Due in part to its history of settlement and colonization as well as its location on the coast, South-African cuisine has many influences including Dutch, French, Malaysian, and indigenous cultures. Here are the traditional South-African dishes that reflect the country’s diverse culture and palate.
Probably the most-loved South-African snack, biltong is a dried, cured, and spiced meat. While not as sweet, biltong and American beef jerky share some similarities. Beef biltong remains a favourite, but venison biltong is also popular. More unconventional versions, like chicken biltong, are also available. Served as a snack at just about any social gathering, many potjiekos recipes also include it as an ingredient.
Boerewors (translated as “farmer’s sausage”), a type of sausage made from beef mince, must have at least 90% meat to qualify as boerewors. The mince mixture contains spices such as coriander, cloves, and nutmeg, and has a very distinct taste. Many locals like to make their own boerewors, and it’s guaranteed to be one of the meats served at a braai.
Although not everyone’s taste, bokkom hails from the West Coast region of South Africa. Dried in the sun and wind, the whole, small, mullet fish are then salted. Most eat the dried fish, often referred to as fish biltong, as a snack, but it can also be used in pastas, soups, and more.
Bobotie, a dinner-time favourite, consists of spiced mince, an egg-based topping, and traditionally raisins or sultanas that are added to the mixture. The dish has a sweet taste, a Cape Malay influence, and it includes curry, turmeric and often almonds.
This tasty tea-time treat made by frying pleated-dough pieces, koeksisters become even sweeter after adding a sugary syrup. They have a golden, crunchy crust, a soft, doughnut-like centre, and are super sticky. The Cape Malay version, compared to the more common sweet version, is rolled in desiccated coconut, and it has a slightly spicy flavour.
Malva pudding, of Cape Dutch origin, contains apricot jam, is saucy, and has a spongy texture with a caramel taste. Once taken out of the oven, those who bake it add a cream-based sauce over the pudding. This results in a sticky and soft yet cake-like dessert. A favourite among South Africans, it is normally served with hot custard or vanilla ice cream.
It’s a rare thing to meet a South African who says they don’t enjoy this traditional dish. Milktart (Afrikaans “melktert”) is a pie-like dessert consisting of a sweet pastry crust and a creamy filling made of milk, flour, sugar, and eggs. It can be bought whole at most supermarkets, and almost every family has their own secret recipe.
South Africans cook potjiekos (or pot food) in a round, cast-iron pot over a fire. Traditionally made using meat and vegetables, modern variations have also become popular. Making potjiekos is a sociable and simple way to cook for a large group of people.
Popular in Afrikaner cooking, vetkoek is basically a fried doughbread. The word means “fat cake” and is similar to the Dutch oliebollen. It can be accompanied by sweet or savoury toppings like minced curry and chutney.
Chakalaka combines vegetables such as peppers, onions, carrots, and tomatoes into a usually-spicy relish. Often served at braais to accompany side dishes like pap (similar to polenta but smoother), it also goes wonderfully with boerewors.
Explore more of Africa on our 10-day trip to Egypt or our 11-day adventure around Morocco. Alternately, check out our foodie getaways like our four-day Mini Trip to Bolgona, Italy, or our four-day Mini Trip to the Basque Country in Spain.
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