It’s never Boer-ing at Zunzi’s

Get a little taste of South Africa on York Street

Johnny and Gabby, owners of Zunzi’s downtown

I get lots of suggestions as to what restaurants I should write about. Zunzi’s has been suggested most often. And when I see the line snaking down the sidewalk I figure something is being done right.

What I find out is that there are no seats inside! All food is either take-out or eaten in the outdoor patio area.

Co-owner Johnny DeBeer is behind the counter with Kenneth Clark, who’s worked with them for a year. When we step inside the Feng Shui-designed ordering area smiling Johnny says hello. He talks and jokes with everyone, bringing as many people inside as he can until the room is packed. It’s fun.

Soon I’m enjoying a terrific, bountiful international meal under the golden sun, shaded by Zunzi’s vibrantly colored umbrellas: Homemade South African Boerewors Sausage, Hummus, Falafel, vegetarian curry, Chicken a la King, charbroiled salmon salad, two secret sauces and a sweetened Roobois iced tea.

Many of the customers are obviously regulars. There’s no concern about who was first in line or whose orders should be taken when. It seems like one big happy family coming together for a feast, each of them excited to dig into some wonderful food.

Time and again I watch people order one dish – a favorite – only to change their mind and order something else –another favorite. One customer I eat lunch with, Danica Leigh, who creates amazing sets and wardrobes for local theaters including The Savannah Actor’s Theater, says that she ate at Zunzi’s during her first visit here and liked it so much that it influenced her decision to move to Savannah!

Johnny is from South Africa. His wife Gabby, Zunzi’s other co-owner and chef is from the city of Berne, Switzerland, on the Italian border. Her food represents Switzerland, of course, and also the input of her grandmother on the Italian side, and the nomadic Gypsy world of her father.

Gabby’s parents should be coming to visit Savannah soon to see their granddaughter for the first time. Johnny says we can expect some exciting specials on the menu during that time, courtesy of Gabby’s mother. In 2010 Johnny and Gabby plan to go to South Africa for soccer’s World Cup.

Meditation and the positive energy it creates are keys to why Gabby’s food is so good, so fun, so easy to digest: She tells her employees: “The most important thing: Don’t touch my food if you’re angry. Don’t piss me off when I cook... clear your mind when you cook and keep good thoughts in your head... people don’t realize the strength of thought.”

She goes on to expound on how negative thoughts and energy can permeate and damage food; how they can make it hard to digest.

And how powerful positive thoughts, when accompanied by well traveled knowledge and exacting, creative skill can enhance it.

“We’ve got soul food ­— European soul food,” she concludes.

Zunzi’s is at 108 East York St. Call them at 443-9555. Mon-Sat 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

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