South Africa’s cuisine is unique – just like the diverse people, culture and languages. South Africa has a very colourful and delectable cuisine. Through the decades, South African cuisine has been influenced by a mixture of African, Dutch, French and Malay cultures, bringing a vibrant flavour to every dish. Each dish has its own unique story and that is what makes it even more special.
If you are planning a trip to South Africa, you may want to try some of our unique dishes guaranteed to give you the complete South African experience.
Braai (A barbecue):
This is South Africa’s most iconic and well-known food. The word “Braai” is far more than food or the process of grilling meat on a fire. A Braai is a sociable event amongst South African’s and is a way to bring families and friends together. Typically, when you are invited to a braai, you are invited to a “Bring and Braai”- each family or couple would bring something to contribute to the meal, whether it be meat, a salad or homemade bread. Common braai meats that are typically cooked are boerewors (Afrikaans word for sausage), chicken in a marinade, lamb or pork chops and steak.
Boerewors (Farmer sausage and pronounced as ‘’bu-rev-ors’’) is a spicy sausage that originates from South African and Namibia. The tasty sausage contains beef and is then mixed with either lamb, pork or both to create a rich flavour.
A mandatory traditional side dish to have with your braai is a “braaibroodjie” (translated into “braai sandwich”). A braaibroodjie is a grilled cheese sandwich made with cheese, tomato, onion, apricot jam or apricot chutney and then grilled to perfection (when the cheese has melted) in a closed braai grid over a medium fire. You may think that a grilled cheese sandwich is something you would have for a light meal, but not in South Africa – this is an integral part of a braai!
Braaing is so popular in South Africa that we celebrate National Braai Day (officially known as Heritage Day) on the 24th of September each year, claiming that every South African should braai on this day!
Biltong and droëwors: (Pronounced ”bil-tong”)
If you are familiar with beef jerky then you will definitely love South African biltong! Although not as sweet as beef jerky, biltong is similar in the sense that it is a dried, cured and spiced meat.
Droëwors (dried sausage) goes through a similar process, but instead of meat cuts, ground beef or game mince and mutton fat are mixed together with spices to make a thin sausage. The sausage hangs to cure and dry.
Biltong is a great snack, in fact, it is the ideal “padkos” snack (road trip snack) and there is no doubt that you will come across Biltong during your travels to South Africa as you may even have some biltong as a snack during one of your afternoon safaris at Lalibela. Beef is the most common meat used for biltong but you can find other meats such as game meat from kudu, ostrich or springbok.
Did you know that cured meat was brought over to South Africa in the 17th century? The meat was preserved using vinegar and potassium nitrate as it would take several months for a boat to reach its destination. This process is still used today although the flavours have changed over the years.
Potjiekos: (Pronounced “pot-jee-koz”)
South African’s cook potjiekos (“food made in a pot”), a slow-cooked stew, in a round, cast-iron pot over a fire. The dish traditionally consists of meat and vegetables and is a sociable way to cook a meal for a large group of people. South African’s know how to have a good time and there are often potjiekos cooking events that are held where teams or individuals compete to see who can make the best and tastiest potjiekos!
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Bobotie: (Pronounced “ba-bo-tea”)
Bobotie is a hearty South African casserole made from ground beef or lamb, herbs, spices, curry powder and is topped with a thin layer of egg custard on top. The dish originated from an Indonesian dish called “Bobotok’’, which was brought to South Africa in the 16th century by the Indonesians that transported spices and slaves to the country. Bobotie is traditionally served with vegetables and yellow rice.
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Vetkoek: (Pronounced “vet-kuk”)
This dish can either be a savoury dish or a dessert, depending on how it is served. Vetkoek means ‘’fat cake’’ or ‘’oil cake’’ in Afrikaans as this dish consists of a doughy pastry that is deep-fried in oil. For savoury options, the inside is stuffed with minced beef. For sweet options, vetkoek is served with honey, butter, jam or cheese.
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For the sweet tooth, there are mouth-watering South African desserts that you simply have to try!
A milktart is similar to a traditional Dutch custard tart, however, it is milkier and is sprinkled with lots of cinnamon. The tart consists of a sweet pastry crust and a creamy filling that is made out of milk, eggs, flour and sugar. Almost every family has their own secret recipe for a milktart which is passed down from one generation to the next.
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Malva pudding: (Pronounced “mahl-vah”)
Malva pudding is undoubtedly the most famous South African dessert. It’s a sweet, sticky and spongy-textured cake that is baked and covered with a cream sauce. Apricot jam and vinegar are two key ingredients that give Malva Pudding its unique flavour. It is best eaten warm and can be served with homemade custard or vanilla ice cream as some South African like to eat it. Malva pudding is of Cape Dutch origin.
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Koeksisters (Afrikaans for cake sisters):
Koeksisters are a sweet, crispy pastry that is made out of dough and deep-fried in oil and then soaked in a sticky syrup. They are easily recognizable by their golden colour and braided shape.
The Cape Malay version, compared to the more common sweet version is rolled in desiccated coconut and has a slightly spicier flavour.
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Other unique South African foods and drinks to try:
Rooibos is a South African plant whose leaves are commonly used for brewing tea. Originally, it was an inexpensive alternative to European black tea. The name rooibos means ‘’red bush’’, referring to the plant’s visual characteristics.
Today, rooibos is mostly used for the preparation of tea, iced tea and red espresso. Rooibos is well known for its anti-ageing properties.
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This cream liqueur is produced with a base spirit that is distilled from hand-picked fruits of African marula which is also known as the elephant tree. The base is then aged and then combined with sugar and cream to create a rich liqueur that is characterized by its slight caramel flavour. The marula fruit is a treat for elephants so the brad has cleverly turned them into a trademark and help with their protection.
Amarula is best served chilled, preferably over ice. You may even be lucky enough to enjoy a morning cup of coffee on safari at Lalibela with a dash of Amarula – a real treat!
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Mielie pap is a traditional porridge made from mielie meal (ground maize) and is usually served with a tomato and onion relish or with a stew to soak up the gravy. This is a staple meal of most South Africans.
Mielie Pap can also be paired with “Chakalaka” – a vegetable relish that originated in the townships of Johannesburg. The basic version of chakalaka combines tomatoes, beans, onions and peppers, all mixed with Cape Malay spices.
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Mrs Ball’s Chutney:
In 1952, the SS Quanza was shipwrecked off the coast of East London, South Africa, en route from Canada to Australia. Captain Adkins and his wife saved a blueprint for what has now become South Africa’s most well-known chutney. The secret recipe was passed on to their daughter Amelia in 1865 who later married Mr Herbert Sandleton Ball. During 1914, the demand for the chutney grew bigger and so the Ball kitchen was transformed into a production line. Several years later, the first factory was opened and in April 2013, Mrs Balls Chutney became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tiger Consumer Brands Limited. This much-loved condiment which has graced the dinner tables of South African households for decades is now exported to countries like Germany, New Zealand and Australia.
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One this is for sure – South Africa’s flavourful and delectable cuisine will not disappoint you!
In search of more reading? Here’s some recipes to celebrate Heritage Day!