10 South African foods and dishes
Looking for something warm and hearty? Potjiekos – meaning “small pot stew” – is a catch-all term for hodgepodge stews made of different meats and vegetables.
The traditional way of cooking potjiekos is in a three-legged cast-iron pot or potjie, which is heated over a log fire. Recipes for potjiekos vary, but they often include lamb, pork, game, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, potatoes, and spices. You can also make a vegetarian potjiekos if you like!
South African cuisine can be divided into four groups – African cuisine, British cooking, Afrikaans style, and Cape Malay cuisine. The last one incorporates a lot of spices and recipes from Indonesian and Malaysian cuisine, which were introduced to the country by Dutch colonisers.
Bobotie is a great introduction to Cape Malay food. It’s a mixture of minced beef or lamb spiced with turmeric, bay leaves, and curry paste, which is then slow-cooked with almonds, fruits, and chutney. What makes this dish extra special is that it’s baked with a creamy topping of egg custard. It’s an explosion of flavours and textures that’s not unlike a moussaka!
Elevate your usual weekend barbecue with some boerewors! These are farmer’s sausages made of beef and pork and spiced with roasted coriander seeds, nutmeg, black peppers, vinegar, and allspice.
In South Africa, boerewors are grilled at braais (barbecues) all coiled up, and best enjoyed with food and booze.
Another traditional Cape Malay dish, denningvleis is slow-cooked sweet and sour lamb stew. The sourness comes from tamarind. They also add bay leaves, cloves, and allspice to the dish.
The best way to enjoy denningvleis is with a steaming plate of yellow rice and mashed potatoes!
5. Bunny Chow
Should you find yourself hungry after a long day of touring Durban, sit down for some bunny chow. It’s a popular street food that consists of a white, hollowed out loaf that serves as a bowl for a big helping of hot and hearty curry.
Hot tip: Messy as it seems, you’re supposed to eat bunny chow with your fingers, using the bread to mop up the curry!
Ask most South Africans what they miss most about their country and you’re bound to hear someone say koeksisters. This dessert is a favourite among kids, as it’s a sweet, sticky, and crunchy snack made with braided dough dipped in a spiced syrup and deep-fried in oil. Beware, it’s addicting!
A koesister, on the other hand, is a round deep-fried snack made of dough and mashed potatoes. It’s also dipped in a spiced syrup, and then rolled in coconut shavings. South Africans say they’re better than doughnuts!
Similar to beef jerky, biltong is made of cured and dried beef, game (such as springbok or wildebeest), and ostrich meat. It is often spiced lightly with pepper, coriander, brown sugar, and vinegar, and occasionally with paprika, onion powder, nutmeg, garlic, and other similar ingredients.
Visiting pescetarians will be happy to know that South Africans love fish too. One favourite is snoke, a fish that is caught off the coast of Cape Town.
According to Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown website, it can be cooked in various ways – “braaied on an open fire ... smoked and served cold or mashed into an exceptional pate ... served up in a smoor – a spicy tomato-based saute ... batter-fried and wrapped in unprinted newsprint with a side of ‘slap chips’”.
9. Ungqushu or umngqusho
In many parts of Africa, the staple food is pap – a porridge made of cornmeal that’s boiled into a thick dough. Unqushu is a similar dish made with samp and a mix of sugar beans, potatoes, butter, curry powder, onions, tomatoes, and garlic.
10. Rusks and tea
Looking for a light breakfast or afternoon snack? South Africans love rusks – hard and dry biscuits that are dunked in coffee or tea. Always go for Ouma’s tried and tested brand.
4 places to get South African food in Australia
Location: Little Collins St., Melbourne
According to its website, Polepole is “a quintessentially modern Australian-African fusion restaurant”. The word “polepole” means “slow” and stands for the restaurant’s ethos of “taking it easy and enjoying the moment”. Their exciting menu features South African staples like biltong and Cape Malay goat curry.
Price range: Small entrees are priced at $AUD13 to 19, larger entrees at $AUD28 to 45, beers at $AUD9-12 and cocktails at $AUD18-20.
Dine with Joy
Location: Loganholme, Queensland
Yes, Dine with Joy is little bakery is in the suburbs (it’s approximately 29 km from Brisbane), but it’s worth the trip! Their slogan is “pies just like grandma used to make”, and if you grew up or spent some time in South Africa, you’ll be hit with a wave of nostalgia just by looking at their menu online.
Here, you’ll find savoury pies like bunny chow, samoosas, and vetkoek, and desserts like melk tarts and koeksisters. If you’re hungry, they also serve a mean bobotie.
Price range: Meals range from $AUD30 to 85, while desserts cost between $AUD2 and 4.
Location: Vaucluse, Sydney
Owned by a former cookery teacher from Johannesburg, Bianca’s Deli is a unique gourmet shop that sells South African and Jewish food. Pop in and you’ll find a variety of food items, from fried fish balls and curry fish to biltong, boerewors, chutney, rusks, and tons of delicious baked goods, including “some of the best cheesecake in Sydney”.
Location: East Terrace, Adelaide
Small but vibrant, this restaurant and bar is a cool place to introduce friends to a new culture. The walls are bouncing with African tunes and the space is set up so you can see your meals and drinks prepared right in front of you. And yes, this place is a hundred percent authentic – its chef, Duncan Welgemoed, is a South African native!