In South Africa, you’ll find an array of local dishes inspired by the indigenous population. Cultural traditions along with Dutch, French, Indian and Malaysian influences have led to a range of unique and vibrant dishes that have become known as home -grown and which, should form part of every traveller’s itinerary when visiting! I’ve put together a simple list of South Africa’s most iconic and traditional dishes that are a must try. If you’re not a local and as you read through, don’t be surprised if you see some dishes that seem familiar to foods you already know…
Boerewors is a traditional South African sausage, (highly spiced farm-made sausages made by local Afrikaners) usually containing an array of meats from mutton, beef and pork seasoned with a wide variety of spices such as thyme, fennel, coriander, cloves, mint, ginger and red wine. The word boerewors comes from the Afrikaans and Dutch words boer and wors meaning farmer and sausage. This local food is traditionally served in a coiled shape after being cooked on a braai (or barbecue).
This mild Cape-Malay curry is another dish thought to have been brought to South Africa by Asian settlers. It now forms the official national dish consisting of minced meat simmered with herbs, spices and dried fruit, topped with a baked custard mixture of egg and milk. It is commonly served with rice and sambals which contain chopped tomatoes, nuts, chutney and a little bit of coconut.
- Biltong & Droewors
These traditional snacks are usually made from beef or game such as springbok. Biltong consists of thinly sliced, air-dried meat while droewors is an air-dried sausage. The meat is cured in a mixture of vinegar, salt, sugar and spices and hung to dry. Nowadays a variety of meats (such as ostrich) are used together with various flavourings such as chili or garlic.
- Braai / Shisa nyama
For a true South African experience, you should ensure that at some point during your stay you have a shisa nyama which literally means to ‘burn / cook the meat’ in Zulu. Also known more affectionately as a braai, this cooking style originated in the townships of Johannesburg when butchers set up little barbecues in front of their shops to grill and sell their meat. Although the meat is not literally burned, it is cooked on an open grill and tastes absolutely delicious.
- Bunny chow
This is one of Durban’s local Indian street foods and consists of hollowed out loaves of bread, stuffed with spicy curries such as lamb, beef or chicken. This dish was originally created by the Indian immigrant community many years ago and is still a local favourite.
- Chakalaka & pap
Chakalaka is a cold dish consisting of onions, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, beans and spices. Pap on the other hand is very similar to the American grits and forms a starchy dish made from white corn maize. Chakalaka and pap are often served together, along with salads and meat that has been braaied.
- Malva pudding
Similar to the British sticky toffee pudding, this Dutch influenced dessert is a sweet and sticky baked sponge pudding made with apricot jam and served smothered in a hot cream sauce. It is usually served after Sunday lunch.
- Amarula Liqueur
Amarula is a local cream liquor made from the indigenous marula fruit of Southern Africa. It is a delicious drink when served with ice but the Amarula Don Pedro itself, is an alcoholic dessert blended together with ice cream that should not be missed.
Melktert, also known as ‘milk tart’ in English is a delicious South African dessert consisting of a pastry shell filled with milk, eggs and sugar and usually thickened with flour. The finished tart is traditionally dusted with cinnamon and served cold.
Another South Africa favourite, potjiekos is the traditional food of local Afrikaners. Literally translated, it means ‘small pot food’ and is traditionally prepared outdoors in a round three legged cast iron pot over a wood fire or coals. This meal consists of meat and vegetables slow cooked, all in one. It is served right out of the pot with some rice or fresh bread.