10 South African Foods to Try
Updated: Aug 17, 2022
A visit to South Africa can change the way you think about food. Many foodies have let South Africa go unexplored in terms of cuisine, but there are so many gems waiting to be tasted. Their food is a fusion of traditional Afrikaans dishes with Malay and European influence. The local cuisine is a humungous part of South African daily life.
Of course, we already know about Chakalaka and how sweet, spicy, and tender this South African stew is. For your next vacation to this beautiful land, here are the top 10 foods to try in South Africa. Get ready for some truly unique food combinations along with incredibly generous portion sizes!
Beef jerky lovers will go crazy for biltong! It has existed since the 17th century, in which meat was preserved using vinegar and potassium nitrate. Ever since then, biltong recipes have only evolved and elevated.
Beef is the most common meat to cure biltong, but many also utilize other animals such as kudu, ostrich, and venison. In addition to vinegar, the meat is then mixed with a ton of spices varying from salt, pepper, coriander, nutmeg, and chili powder. The result is a very strong, seasoned, crispy, jerky-like consistency that is loved by many.
Originating in Roman times, this rich dish is wholesome, hearty, and loved by generations of South African people. Bobotie was brought to South Africa by the Dutch and has evolved to include ingredients such as curry powder today. It is a stew of tender meats, and nuts, topped with a layer of milk and eggs.
In the end, dried fruits such as apricots and raisins garnish this dish for a sweet twist. Vegetarian versions of bobotie have recently become popular in South Africa, with lentils substituted for meat in the stew.
Every country has its famous sausage dish. Boerewors is a spiraled spicy sausage that translates to “farmer sausage”. Its origins are from both Nambia and South Africa. Residents love boerewors for its intense spices that compliment so many accompanying side dishes.
Boerewors is made of mostly beef. It is sometimes mixed with pork, lamb, or a combination of the three types of meat to create an intense meaty flavor. In addition to the variety of meats, spices such as nutmeg and coriander flavor this renowned sausage.
Braai in Afrikaans translates to barbecue or grill, however, braais are a barbecue social event that has deep roots. South African families gather around a wood-burning fire to cook sausages, meats, skewered foods, and fish.
Braais are similar to potlucks, in that every guest brings a dish for the gathering. While these events are more for locals and their families, one of the greatest honors while traveling to South Africa is to be invited to a local braai. This is how a traveler would get to see the real side of home cooking in this beautiful country.
While in America, we might see “Gatsby” and immediately think of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. In Cape Town, a Gatsby is a notoriously gigantic sub sandwich. It originated in 1976 when a renovating shop owner was looking for an easy way to feed a large number of construction workers.
He stuffed french fries, polony, and pickles into a loaf of bread and cut it into slices. Upon tasting it, one of the workers declared it a “Gatsby smash” after recently watching the film. Soon after, the shop owner began selling the sandwich and the rest is history.
Today, Gatsby sandwiches are filled with a variety of ingredients, but the most common iteration is still french fries, chicken, steak, or polony. It is one of the most famous handheld foods in Cape Town.
Finally, a South African dessert! Koeksisters are made of a dough similar to an American donut. The dough is braided and then deep-fried until golden and crisp. Once the pastries are pulled from the hot oil, they are immediately plunged into a sugar syrup flavored with cinnamon, lemon, and ginger.
These are typically eaten as a snack or after dinner in South Africa. Bakeries all across the country sell these sweet braided delights.
Comforting, simple, and delicious, pap is a corn-based porridge that has been eaten in South Africa for centuries. It starts with boiling down maize meal with stock and butter, with the end result being a fluffy consistency. It is soothingly warm and pairs very well with meat stews, such as Chakalaka chicken livers.
Peppermint Crisp Tart
The perfect amalgamation of South African cuisine is displayed in their peppermint crisp tart. It is known for its pungent layers of flavor. The layers slightly resemble an American trifle.
The bottom is a buttery, crunchy biscuit (or cookie for us Americans) base, followed by multiple layers of caramel, mint chocolate, and cream. It is then refrigerated and served chilled in many bakeries or braais. The result almost resembles tiramisu when served.
Introduced by the Malay, sosaties are delicious meat skewers originating from the Cape region. Usually made of lamb, the meat is cubed and marinated in curry leaves, chilies, tamarind, garlic, and onions overnight so that the flavors are intensely delicious.
After marinading, sosaties are either grilled or fried. They are skewered alongside bell pepper, dried apricots, and onions before cooking and serving. Do not be surprised if you find sosaties at a local braai!
In Afrikaans, vetkoek translates to “fat cake” because they are literally stuffed cake (or donuts!) They start out as fried dough, much like an American donut. Once the dough is out of the fryer, it is sliced open and stuffed with an endless choice of fillings.
Vetkoek is often stuffed with minced meats, boerewors, or cold sliced meats. Find them at braais, from vendors, or at fast-food restaurants in South Africa.
These 10 foods only touch the surface of all the great eats you can find in South Africa. While it is not inherently known as a food destination, South Africa harbors some very delicious, simple, and delectable foods within their local cuisine. The influences from other countries, the fresh produce, and the culture of togetherness make South African food truly one of the most diverse and unique cuisines on the planet!