Like every cosmopolitan city in the world, Cape Town offers a wide array of restaurants – French, Italian, Greek, Indian, Thai, Mexican and more. However, our best restaurants are invariably those that celebrate what the Cape uniquely offers- our proximity to both sea and farmlands, which means the freshest of produce, and cooking traditions that are based on the use of spices, cooking with fire, pickling and preserving.
What do South Africans think of as their traditional food? Here are some dishes to look out for. They are cooked in our homes, in country restaurants, and sold at farmstalls. To our delight, our fine dining restaurants are beginning re- invent them, deconstruct them, and generally create magic around them.
Braai: cooking/barbecuing meat on open coals, never ever gas.
Biltong: air dried meat, usually eaten as a snack.
Boerewors: spicy farm sausage, the staple of all braais.
Bobotie: lightly spiced ground beef, baked in an egg custard.
Chakalaka: spicy vegetable relish.
Droëwors: air dried boerewors.
Green Fig Konfyt: green figs preserved in a sweet syrup, often served with cheese.
Koeksisters: plaited doughnuts, infused in syrup. (The traditional Malay version however is not plaited).
Malva pudding: sweet sponge dessert, usually served warm with custard.
Marog: spinach type vegetable, grows wild.
Melktert: sweet pastry crust containing a baked creamy custard filling.
Mielies: corn on the cob, usually cooked on the braai.
Pap: traditional porridge made from ground maize.
Pickled fish: firm white fish, fried and preserved in a spicy vinegar sauce, traditionally eaten at Easter.
Pumpkin fritters: Deep fried pumpkin dough, dusted with cinnamon and sugar.
Rusks: double-baked bread biscuit, usually dunked into morning coffee.
Samp & beans(umngqusho): traditional dish of the Nguni people, a favourite of Nelson Mandela.
Skilpadjies: lamb’s liver, wrapped in caul fat, cooked on the braai.
Snoek: popular local line fish, traditionally basted with apricot jam and cooked on the braai.
Smoorsnoek: flaked, smoked snoek with potatoes in a light curry.
Springbok: a popular and delicious game meat from a small indigenous antelope.
Waterblommetjie bredie: lamb, stewed together with waterblommetjies (water hawthorn, Aponogeton distachyos flowers) which grow wild in dams and marshes.
As you can see, the braai is the essential method of cooking many of our dishes. You can experience a boerebraai (farmer’s braai) at Middelvlei winery.
As we say in South Africa, local is lekker!
(Thanks to JP Roussouw whose talk at the Business of Wine and Food tourism on South African food got me thinking.) Photos by Dirk Peters ©Wines of South Africa