Last week I had a staggeringly delicious burger. It was not fashioned from Wagyu beef or brioche rolls. It had not been smashed on a griddle by a painfully hip Californian chef or dished up with thrice-fried duck-fat chips and truffle mayo. If one were to inspect a world ranking of the finest burgers, you would not find this takeaway specimen. It is unlikely that the red-pleather palace from whence said snack came will ever be on an episode of cult US food show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives either. That décor clue gave it away, right?
Indeed, the burger was of the Wimpy variety — at Cape Town International Airport, to be specific. The chips leant towards pastel yellow and the low-slung burger would, to the untrained eye, appear unremarkable. The squirty bottles of translucent tomato sauce and mustard were as natural looking as a Pop Art print of their bottles. There was only one word to describe this meal — “ambrosial”.
Before you say it, I was not hungover nor famished from intermittent fasting. Not even the regulation airport plastic knife and fork could detract from the fact that a good old Wimpy burger and chips remains a uniquely, perennially delicious thing. The tangy relish probably has something to do with it, but truly there is another secret sauce that really gives it the edge. Wimpy is part of the national psyche. More so, it is part of recollections of seeing the sea for the first time, family squabbles, your dad playing John Denver tapes on repeat, and the potential of a holiday stretching out ahead of you.
The brand’s association with travel means that when you buy a toasted sarmie from this fast-food joint that first opened its doors in Durbs in 1967, your order could easily come with a side of nostalgia. Its link to car journeys in particular is what will resonate with many people. Your wife might make killer biryani or egg sandwiches as padkos, but you’ve certainly also broken a trip at this Famous Brands favourite.
From Matatiele to Musina, a lot of legs have been stretched during a hashbrown breakfast and strawberry milkshake. Once, after a particularly raucous night, my sister, in her dressing gown, swung by a Wimpy with a liquor licence. She and her mates had veggie burgers and a glass of white wine for breakfast. It’s a dynamic franchise. That said, if there’s an honourable mention going to anyone in this ode to the OG of travel food, it is to the good people who run the Bergview Wimpy in Harrismith.
Millions of us Joburgers doing the six-hour stretch along the N3 have had you as part of our KZN holiday stories for decades. As kids, we’d delight in the property’s petting zoo, as students we’d arrive in our PJs. My mom would say, “We always stop there because the bathrooms are sparkling and the service incredible.”
Once, driving down to the Durban July as a youngster on a Friday night after work, I put on my makeup under the glare of the restaurant lights, ready to hit Florida Road’s clubs four hours later. On another visit, we found that an air-force helicopter had crashed at the site, narrowly missing the animals and any serious injuries.
The most expensive burger in the world is called “The Golden Boy”. It is topped with Beluga caviar and crab and comes with onion rings made with Dom Perignon batter. It will set you back over R100 000. You could blow that cash, or alternatively spend R74.90 on a Wimpy cheeseburger that comes with free, priceless memories.
• Sarah Buitendach is contributing editor to the Financial Mail
• From the November edition of Wanted, 2023.