From dining in the bush to tasting mopani worms, there's certainly a lot of variety when it comes to food in South Africa...here's our guide to the local delicacies you're likely to encounter on your African Adventure...
South Africa is a diverse blend of cultures which is reflected across its music, art, language and – of course – its food! With varied African, Dutch, Malaysian and Indian flavours (to name just a few), Afrikaans cooking is both unique and delicious. All over the country, there are hundreds of humble cafes and upscale restaurants serving both traditional South African dishes and more modern, innovative styles. It is no wonder that South African cuisine is fast gaining a great international reputation.
One of the most popular snacks in South Africa is the ever present Biltong, or dried, cured meat. Beef is a popular choice, however those looking for something a bit more adventurous may like to try kudu or ostrich. The good news is you won’t have to look far to find Biltong – it’s sold at nearly every grocery store, corner stall or petrol station.
You might also find more modern, upmarket versions at restaurants or can even be paired with wine at tastings. Whichever one you try, it’s a definite must!
Many African countries use cooked maize meal as a staple side dish for meals, and South Africa is no exception. Known as ‘ugali’ or ‘sadza’ elsewhere, the South African name is the simple “pap”. It is a type of firm porridge, that is cooked by boiling maize meal in either milk or water, and stirring continuously (chefs in South Africa must have strong arms from this task!). It can be eaten as a side for dishes such as curries, or there is also a breakfast version similar to porridge. Be warned – it can look a lot like mash potato when served with dinner and for those who are potato lovers you might be very disappointed when you discover it is pap!
A classic favourite at barbecues (or braais as they say in South Africa) and hearty breakfasts, boerewors is a delicious sausage – the name translates from Afrikaans from ‘farmer’s sausage’. It is prepared carefully, containing at least 90% meat which has no more than 30% fat. The meat is also spiced with additional flavours such as pepper and coriander. The sausages can be eaten on their own, or in a fried bun with generous helpings of onion and condiments.
A classic Cape Malay dish, Bobotie is a mouthwatering version of the humble shepherd’s pie that has been part of traditional South African cuisine since the 1600s. Made from beef mince and cooked in a delicious spicy and sweet curry sauce and topped off with an egg and milk mix, it is baked in the oven and then served warm. It’s a quintessential crowd-pleaser and cannot be missed while in South Africa!
Not only is this dish fun to say, but it’s also delicious to eat! A type of vegetable relish, it is thought that this dish originated in Johannesburg, where miners from Portuguese-ruled Mozambique would cook tinned vegetables such as tomatoes with chili, which created a tasty, Portuguese-inspired dish that went well with pap. Today there are many different recipes that include various spices and you will often see it on the menu as an accompaniment.
Braaivleis / Shisa Nyama
Not just a cooking style but a cultural institution, South Africans love barbecues! Many classic South African dishes are prepared over the traditional braai, where meats and other dishes are grilled over open coals. Often these meals are accompanied with dishes such as boerwors, and simple grilled meats such as steaks and kebabs (known locally as sosaties) are also popular. There are many upmarket restaurants where you can get a taste of the braaivleis experience – and even try some unique meats such as ostrich or buffalo.
Thought to be one of the oldest South African dishes, denningvleis is a classic that is served in dining rooms and restaurants across the country. It is a spicy lamb stew that is made with a mixed spice marinade drawn from Cape Malay. The marinade is both spicy and sour as a result of the generous addition of tamarind, and the end result is an aromatic, tasty dish that should not be missed while in South Africa!
This is the perfect choice if you are looking for a hearty meal, or want a traditional dish that can be prepared outdoors. The name translates to “small-pot food”, as the key to authentic potjiekos is that it is prepared in a traditional Dutch Oven, usually over an open fire. The dish usually includes meat and various vegetables, seasoned sparingly with different spices and often with an alcoholic beverage (such as beer) added. It’s a classic favourite with every family and restaurant having their own special recipes for the perfect potjiekos.
Translating literally as “fat cake”, vetkoek are fried balls of dough which are filled with yummy fillings. The fillings can be savoury, such as spiced meats, or there are sweet versions where the fried balls of dough are filled with jam or fruit, or lathered in syrup or jam. They are readily available in South Africa, sometimes seen as a breakfast food, but often accompany traditional braais.
A favourite dessert served in most restaurants and every South African grandmother’s kitchen, malva pudding is one for the sweet tooth’s! It traditionally has a sweet, butter-soaked spongy interior cased in a caramelised exterior, before a liberal amount of cream sauce is poured all over it. The end result is a sweet, rich cake that will have you asking for seconds! Be sure to try it at one of the many cafes or restaurants all over the country.
So there you have it, a sample of our favourite South African dishes for you to try during your stay. Not only are these recipes delicious – thanks largely to the unique blend of cultures that have influenced South Africa – but they are also important parts of everyday life in South Africa. So enjoying them is not only a culinary experience that should not be missed, but a cultural one too! Just remember to pack some trousers in the next size up!