Known for its world famous game reserves, spectacular coastline and cosmopolitan cities, South Africa also offers a vibrant range of cuisine. With dishes influenced not only by its indigenous population, but by the French, Dutch, Malaysians and Indians, the country’s cuisine is as diverse as its culture. Whilst everyone has heard of a braai or barbeque, there’s plenty of lesser-known dishes worth sampling during your trip. So here’s our pick of the top foods to try in South Africa.
Originating as a street food staple in Durban, this must-try dish was created by the Indian immigrant community as an on-the-go lunch for workers. Now found across South Africa, bunny chow has even reached the international food scene and can be ordered in restaurants and food markets in London.
This popular meal consists of a crusty half loaf of bread, which is hollowed out and filled to the brim with a spicy curry. Although usually made with chicken or pork, you can also find vegetarian varieties with lentils and beans. Tasty, filling and extremely cheap, bunny chow is a great choice for travellers.
Dating back to 1652 when Dutch settlers arrived in the Cape, this style of cooking is quintessentially South African. Roughly translating to mean ‘pot food’, potjiekos traditionally consists of meat, potatoes and vegetables cooked in a round, cast iron pot over a fire.
As a simple method of cooking for a large number of people, making potjiekos can be a highly sociable occasion. And nothing really beats enjoying good food around a fire with friends.
Otherwise known as milk tart, this is the South African version of a custard tart. Served as a dessert, melktert consists of a sweet pastry crust and creamy filling of milk, sugar, eggs and flour.
A popular comfort food, melktert can be found in many bakeries. In fact, it’s so loved by South Africans that it even has a national day and is celebrated every year on February 27th.
Chakalaka and Pap
Two simple and easy dishes, chakalaka and pap can be found at every South African dinner table. They’re commonly served together at braais and make for a delicious side dish alongside barbequed meats, bread and salad.
Chakalaka is typically a mix of beans, carrots, onions, tomatoes and peppers, with some added spice. Pap, on the other hand, is similar to polenta and made from white corn maize. You then use the pap to scoop up the chakalaka.
Boerewors comes from the Afrikaans and Dutch words boer, meaning farmer, and wors, meaning sausage. Therefore it’s no surprise that boerewors are traditional South African sausages and a must-have at a braai.
These high-quality sausages are usually made from beef mince and must be at least 90% meat to qualify as boerewors. They also contain spices such as nutmeg and coriander and are often served in a distinctive coiled shape. Many locals make their own and they tend to have a very distinct taste.
Recognised as South Africa’s national dish, bobotie is thought to have been introduced by Asian settlers. It can be compared to a moussaka and, despite seeming like a strange combination, is definitely one of the top foods to try in South Africa.
Cooked in homes and restaurants, bobotie comes in many different varieties. However, a traditional bobotie contains minced meat simmered with curry powder and spices, as well as dried fruit such as raisins or sultanas. It’s then baked with a milk and egg-based topping until golden brown.
Before fridges were invented, the indigenous tribes of South Africa would preserve their meat using a method known as dry curing. Biltong is a thinly sliced meat typically made from beef or game. It’s cured in a mixture of vinegar, sugar, salt and spices before being hung up to dry.
Traditionally a spicy snack, biltong is now often flavoured with other ingredients such as garlic and chilli. It’s also praised by health enthusiasts for its low-fat and high protein content.
South Africa’s answer to sticky toffee pudding, malva pudding is commonly baked at home for Sunday lunch. Originally a Dutch import, this South African dessert is a local favourite and it’s sure to tantalise your taste buds too.
The pudding consists of a sweet and spongy cake made with apricot jam and a cream sauce. It’s normally served with vanilla ice cream or hot custard, with different varieties featuring dates, ginger or brandy.
To sample some of these dishes for yourself, why not join us on one of our South Africa group tours?