considered to be safer – you can still get an Uber into the centre if you want to see any sites or visit any of the restaurants there.
Things to see and do in Durban
At the top of my list when I had some free time to explore was the Victoria Street Market in central Durban, famed for its stalls selling all manner of spices. The smells that wafted over me as I first stepped into the building we’re just intoxicating and I wished I could bottle them up and bring them home. The colours too – deep reds and mahoganies, burnt rusty oranges, and vibrant yellows and greens – stunning!
I treated myself to some gorgeous spices from R.A. Moodley. They are so friendly and helpful, without being pushy, and they let you try anything you like the look of. I loved their Lemon Herb and Lemon Pepper seasoning and came away with a bag of each. The lady in the store also mixed me up my very own masala spice so I could try to make bunny chow back at home. Thankfully the spices all made it home in one piece without any accidents or suitcase explosions, which was quite a relief!
Victoria Street Market also has a number of stalls selling African souvenirs such as beaded jewellery, woven goods and wooden carvings, and at a lower price than you’ll find in a lot of other places. It’s worth haggling a bit too as you can probably get at least a little bit off their first price.
Second on my Durban wish-list was the Oyster box hotel at Umhlanga Rocks and its iconic lighthouse. Ideally I’d have gone for their famous, decadent afternoon tea, but as I wasn’t in Durban for a holiday I was thankful to be able to sneak in a quick cuppa in the terrace. It was a great way to start the morning with a view over the hotel’s signature red and white parasols and of course the lighthouse itself, and soaking up the atmosphere and the weather before going to work.
Then of course there is the beach! Durban has miles of coastline and some great beaches – there’s a great surfing scene too as the water is often pretty choppy. Both the Blue Lagoon at the mouth of the Umgeni River, and Thompson’s Beach just north of Ballito are worth a trip.
Where to eat in Durban
Moyo Restaurant at uShaka Marine World
Located right on the sea front with the main restaurant on the beach and a cocktail bar standing out over the water, Moyo is in the perfect spot for a sunset tipple, or lunch overlooking the ocean. The food is brilliant and is a celebration of African cuisine and you can get your bunny chow, ostrich steaks and your potjiekos too. I enjoyed some delicious samosas to start, and followed them up with a mouthwatering beef dombolo, a slow-cooked beef curried stew served with fluffy dombolo dumplings. The restaurant is stunning and the food and service were the best I had during my trip, so I hugely recommend Moyo.
Big Easy at Hilton
I have to admit it feels like a cop-out to eat in your hotel restaurant, but after a long flight and an afternoon meeting colleagues, I wasn’t up for going that far and I think I lucked out! Big Easy, by South African golfer Ernie Els, serves a variety of local dishes, again including bunny chow and other signature staples, plus a very attractive wine list. I ordered the baked linefish which was out of this world.
Very much a meat-lover’s destination, this restaurant needed a mention. Their huge, tender, melt-in-your-mouth steaks are worth making time for and try their biltong too with one of the craft beers they offer.
There were plenty more restaurants that I didn’t get a chance to visit myself, but would be high on my list to try if I get the chance to visit again. The Cargo Hold at uShaka Marine World looked interesting located within a ship’s hold with views into the aquarium – it’s hard to know where they stand on food quality, but it looks like a great place for a bit of a different atmosphere and a novelty setting. 9th Avenue Bistro in Morningside gets great reviews and looks like a bit of a higher-end establishment serving great quality bistro fare. Then there’s Freedom Cafe which is a small coffee shop in a shipping container that I would love to visit for its chilled vibes and reportedly brilliant brews.
All in all I had a great time out in Durban and was actually surprised at how much there is to do and see out there. Although I was working most of the time, I’m glad I managed to get out and explore a little bit and get a feel for the city. It’s definitely a city with character and history, plus the weather and some great food!