Photo Credit: TN
The Foodie’s Guide To Eating And Drinking In South Africa
Written by Nadeen White
If you plan to head to South Africa and consider yourself a foodie, you’re in for a treat. South African cuisine is diverse, incredibly interesting and primarily based on the cultural history of its inhabitants.
Black Africans make up the largest population in South Africa, so you can expect to sample Zulu and Xhosa dishes. The people of color in this region are also multiracial, with original Khoisan, black, white and Asian ancestry. They have their own foods and culture in South Africa. Africa was colonized by the Dutch and the British, so those influences remain in South African cuisine. In addition, Asians were brought to South Africa as slaves or indentured servants. Cape Malays were from India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. Durban actually has the largest Indian population outside of India.
Based on these influences and South Africa’s coastline, you can expect to eat flavorful meats and seafood. From beef jerky to curries to fish & chips, you will find it all in South Africa. The majority of South Africans are big meat eaters, but prawns and Kingklip fish can be found on most menus.
Street food and food markets are very popular in South Africa. Head to The Old Biscuit Mill in the Woodstock neighborhood in Cape Town. It has restaurants, cafes and food stalls of local farmers. For more traditional South African foods, try out the Market at the Palms which is also located in the Woodstock neighborhood.
Cape Town also has one of the highest ranked restaurants in the world, The Test Kitchen. Meanwhile, Johannesburg’s Sub-Saharan cuisine is getting more attention and is becoming known as the “foodie capital of South Africa.”
Here are 15 traditional South African Foods to try:
A personal favorite South African dish, Bobotie is commonly referred to as the national dish in South Africa and it has Cape Malay origins. It consists of curried minced meat baked with an egg on top and served with rice and chutney.
If you love beef jerky, then you will love Biltong. It is a salty dried meat but unlike jerky, it is not cooked before drying. Meats used for Biltong include beef, venison, ostrich and crocodile.
Braai is an Afrikaner term for grilled or barbecued meat. A Braai in South Africa is a fun and festive affair. Family and friends gather around a BBQ and enjoy the meats with various sides.
This is a very popular item in South Africa and will not be hard to find. Boerewors is a type of sausage that is usually barbecued.
You may have seen the restaurant “Nando’s” while traveling. PERi-PERi is called the “African Bird’s Eye Chili.” The chili is made into a flavorful and spicy sauce. The chicken is marinated in this sauce for 24 hours, then grilled and served to perfection.
This is an Indian dish that was first made in Durban. It is a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with curry. It can have meat or vegetarian curries.
Think of a hoagie. A gats by is a large sandwich filled with fish or meat, chips and/or French fries. It is a popular fast food item in Cape Town.
With a large Indian population, you will find delicious samosas in South Africa. They are deep-fried pastries filled with meat and/or vegetables.
Pap is similar to porridge. It is made from maize. Pap can be eaten alone or as a side dish. It is a popular food among the Bantu people.
Ostrich & Ostrich Eggs
Try some grilled ostrich while in South Africa or have it in a stew. Ostrich eggs are very large in size and can feed an entire family of four. In South Africa, they are also prepared fried or scrambled for breakfast.
Street Food: “Walkie-Talkies”
I remember walking around Soweto and noticed a lady grilling on the curb. She was grilling chicken feet. Several people tried it but I could not. It is a popular street food in townships and consists of grilled or fried chicken feet or lamb’s head.
A South African stew of meat and vegetables cooked in a cast-iron pot over a fire.
Koeksisters are fried sweet dough. Need I say more? They are similar to donuts, but with a crispy crust.
We cannot forget about dessert! Milktarts are pies filled with a combination of sugar, flour, milk and eggs. The fillings are poured into a sweet flaky crust.
I have had Malva pudding several times and it is one of my favorites. It is spongy cake with apricot and caramel flavors. Try it with vanilla ice cream.
Where To Eat
There are countless great restaurants in South Africa. Many restaurants are also black-owned. Here are some restaurant and foodie neighborhoods to check out on your next trip.
The Melrose Arch, Maboneng and Sandton neighborhoods have a great variety of restaurants to choose from depending on your tastes. While in Soweto, check out Queenie’s Kitchen for traditional South African eats. There is also a supper club in Johannesburg that is gaining popularity called “Yeoville Dinner Club for A Pan Afrikan Plate.”
