South Africa is a stew of cultures, colours and race. With slaves, colonisation, wars and visitors, the country become the home of many peoples. And with people, came spices, ingredients and recipes. Curries and coconut came from India and the Far East, meats and open-fire grilling from the Afrikaners and black tribes.
From pasta and pizza, pap and samp to French toast and French beans, South Africa is known for its culinary range.
Food is served in various forms at various outlets. From meat grilling on an open fire on street corners to fine dining in a 5-star restaurant, food is everywhere. You can buy a liver-saving warm pie after a good party at 04:00 or stop for a full English breakfast at a fuel station. On the other hand, you can spend a month’s salary for a visit to a celebrity-chef’s kitchen in Cape Town and dine on fresh seafood at a make-shift beach restaurant. To make sense of South Africa’s food options, here are a few pointers.
Usually you are fed at your lodge or guesthouse – this usually includes breads, cereal, fruit and yoghurts. Hot options include eggs, sausages and bacon. Vegetarians may be served mushrooms if they are lucky. Black tea, a fruit or herbal tea or two, good coffee and juice are usually included.
Still considered exotic, vegetarians usually get the raw deal. Especially in small towns and in chain-restaurants the options are limited to chips, crumbed mushrooms or a salad. Vegetables most often served as side dishes include butternut or pumpkin, spinach, carrots or beans. Do some research about good vegetarian option in the area of your lodge or ask the manager for suggestions. South Africa fruit is of excellent quality and Indian restaurants serve good vegetarian choices.
Chicken, pork, beef, lamb, fish, seafood, game, sausages, offal, hamburgers, duck and cherry pies, bobotie springrolls, sosaties, samoosas, boeries (spicy sausage in a roll) and pofadders (minced liver wrapped in caul fat). South Africans love their proteins. It will be curried, stuff inside a pie, made into sausages or served as a bredie (stew) from a black pot cooked over a fire – meat comes in all forms. You might be invited to a braai? Slices of meat will be grilled over a wooden fire, spiced to perfections and often eaten by hand. Go, behold the spectacle and enjoy!
The return of the hipster movement has prompted a return to artisanal crafts. This can be seen in breadmaking in South Africa. Stone-ground flour, whole meal home-baked breads are available from delis, farm stalls and markets. Starches served at meals include rice (with stews or curries), rotis (curries), mash potatoes to sweet potatoes chips and potato wedges. The black tribes have contributed pap thick maize meal porridge) and samp while fancy non-gluten variations of common starches are now in vogue – think cauliflower pizza bases and coconut or almond flour baked goods.
Traditional desserts include milk tart, malva pudding and koeksisters – a deep-fried dough pastry soaked in syrup, some variations are spiced and sprinkled with coconut. Common after-dinner delicacies range from ice creams, fruit salad, crème brûlée, and chocolate mousse to tiramisu, apple tart and Cape brandy pudding.
Some lodges have fulltime catering staff and serve meals, but most often you will sample South Africa food at an eatery of some sort. Eating establishments in South Africa range from international fast-food chains such as MacDonald’s and KFC to South African chains such as Spur (family grill restaurant) and Mugg and Bean (coffee shop and light meals). Privately owned restaurants often have the most creative menus and use fresh/local ingredients. Ask the locals for their recommendations?
Food in South Africa will be memorable. Choose local dishes for a taste of the influencing cultures and taste new ingredients and styles. Bon appétit!