What should you eat in South Africa? Everything! There are many different ethnic groups in multicultural South Africa, and they have each contributed to the wonderful cuisine of the country. From the British, French, German, and the Afrikaans among the Europeans, to the great number of African tribes in the country, each group that settled in South Africa has added to the great variety of wonderful South African food. With the influx of so many cooking methods and spices from around the world, you won’t run out of new dishes to try.
A source of fresh food for sailors.
Because South Africa was a stopping point for ships traveling around the Cape of Good Hope, it was a place for growing fresh produce and providing fresh food for the ships. From its earliest days it was a place where people expected to stop and get something good to eat. The Dutch East India Company started farms, then imported slaves from Malaysia known as Cape Malays to work on them, and the Malays brought their spices with them.
Curry like your mother used to make.
The British later were responsible for bringing Hindus and Muslims from India to work as servants on the sugar cane plantations. The British found the Indians to be good managers and moved large populations into the countries they had in their Empire. These Indian people added a great variety of wonderful spicy curries to the local South African food supply. One restaurant in Durban had wonderful lamb curry, and advertised with a sign outside, “Curry like your mother used to make.” Well, they hadn’t met my plain cooking mother, but someone’s mother gave the place some great curry recipes.
The Europeans came bringing favorite foods.
French Protestant Huguenots arrived, escaping from persecution, and added French cooking, bringing vines for growing wine to the area. The restaurants in South Africa served snails often, and didn’t bother called them something fancy like escargot. One very popular version was well seasoned snails and blue cheese baked in a light puff pastry. The Germans brought sausages, and now boerewors sausage on a roll, or heated up on the braai, or barbeque, is a popular simple meal. There are South Africans from Portugal, who brought their peri-peri sauce, and many from Italy, bringing all the wonderful Italian dishes.
Local seafood and meat.
South Africa has a long and rich coastline, so naturally seafood is plentiful. Shrimp, called prawns, are popular, as are mussels, once again a very French dish. The extensive native game provides a variety of meats that you may not find in your home supermarket. Some may be a bit squeamish about driving around the game parks and admiring the impalas leaping around, then having impala for dinner, but think of it like driving through Texas and having a steak. They are cute, but they are definitely a food supply for the predators on the continent, and humans are definitely predators. A popular snack is Biltong, which is meat well seasoned and dried, then cut into strips.
Good British Food.
For breakfast, the influence of the British settlers can be appreciated with a good English breakfast. Enjoy fried eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, jam or marmalade, and a pot of good strong tea. A South African red tea, called Rooibos, is a local caffeine-free tea to enjoy at other times of the day. Afternoon tea, with scones, crumpets, and cream are a popular treat in cafes and many hotels. The British also brought fish and chips, and meat, vegetables, and puddings with them. Some people see a similarity to shepherd’s pie in Bobotie, which is ground meat, with fruit and raisins, baked with a topping made of bread and/or eggs instead of potato. There are many recipes and variations of bobotie, but they all provide a slightly sweet, curry flavor.
Bunny Chow is not rabbit food.
Bunny Chow is one popular dish from Durban with plenty of stories about how it got its name. Some have said the Bunny part comes from the Banias people, an Indian caste, who used to make it, while others have said it is from being eaten outdoors under banyan trees. Whatever the origin of the name, it doesn’t have any bunnies in it, and is an easy casual way to eat a delicious curry. A small loaf of bread has the top cut off, then it is scooped out a bit and filled with a delicious lamb, beef, chicken, or vegetable curry. Then the top is plopped back on. This is casual, take-away food to be eaten with the bread and the fingers. Bunny Chow was served as a take-away food to the Indians, who being deemed “Colored” were not allowed to go inside and sit in the restaurant in the days of segregation and apartheid.
The best wine you can find.
This is a country where you should try to sample as many wines as possible. When sitting down to dinner with a friend, we were going to order an ordinary bottle of wine when he stopped us. “This is a country that has fabulous wines, and you may not again be in a country where you can afford the best,” he explained. From then on we took his advice, and enjoyed the best we could find at prices we could actually afford. In restaurants, white wine seemed more popular than red, and we were surprised to be asked if we wanted sweet or dry, as sweet or semi-sweet wines were popular. My favorite, however, is still a wonderful, rich red Pinotage.
If you can’t get to South Africa to enjoy their wonderful cuisine, check out the area where you live, or when you travel, to see if there is a South African restaurant. I’ve been to two which I can recommend.
The Shebeen in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The Shebeen South African Pub & Braai in Charlottesville, Virginia has most of the traditional South African dishes, such as Cape Malay Curried Corn Chowder, Fish and Chips, Boer Sausage, Cape Mussels, Peri-Peri Wings, Curries, and more. They are open for lunch or dinner, have a sports bar, and will give you a wonderful taste of genuine South African flavors.
Braai South African Restaurant in New York City.
Braai is a South African restaurant in the theatre district of New York City. The atmosphere is elegant, but the reed-thatch ceilings and tree trunk-lined walls bring the ambiance of the African bush into the big city, which they call “the perfect escape from the concrete jungle and into the bush.” The owners started with Xai Xai, their South African Winebar, then expanded to this nearby location to provide the distinct cuisine of South Africa.
Their menu has the traditional dishes such as Bobotie and Boerewors, but also some unique variations such as Peri Peri Cornish Hen and Biltong Quiche. Our group had a wonderful evening, sharing and tasting the wonderful authentic flavors we remembered from South Africa.
South African food and wine are just one reason to travel to this beautiful country, but if you can’t get there soon, check out your local restaurant guide for a place nearby. Any decent wine shop will have a good selection of South African wines which you can sit and sip, and imagine you are there.
Source: Personal Experience.