Aspects of South African cuisine are indigenous and other ingredients and techniques are culled from the colonizing (and recolonizing) of the land. Flavors include Dutch, French, Indian and Malay influences and the marquee dishes are unique and unforgettable. We’ve partnered with South African Tourism to for this exclusive checklist of six dishes you’ve just got to try on your next trip to this flavorful country.
Considered by some as the national dish of South Africa, bobotie is the epitome of Malay cuisine. The dish’s roots date back to the 17th century when Dutch traders used the area that is now Cape Town as a stopping point on their journeys to and from Indonesia. The traders brought spices, cooking techniques, and recipes with them…and bobotie was born.
The minced meat pie is topped with a creamy, decadent egg-and-milk blend custard and baked to perfection. It can be served with sambal (a chili paste) and/or curry powder for an extra zing. A good place to sample some traditional bobotie is atKaribu, a Cape Town eatery as classic South African as the dish itself. Positioned in the shadow of the famed Table Mountain in the beautiful expanse of the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, this eatery promises an authentic sampling of Malay and modern tastes.
“Beautiful restaurant at a great location in Cape Town,” said one traveler. “We wanted Bobotie the real South African way, and we got everything we wished for, and more!”
2. Malva Pudding
It’s warm, sweet, and just gooey enough to remind you of its decadence. Malva pudding is a spongy cake doused in warmed butter and filled with apricot jam, all of which is enveloped with a caramelized exterior. Then a cream sauce is poured on top of the warm confection. The result is a sensational pudding of “Cape Dutch” origin that’s often served with ice cream or custard.
Cape Town’s family-owned and operated Mzansi restaurant is the perfect place to sample this sweet creation. Mzansi aims to introduce tourists to traditional foods served in a traditional African environment. Music, played by a live band, adds to the celebratory atmosphere showcasing the rich diversity of South Africa, its people, and their legacy.
“As soon as you walk in [to Mzansi] all you feel is love. The band is amazing and the food and hospitality will knock your socks off. I was so moved by the story of the family, and knowing that the restaurant is a job creator in the neighborhood, just made dining here all the more special,” raved one diner. “Now let me tell you about the malva pudding…upon my first bite I fell back in my seat. I wanted to ask for a second slice! I am resolved to learn how to make it myself.”
From the Afrikaans “boer” (farmer) and the Dutch “wors” (sausage), the coiled shaped sausages known as boerewors are typically cooked on the braai (barbecue). Boerewors must contain at least 90 percent meat and always contain beef, as well as lamb, pork, or a mixture of lamb and pork. The other 10 percent is made up of spices and other ingredients. The coarsely minced meat is blended most commonly with toasted coriander and cloves as well as cider vinegar, which imparts a bold taste.
It may be big—the eatery seats more than 600—but dining atThe Butcher Shop & Grill in Johannesburg has the distinct feeling of being among family and is the perfect place to sample some boerewors. Leather booths compliment the enormous wine list and endless meat offerings.
“The Butcher Shop is my favorite address for enjoying red meat in Jobber. I had as a starter, boerewors, the favorite South African beef sausages with a flavorful taste,” said one traveler. “Particularly recommendable are the beef cuts from the in-house butchery, where the butcher can cut the steak to the preferred size.”
4. Springbok Pie
The springbok is a medium-sized antelope found mainly in the southern regions of Africa. In fact, it is the national animal of South Africa and lends its name to the South African National Rugby team. As a popular food in the country, the springbok is lauded for its tender lean meat with a hint of grassiness flavor. The springbok pie is the definition of comfort food, with the meat usually braised and shredded and accompanied by veggies and spices, all enveloped in a flaky puff pastry.
“This is a very warm and cosy venue with a well varied menu and good wine list,” said one diner. “The senegalese chicken and springbok pie are delicious – well worth the visit.”
5. Durban Curry
A complex explosion of fiery flavor, this oil-slicked fish or goat dish is an embodiment of the dense Indian population in South Africa. (Interesting fact: It was his time in South Africa that largely informed Gandhi’s ideas of nonviolent protest for equal rights). The story of this curry dish is much like that of the immigrants who brought it to the coastal town of Durban—adaptable and hardworking. And it’s all about the spice with cayenne pepper, curry masala, curry leaves, and a touch of sweet clove and cinnamon.
For a delicious sample of this special curry dish (with a gorgeous ocean view), head to Impulse by the Sea. “If you want a good taste of Durban curry, which blends Indian flavours with South African Indian adaptations, you will not be disappointed,” said one traveler.
6. Bunny Chow
The bunny chow dish was created in Durban, home to a large community of people of Indian descent. These savory pockets were designed to enjoy on-the-go and usually consist of a hollowed loaf of white bread loaded with curry. It’s served in quarter, half, or full loaves and can be fish or meat; mutton is the most popular. The vegetarian options (often called beans chow because they’re largely composed of dhal curry—lentils) actually predated the meat dishes.
CaneCutters in Durban presents the best of the city’s symphonic curry and spiced dishes in an unassuming, yet uber-friendly setting. “We researched where to get the best Bunny Chow in Durban and I was not disappointed by CaneCutters,” said one traveler.