We said in an interview recently that we tell stories of African people locally and abroad. What makes someone African? The colour of our skin? We like to think it’s an indomitable spirit, loving your country and your city, living in it and giving yourself to it, what could make you more African?
The mother and daughter team of Casa Marani have been feeding the residents of Johannesburg for 20 years at the Bryanston market, they recently took the leap and moved to a tiny shop on 4th Avenue Parkhurst, squeezed between two much larger stores, blink and you might miss them.
From the street it’s not immediately obvious what you’ll find in Casa Marani, a warmth draws you in, something tells you there’s love here. A sense of Daniela & Graziella pervades, one gets the feeling that a familial bond supports these extraordinary woman.
We apologise for our humble photographic depictions with this piece. Our resident photography guru is exploring Paris. In our missing members honour and to soothe a little jealousy, we decided to bring you Graziella’s charming deli and the sandwiches made by the lady of the hour.
Be warned there isn’t a trend in sight, rather a nostalgic, disarming honesty. It might be my age but as a little girl, I remember going into town with my folks and sitting at places just like Casa Marani. South Africa was newly free and Italian was exotic and all the rage. Every place similarly stocked with bottled antipasti, Italian biscuits and chunky sauces. A hole in the wall in Hyde Park made a Napoletana sauce that was volcanic tomato heaven and being lifted onto one of their bar-stools to dip almond biscotti into my hot chocolate made me feel awfully grown up. In Rosebank, we’d visit another tiny Italian café with a long bar and eat garlicky mozzarella & provolone tramezzino which they would toast dark golden brown and serve with deep green leaves and bitter radicchio in sweet balsamic vinegar.
With 3 tables, jostling for a seat to be served by Casa Marani’s barista and front of house go to guy, Keith isn’t always easy, but leaving with one of Graziella’s creations isn’t a bad second. Her freezer is packed with homemade meals and sauces to take away. The drinks fridge has all the Italian classics, Oran Soda and tiny frosted bottles of thick Yogi fruit juice. There is cucumber, lemon and dill water overflowing from jugs, smiles and chatter (often in passionate, quickened Italian) which fill this tiny space. You want to nestle deeper into your chair and stay a little longer
The ladies will make you an antipasti platter if you’re sitting down to watch the passing 4th Avenue hustle. Or take away a crusty ciabatta stuffed with salami, provolone cheese and roasted, marinated house special vegetables dripping in peppery extra virgin olive oil.
Dessert could be Graziella’s tiramisu or Daniela’s legendary cheesecake and fresh yellow cream Boconnotto with a coffee. Casa Marani doesn’t do a lot but what they do, they put their heart into. Keith greets you at the door and welcomes you home and the lack of staff is almost startling. Mama and only two helpers somehow keep it all ticking over.
Tomato crates nailed to the walls house an array of classic Italian biscuits to buy and a table in the middle of the store holds the day’s bread and farm fresh veggies. Black and white tiles and a small stove are what you glimpse of the kitchen where tortellini, layered cassata and crepe and salmon terrines are lovingly made. A deli fridge holds the magic trays of marinated veggies and a selection of cheeses and cold meats.
We are eternally grateful that we don’t work any closer to this little alcove of carbs, we lose all willpower as we cross the threshold. Maybe this is what Italian food is and always has been. It is love and it engulfs you and lifts your spirits. It’s a grey day in Joburg when we sit down at Graziella’s only indoor table, we give her Carte Blanche with our lunch and she fills soft ciabatta and crusty stone ground bread rolls with Mediterranean sunshine in the form of bright peppers and creamy aubergine. Alongside a light Frittata, pistachio green with zucchini and herbs, the Parmesan in the egg mixture has baked to form a crispy pastry-like crust.
We will be stocking up on melanzane and lasagne for those evenings where dragging oneself into a frosty woollies queue, feels akin to climbing a large hill with ankle weights. Sapori biscotti and Apricot blushed bags of Frollino make great pantry staples, served with Amaretto and coffee, they always make a chic last minute dessert, so in the name of being responsible adults, we’ll have to buy those as well.
It sounds cliché, but just a little time spent in Graziella and Daniela’s company reminds one how important these people and places are in the fabric of a community. How worth saving they are, I know first-hand what this industry takes from one’s self and soul. To prepare a handful of dishes passed down to you that have incredible meaning to you, for this length of time is no small feat. To still have a smile and some of yourself left to give is monumental.
We’ll be back, asking you to feed us again, far too soon.
Look out for CASA MARANI, No 37 on 4th Avenue Parkhurst, next to Nice on 4th.
010 900 4717 / firstname.lastname@example.org if you ask nicely they’ll even cater your dinner parties.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY: DANIELLA DU PLESSIS