If you’re heading to South Africa, then why not learn all about South African food culture? This will open your eyes to the amazing dishes on offer in this spectacular country. With a fascinating history, South Africa has since become a multicultural society that takes inspiration from all around the world. This is reflected in the local cuisine.
South Africans don’t form one single culture. Instead, the country is made up of a diverse mix of ethnic groups, both native and foreign. The indigenous people, who historically don’t have much wealth, have had to make do with whatever local ingredients they can forage.
On top of that, though, wealthy immigrants have brought spices and flavors from around the world. This has created an amazing mix of foods that can’t be found elsewhere. Below, discover the nine best dishes that South African food culture has to offer. Give them a try if you ever get the chance.
Let’s start the list with something sweet and tasty. South Africans might be known for their love of meat and potatoes but they’re also partial to something called melktert. By translating this to its English version, milk tart, you get a sense of what this dish contains. It’s a dairy-heavy product to be consumed after a big meal.
Like much of South African food culture, this has its origins in European food culture. In particular, it was brought to South Africa with Dutch settlers who helped it become a part of the culture. The delicious dessert has been consumed since at least the early 1500s but arrived in South Africa in the 17th Century. If you love sweet treats, then this is well worth trying.
Another word you’ll likely come across often while eating in South Africa is potjiekos. This simply translates to “food made in a small pot”. Essentially, it’s like a kind of stew. It’s loads of ingredients thrown in a pot and left to simmer until everything is fully flavored and cooked to perfection. This differs from other kinds of food that you may have experienced in Africa, being closer to the kind of dishes found in Russian food culture. That just shows the European influence on this country.
Potjiekos is mostly made up of lamb or pork and potatoes. Seasoning tends to be kept to a minimum, providing a more subtle and understated flavor. Traditionally, this was made over a wood fire or even using animal dung and grass as fuel. These days, it can be made on standard gas or electric cookers. The key is to cook it slowly and to add plenty of beer for a uniquely hoppy taste.
Another Dutch import into South African food culture is vetkoek. This is fried bread that is easy to make but always satisfying and delicious. This isn’t that different from the fried dough you find in Latin American food culture, such as Mexican cuisine. It’s as simple as frying up some dough until it’s crispy and ready to eat.
The bread is usually shaped into a fat circle, making it similar to a donut. However, it’s a more savory dish. You can open it up and stuff anything you want in there but locals tend to fill the fried bread with curry. If you love curry and you love bread then this will be a sandwich like no other.
South African food culture revolves around meat. Perhaps the most symbolic version of this is the boerewors. This iconic dish involves a long sausage being coiled round like a snake, forming a perfect meat spiral. Traditionally, this will then be grilled and then served as part of a large feast. These super long sausages offer enough for everyone to enjoy a slice.
In modern times, the boerewors have been served in the form of hot dogs. Simply cut a bit off and pop it in a bun. This makes it more similar to a fast-food item. However, you eat it, South Africa has some strict rules: it must contain beef, be 90% meat and 10% seasoning, and contain less than 30% fat.
Life in South Africa can be tough, which is why locals like to load up on protein. This gives you the energy to get through the day and explore the rugged beauty of this country. Meat can cause problems since it goes off quickly and requires quickly. One solution to this is to carry biltong: a type of cured meat that is preserved and ready to eat immediately. This means you always have access to the burst of energy you need.
Biltong is similar to jerky and can be made of any kind of meat, from chicken to ostrich. Unlike jerky, biltong tends to be quite thick, flavored during the drying stage, rarely smoked, and contains no added sugar. This makes it a more wholesome and healthy product than you usually get in the United States.
South Africa is a very multicultural society, meaning that its cuisine reflects the diverse nature of its population. One dish that you may be surprised to come across is biryani. This is a meal that was invented by Muslims in India but has since spread around the whole world. That means you can get a bowl of biryani in South Africa.
Made with rice, meat, eggs, and vegetables, it has everything you need. Many people in South Africa like this meal and they tend to make it spicy. If you don’t like spice, though, you can always tone this down. Ask the chef to hold the spice while ensuring none of the amazing flavor is lost.
Looking for an extra burst of energy in the morning? While in South Africa, you should definitely try mealie pap. This is a kind of porridge made from maize and is an extremely popular South African breakfast. Like any porridge, it acts as a blank canvas to add your own flavorings on top.
You could simply sprinkle with sugar or top with healthy berries and other fruits. You really can be the architect of your own diet here. Mealie pap should be considered a staple that you often eat in South Africa. It’s perfect when nothing else is available and you need something filling and satisfying.
Meat is a big part of South African food culture. One dish you’re bounding to be offered during your vacation to South Africa is sosatie. These are very similar to the kebabs you’ll find across Europe and America, which usually involves putting a skewer through some pieces of meat and vegetables before grilling it to perfection. In the case of sosaties, though, the cooking will occur on an open flame.
Sosaties are usually made of meat such as lamb, pork, or chicken. If you’re a vegetarian, then you can try a sosatie that’s made of apricots, peppers, or red onions. These offer a sweeter flavor as they caramelize in the heat. Kebabs are popular around the world but there’s something about the traditional cooking methods used in South Africa that make these sosaties extra special.
For a quick treat and a dose of sugar, look out for koeksisters. This South African confectionery will be like nothing you’ve ever tried. Like vetkoek, this is a fried dough product. However, vetkoek tends to be savory and filled with curry while koeksisters are sweet. Infused with honey or syrup, they make for a delicious sweet treat.
If you’re wondering where to find these, then start by checking the street stalls in the area where you’re staying. Koeksisters have been around for as long as South Africans can remember and you can’t go wrong with them. They’re obviously not healthy but when you’re just craving something really good, they’ll sort you out.
What is traditional food in South Africa?
South African food culture puts a unique twist on foods you may be familiar with: meat, dough, and dairy products. It combines local African spices with food cultures originating from around the world.
What is South Africa’s most popular food?
Much South African food is rarely eaten outside of the country. However, some dishes – including biltong, biryani, and kebabs – are eaten all around the world. Among meat-eaters, biltong is probably the world’s most popular food that originates in South Africa.
What is a traditional breakfast in South Africa?
South Africans tend to have bread or toast for breakfast. This can be served with something sweet like jam or something savory like cheese. Most people also like to have a hot cup of tea or coffee with their breakfast.
What makes the food in South Africa unique?
South African food is as diverse as the country itself. The food eaten today takes inspiration from indigenous cultures as well as from the immigrants and settlers who came to South Africa from other countries. This combination creates a food culture that is quite unlike any other.