While in Durban, head to Umhlanga Rocks. It is a beautiful seaside town. “The Village” is the perfect place for foodies. There is Greek and Spanish food, a steakhouse, seafood restaurant, pub, burger joint and even a Cuban restaurant. We ate at Little Havana and besides delicious foods and desserts, I enjoyed the bar area and the atmosphere.
One of my favorite restaurants in Cape Town is “Marco’s African Place.” It is a large two-story restaurant but it feels very homey. The menu has mostly traditional African cuisine and there is live entertainment. Another popular restaurant in Cape Town is called “Gold Restaurant.” You can sit back, relax and enjoy a 14-course meal with live entertainment. You can even try drumming here. The Crypt Jazz Restaurant is a very unique place. It is located in the lower level of St.George’s Cathedral. Enjoy live jazz and casual eats in an intimate setting. As mentioned above, The Test Kitchen is consistently ranked as one of the world’s best restaurants. Be sure to make reservations far in advance. “Mama Africa” is located in the Central Business District and serves traditional African foods.
What To Drink In South Africa
In terms of drinking in South Africa, there are several wine regions outside of Cape Town. Just about an hour away from the city, you’ll reach sprawling and beautiful vineyards (called wine farms in South Africa). I highly suggest a visit to Stellenbosch. It is very picturesque. However, Franschhoek and Paarl are also well-known wine regions.
Wine is very affordable in South Africa and wine bars are quite popular. While in Johannesburg head to “WineSense,” a black-owned wine bar. In South Africa, you can get a glass of high-quality wine for as little as $6-$8 USD. South Africans also enjoy a good beer while watching sports or eating a sausage dish. South Africa hosts several wine & food festivals, including the Stellenbosch Wine Festival, The Cape Town Beer Festival, The Wacky Wine Festival, The Whiskey Live Festival & The Soweto Lifestyle and Wine Festival.
I became addicted to Rooibos tea after visiting South Africa. Not only is the flavor delicious but it is caffeine free and full of antioxidants. Rooibos tea is also referred to as “redbush tea” or “bush tea.” The tea is made from a plant that grows naturally in South Africa.
Amarula cream reminds me of Jamaican rum cream and a little bit of Bailey’s Irish cream. In other words, it is delicious. Amarula cream is made from a fruit tree in South Africa called the “Marula tree.” The fermented fruit from the tree is aged for 2 to 3 years then blended with cream.
When you go to South Africa, you must try Pinotage wine. It is a red wine that was created in South Africa in the 1920s. It was made from a combination of Cinsaut and Pinot Noir grapes. Pinotage wine flavors include bacon, tobacco, smoke and fruits like plum, raspberry and blueberry. It goes well with BBQ foods. My favorite Pinotage labels are Kanonkop Wine Estate, Spier Wine Farm and Anura Vineyards.
Chenin Blanc Wine
Chenin Blanc is a well-known wine in South Africa. It is actually the most planted grape in South Africa. Chenin Blanc in South Africa is a white wine that is also called “Steen”, and originated in the Loire Valley in France. However, it has been making great strides in South Africa with vineyards over 100 years old. Chenin Blanc wines can be dry or sweet or sparkling. I love the fruity flavors of pear, apple and plum. You will also find tastes of ginger, jasmine and honeycomb. The more popular labels are Spier, Cederberg, Rijk’s, Ken Forrester and Nederburg.
Many people are not aware that indigenous African tribes used to brew beer made from sorghum and maize long before the Dutch and British colonizers arrived. South Africans still brew beer at home and micro-breweries are numerous. These traditions are celebrated at craft beer festivals. Popular craft beer brands are Devil’s Peak, Mitchell’s and Gilroy’s brewery.
South African breweries also produce several big brands. Carling Black label is an international award-winning beer. You can also try Black Label, Castle Lager, Castle Lite and Castle Milk Stout. You will also find popular international brands such as Guinness and Heineken.
Whiskey & Spirits
South African distilleries make whiskey and spirits such as gin and brandy. South African whiskey often has hints of vanilla, toast and butterscotch. Last year, “Bain’s Cape Mountain Whiskey” of The James Sedgwick’s Distillery won an award at the World Whiskey Awards. It was named the World’s Best grain whiskey. Distilleries to check out on your next trip include Van Ryn’s Distillery in Stellenbosch, Distillery 031 in Durban and Black Horse Distillery in the Cradle of Humankind.
Other South African drinks to try:
Umqombothi beer, Van Der Hum Liqueur, Springbokkie shots, and Witblits AKA “white lightning”.
Have a delicious trip!