Traditional South African foods to try when visiting
South Africa offers has a table full of traditional delicacies for every type of taste out there – sweet and indulgent, tangy and bold, hearty and comforting. Our nations food is colourful, interesting and delicious! A well-prepared local meal could easily be the highlight of your trip to Southern Africa.
Because of South Africa’s complex diversity it is difficult to identify the typical cuisine found in the different areas. At the same time one can say that it is precisely that diversity that give the magic which are typically found in our traditional dishes.
We will start with a list of the traditional finger foods or snacks to look out for and end off with a list of the best South African desserts you can have.
South African quick foods & snacks
Biltong & droewors
Dry curing was a method used to preserve meat by the indigenous tribes of South Africa before fridges were invented. Usually made from beef or game, such as springbok, biltong (a thinly sliced, air-dried meat) and droewors (an air-dried sausage) are traditionally eaten as snacks. (Source).
Buy it at most shops or butcheries (best option) or if you are have time make your own.
These grilled sandwiches are ever-present at many home braais. You can put anything between two slices of bread, pop it on the grill, and call it a braaibroodjie, but they usually contain some combo of cheese, onion and tomato. If you’re feeding a large group, you can make a braai pie with sheets of dough instead of bread. (Source).
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. (Source).
It can be sourced from most coastal towns in South Africa.
This giant filled roll is another street-food masterpiece. Editor of Gourmet Bernadette Le Roux says, “When it comes to iconic SA food, the gatsby immediately springs to mind. This legendary stacked foot-long sandwich is meant for sharing and is filled to bursting with slap chips (chunky, soft fries usually doused in vinegar), masala steak, egg, Russian sausage and sometimes polony or a vienna accompanied by atchar or peri peri. It originated in the Cape Flats in the 1970s as an economical meal. Not the kind of food you’re likely to eat on a daily basis, but you haven’t been to the Mother City if you’ve never tried a gatsby!”
Rectangular, (usually) 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. (Source).
South African main dishes
This is a traditional South African sausage made from beef, mixed with either pork or lamb and a mixture of spices. Boerewors are traditionally served in a coiled shape, similar to the Cumberland sausage and cooked on a braai (barbecue). The word boerewors comes from the Afrikaans and Dutch words boer (farmer) and wors (sausage). (Source).
Get it at any local butchery or grocery market.
Cape Malay curry
In the 17th century, the Dutch and French landed and settled in Cape Town, bringing slaves from Indonesia, India and Malaysia, along with their spices and traditional cooking methods. When combined with local produce, the aromatic spices such as cinnamon, saffron, turmeric and chilli created fragrant curries and stews, which are still popular in the area today. (Source).
Try making your own…Cape Malay chicken curry.
Umngqusho (Samp & Beans)
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. (Source).
Keen to try making it on your own? Here is a recipe.
Chakalaka & pap
Chakalaka and pap are mainstays on every South African dinner table. Chakalaka is a vegetable dish made of onions, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, beans and spices, and is often served cold. Pap, meaning ‘porridge’, is similar to American grits and is a starchy dish made from white corn maize.
Chakalaka and pap are often served together, along with braaied (barbecued) meat, breads, salad and stews. (Source).
Recipe can be found here.
For a real taste of South Africa an authentic braai or shisa nyama (‘burn the meat’ in Zulu) is an eating experience not to be missed. Braais originated in the townships of Johannesburg, with butchers who set up barbecues in front of their shops at weekends to grill their meat and sell it on the street.
Nowadays, local communities gather at braais at the weekends to share food. Pop along to soak up the vibrant atmosphere, listen to music and take your pick from the meat on offer, usually comprising of beef, chicken, pork, lamb and wors (sausages) – this is not an outing for vegetarians! (Source).
This (must try!) street food of Durban has become popular across South Africa and is now starting to hit our food markets back in London. Hollowed out loaves of bread, stuffed with spicy curry were originally created by the immigrant Indian community in the Natal area of Durban and served to workers for lunch.
Try chicken, pork or vegetarian varieties containing lentils and beans. (Source).
Another must try dish thought to have been brought to South Africa by Asian settlers, bobotie is now the national dish of the country and cooked in many homes and restaurants. Minced meat is simmered with spices, usually curry powder, herbs and dried fruit, then topped with a mixture of egg and milk and baked until set. (Source).
Try making your own…bobotie.
Commonly made with lamb and waterblommetjies (an edible flower found in our dams and marshes) or beef and tomato, bredie is a slow-cooked comforting stew. For chef and blogger Jody Theodore, cabbage bredie was a favourite of his childhood. “Thinking back, I’m hit by flashbacks of the smell of the braising technique my mom used to get a good dark caramel colour to the cabbage, and the sizzling sound of the meat being sealed. Once the sizzling becomes a gentle simmer and the chemistry happens, you’re spoilt with this beautiful aroma.” He recommends serving it with white rice and some pickled beetroot – the combination of champions. (Source).
Great recipe here.
Amagwinya / Vetkoek
It’s a ball of dough; it’s fried; it’s filled, it’s LOVED. Vetkoek really lives up to its name, direct English translation being ‘fat cake’. Favourite fillings include spiced mince; apricot jam and grated cheese; or polony. (Source).
Mogodu with ting
Enjoyed everywhere across the globe from France to China, stewed tripe is also a beloved comfort food on the southern tip of Africa. Chef, blogger and entrepreneur Lesego Semenya says mogodu with ting is the one iconic dish that he will always look back on and cherish. “Mogodu is tripe, slow cooked for hours until soft; ting is a stiff porridge made from fermented mabele/sorghum. Mabele is also very versatile and can be played around with like quinoa and arborio rice.”
South African desserts
A Dutch import, malva pudding is a sweet and sticky baked sponge pudding made with apricot jam and served smothered in a hot cream sauce. This is South Africa’s answer to the British sticky toffee pudding, served in many restaurants but mainly baked at home for Sunday lunch. (Source).
Tried and tested recipe for Malva pudding here.
Amarula Don Pedro
This cocktail-come-dessert uses South African Amarula, a cream liqueur made from the indigenous marula fruit, blended with ice cream. Find it in every bar or take a bottle of Amarula home from duty-free to make your own! (Source).
Similar to the British custard tart or Portuguese pasteis de nata, melktert consists of a pastry case filled with milk, eggs and sugar, which is usually thickened with flour. The finished tart is traditionally dusted with cinnamon. A real South African comfort food, it is served as a dessert in most restaurants, and also available in many bakeries. (Source).
Depending on where you are in the country, these sweets either take the form of braided dough that’s deep fried and soaked in syrup (koeksisters, of Afrikaans heritage) or balls of spiced dough rolled in coconut (koesisters, of Cape Malay heritage). Both are delicious. (Source).
A recipe for koeksisters can be found here.
Peppermint crisp tart
Not the most stylish dessert but nevertheless popular on dinner tables, this no-cook pudding sports layers of biscuits, whipped cream, out-the-tin caramel and Peppermint Crisp chocolate bars. Best of it all? It can be made in 10 minutes. (Source).
Recipe found here.
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