French lawyer, politician, epicure and gastronome, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Vavarin famously said: “Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are”. Traditional South African Cuisine offers a rich tapestry of flavours and cultures waiting to be explored.
Food is the best way to understand a culture and what better way to celebrate our rainbow nation’s diverse cultural heritage than through experiencing our gorgeous traditional cuisines?
South African Food Doesn’t Just Feed Your Body, It Nourishes The Soul Too.
Food not only feeds our bodies but also feeds us emotionally and brings us together. It can spruce up relationships so that we connect and discover the diversity of our beliefs and traditions as we eat, drink and are merry.
Why not be a virtual food tourist in your own country and discover the home-cooked magic that has been created and passed down generations in ordinary South African kitchens and homesteads?
Sit back, relax and sip on an ice-cold South African beer, crisp wine or coke as we take you on a food mission in search of tasty South African Cuisine to recreate in your own home with trendy cookware that is a pleasure to use.
A Little bit of this and a little bit of that
Our first stop is the colourful houses of the Bo-Kaap, where fragrant Cape Malay cuisine was born in the 1600’s out of necessity and perfected by passionate cooks.
Famous for its complex ingredients and spices, Cape Malay cuisine was developed by Malay slaves who were shipped in to work in their Dutch masters’ kitchens.
Intimately connected to spices, the Malay couldn’t help but spice up the bland Dutch food, so they combined it with their traditional Indonesian and Malaysian cuisine to create South Africa’s most flavoursome comfort food including dishes like bobotie, bredie and malva pudding.
Everybody loves a harty plate of fragrant bobotie with yellow rice and sambal salad. Bobotie is a Cape Malay favourite made from mince, infused with a unique blend of spices like turmeric and curry, dried sultanas or raisins for sweetness, covered in an egg-based topping and baked in the oven.
For a classic South African twist, you can add a generous dollop of Mrs. Ball’s Fruit Chutney.
Cape Malay Bredie
Rumor has it that the Malay slaves invented bredie, a type of stew, as an ingenious way to get the most out of off-cuts received from their Dutch masters.
This hearty one-pot dish is made from vegetables and meat (mostly lamb) simmered for a long time with a punchy flavour fusion of cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, chili and a feature vegetable like tomato or cabbage.
Meat is not essential to bredie and can be served as a moreish vegetarian or vegan meal that is also a budget beater.
Your goggos, cousins, brothers and sisters will be impressed if you treat them to a tasty tomato bredie in the STAUB 2.9 litre oval tomato cast iron casserole in cherry red – yes, it’s shaped like a tomato and it’s red.
Did anyone say “dessert”? If you’ve never had malva pudding, you haven’t’ lived. Round off your best Cape Malay meal with a generous serving of mouth-watering malva pudding.
Made with apricot jam, this iconic South African dessert has a spongy caramelized texture and is best dressed with warm custard or ice-cream. Don’t be shy to make a double portion because malva pudding is amazing the next morning, straight from the fridge – you can thank us later.
One more treat to fill that last little gap? How about a koe’sister?
Not to be confused with the Afrikaner koeksister, this spicy dumpling treat consists of a ball of fried dough, infused with syrup and rolled in desiccated coconut.
Cinnamon, aniseed, ginger, cardamom and dried tangerine skin powder gives koe’sisters the spicy edge that sets it apart from the Afrikaner tea-time treat known as koeksisters – traditional plaited dough cakes, dripping with syrup, super sticky and a staple of church bazars and home industry stores.
Be cool but have hot
Next we take a sho’t left to Durban, the warmest place to be – and that’s not only a reference to the year-round warm weather. South African Indians love their spices and their food is traditionally hotter than most non-Indian South Africans eat.
Indian migrants, brought to our shores by the British between 1860 and 1911 to work on the plantations, mines and railways of colonial Natal, gravitated together on the east coast in and around Durban, which is why today , some affectionately refer to the city as “the capital of India”.
This part of our country’s colourful history has blessed us with a unique fusion of traditional Indian food, brimful of fragrant curries, coriander, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, garlic, ginger and chilies galore, with added local Zulu ingredients like amazi and chakalaka.
Dust off your best polished stainlees steel cookware and celebrate our nation’s South African Indian heritage with a flavoursome Korma, Tikka, Masala, or Vindaloo curry and a side of rice and freshly made flatbread.
Amaizing Zulu cuisine, fit for King Shaka
With over 40 known dishes, maize is a staple food in Zulu culture. Although traditionally “passionate carnivores”, high food prices have steered the Zulu people into a more vegetarian direction.
If you haven’t’ been to a traditional Zulu village before, grease up your favourite potjie posts and experiment with cultural dishes like Phutu (crumbly maize meal porridge served with cold amazi or warm beans and cabbage), sweet pumpkin or boiled madumbes – a type of fleshy yam that tastes like a mix of potato and sweet potato and comes highly recommended for sustained energy in endurance events like the Comrades Marathon.
Nothing Goes to Waste In South African Cuisine
In Xhosa culture, not part of a slaughtered animal is wasted and so sheep heads, trotters, chicken feet or tripe with samp of mieliepap are firm favourites.
Depending on how adventurous you are, Xhosa cuisine offers a variety of maize meal dishes you could experiment with.
For breakfast, try some umphokoqo (African salad), crumbly maize meal with sour or butter milk. Xhosa meals are traditionally not governed by time, so when you feel hungry later in the day (not necessarily at lunch time or supper time), have some umqa (stiff maize meal porridge with curried cabbage or spinach) or umkhuphu (maize meal with beans).
If you prefer a vegetable meal, why not give umxhaxha (a combination of pumpkin and corn) a go? Feeling puckish? Snack on freshly boiled mielies – in the townships, this is known as “playing the harmonica”.
South African Cuisine has way too many delectable traditional dishes to mention in one article but we hope you enjoy experimenting with what we’ve managed to squeeze in.