Southern Africa has the longest record of human occupation in the world starting more than 100 000 years ago. Food is necessary for survival and the Indigenous Khoi Khoi and San (Bushmen) used the natural products from Southern Africa to develop their own cuisine.
The Khoe Khoe and San (Khoisan) share the oldest DNA found in all living people today. They use every part of the plants and animals so that nothing is wasted.
Khoisan cooking styles, methods and food culture therefore continues to have a significant influence on modern South African society.
Our modern twist on ancient culture
South Africans love their food and Cape Town its variety of restaurants – but where does such an eclectic mix of tastes come from?
“Agriculture is our culture and way of life”
We love mixing and mashing – one only has to take a stroll down Long Street, Burg Street and Observatory Main Road to see the variety of foods that South Africans enjoy.
South Africa has a very large and diverse population. Therefore food which is preferred in one part of the country may be completely rejected in another part of the country. Food preferences differ quite radically.
MY INSIDER TIP
There are very very few Restaurants that specialise exclusively in South Africa Cuisine. Therefore MY INSIDER TIP would be that you don’t sit down at any one restaurant for a meal but that you should move from one restaurant to another, tasting from each the truly local cuisine that each may have on their menus. If you are truly curious about our food culture I would suggest that instead of ordering off the menu, you ask the Restaurant for the food that they serve to their staff. For an even greater adventure, do a local HOME HOSTED DINNER.
Meat, meat and more meat
You’ll be hard pushed to find any South African family who DON’T have meat as the main portion of any meal. This is primarily why braai’s (barbecues) and biltong (beef jerky as the Americans know it) are so popular.
South Africa was occupied by several countries and other African nations over the course of history, which resulted in a plethora of different variations to our Indigenous cooking techniques, methods and spices. As for indigenous or especially loved foods, here are some examples of more popular choices:
A salty dried meat – most popularly Beef or Kudu, but you can get Ostrich, Chicken or even Rhino. Biltong originated in South Africa with the Indigenous Bushmen Peoples as a way to preserve meat. It has since spread to other parts of Africa such as Zimbabwe and Namibia. The word Biltong is from the Dutch ‘bil’ (meaning rump) and ‘tong’ (meaning strip or tongue). This South African staple food is often enjoyed as a snack.
Malay/Javanese in origin, Bobotie is like meatloaf with raisins and baked egg on top, and is often served with yellow rice, banana slices, and chutney. It is regarded as having it’s originates from ‘bobotok’, which is an Indonesian dish that consists of totally different ingredients, though the first recipe for bobotie appeared in a Dutch cookbook in 1609. It may also be done with Lentils as a Vegetarian dish.
It is a thick sausage that is traditionally braaied(Barbequed). The sausage finds its origins, not only in South Africa, but in Zimbabwe too. The name comes from the Afrikaans words ‘Boer’ (meaning farmer) and ‘wors’ (meaning sausage). The Boerewors is a registered patent recipe.
A hollowed out half loaf of bread stuffed with strong mutton, chicken, beef or mince curry and enjoyed for lunch or dinner. The dish is often referred to as a Bunny. The Bunny Chow first originated in the Durban Indian community and has since made its way to various parts of South Africa. They can also be found at the Indian cuisine restaurants in Cape Town.
A sweet sauce made from dried fruit, usually poured on meat. Much like tomato sauce however, we put it on everything. Also known as Mrs Balls, chutney is also a sauce used in the cuisines of the Indian subcontinent that can vary from a tomato relish to a ground peanut garnish or a yoghurt, cucumber and mint dip.
Now for something that will satisfy that sweet tooth of yours – The Koeksisters (pronounced Koe’siester) is a doughnut recipe with Cinnamon, roasted Cardamom, Aniseed and Potato flower. It is then dunked in sugar syrup and coated with flaked coconut. The koeksister is a traditional “Cape Malay” favorite for a sunday morning treat. The name of the sweet treat is derived from the Dutch word ‘koek’ (meaning wheat flour confectionary or in layman’s terms, cake).
Malva pudding is a sweet spongy apricot pudding of Dutch origin. This wintertime treat contains apricot jam and has a spongy caramelised texture. A cream sauce is then poured over the dish while it is hot. It is best served hot with custard in Winter or ice-cream in the Summer time.
Melktert or Milk Tart is a favorite with South Africans, especially during tea time. It consists of a sweet pastry crust containing a creamy filling, which is made of milk, flour, sugar and eggs and topped off with Cinnamon.
Mielie meal (pap/porridge) is often used in baking but predominantly cooked into pap. It is a relatively coarse flour made from maize known as mielies or mealies in the Southern parts of Africa. The Portuguese had originally brought corn from the Americas to Africa, which is the result of us having anything that consists of mielies today.
The three-legged pot favorite is a traditional stew, made with meat and vegetables and cooked over coals in cast-iron pots. It provides for a chance to mix up a variety of ingredients to make unique and tasty stews with meat and seafood dishes too. This tradition of cooking food outside in a pot over the open flames if a very old Bushmen practice originally done in clay pots.
Rectangular, (hopefully) hard and dry biscuits eaten with tea or coffee, like biscuits we dunk them in our warm beverages. It also referred to as a twice-baked bread because of its texture. You can make your own rusks, or buy them in any store.
You might know them as kebabs – grilled, marinated meat on a skewer. A sosatie is a traditional South African dish of meat (usually lamb or mutton) that’s cooked on skewers. The name is of Cape Malay origin, which is used in Afrikaans – the word has gained greater circulation in Mzansi. The marinated, cube shaped meat pieces are skewered and braaied in a shish kebab style. Sosatie recipes usually vary but the key and common ingredients always stay the same.
Umngqusho is made from white maize and sugar beans, a staple food for the Xhosa people. The dish has several variants – made with stamp mielies, with sugar beans, butter, onions, potatoes, chillies and lemons and then made to simmer.
Bokkoms are harders (mullet) that are salted and strung into bunches before being hung up to dry. The dish is a whole, salted and dried mullet, it is also a well-known delicacy from the West Coast region of South Africa. This salted fish is dried in the sun and wind and is eaten after peeling off the skin, in some cases it is also smoked. Almost like fish biltong.
Waterblommetjiebredie (Water flower Stew)
This is a stew made up of meat stewed with the flower of the Cape Pondweed. Waterblommetjiebredie is a stew that gets its name from the Afrikaans language. It literally means ‘small water flower stew’ when translated from Afrikaans to English.
Now for the Capetonian staple food – the great Gatsby. The dish is a style of deli sandwich, very long rolls are cut open lengthwise and stuffed, normally with hot chips (French fries) but a variety of filling combinations can be used like Polony, Steak, Cheese, Vienna’s, French Fries (chips) and even Egg. Once stuffed it may then be topped off with a hot sauce or powder. It is then cut into several sections and is usually shared among several people. The sandwich is most popular in the Western Cape province which calls many fast food and takeaway outlets home in the region.