South Africa’s traditional flavours will inspire you.
There are simply too many meals you have to experience when travelling to South Africa. We had to condense the list to ten absolutely necessary tastes you should appreciate while you are there.
1. Biltong and droëwors
Strips of meat (usually beef) are flavoured with a unique blend of spices and air-dried, either left to hang in the rafters or dried in a biltong-making machine. Biltong has a long heritage in South Africa; in particular it sustained the Boers during their historic, northward Great Trek into Africa’s interior in the 1830s. Today biltong is a nationally-loved snack, and also used in salads, on pizzas and in other traditional dishes.
Droëwors almost always goes hand-in-hand with biltong, and translated means ‘dry sausage’. It is made by drying a thinner variant of traditional boerewors (farmer’s sausage), made from either beef or lamb. The difference between droëwors and dried meat variants such as salami is the drying process is a lot quicker. Like biltong, it is ideal for storage and almost always taken on road trips.
This is the traditional term for any meat, seafood or vegetable cooked outside over an open fire. A braai is an entrenched South African tradition and just about anything is cooked on the grid; from grilled game meat and gourmet treasures, such as crocodile, to beef, chicken, pork and vegetables. Traditional options such as sosaties are a popular feature; this is marinated, cubed meat (usually lamb) that is skewered and cooked over the open fire shish-kebab style. The men in the social group are usually put in charge of the braai and it’s a matter of national pride to cook the meat to perfection.
This is literally translated to “farmer’s sausage” and is a staple at every braai. It is made from coarsely minced beef (sometimes combined with minced pork, lamb, or both) and spices (usually toasted coriander seed, black pepper, nutmeg, cloves and allspice). Like many other forms of sausage, boerewors contains a high proportion of fat, and is preserved with salt and vinegar, and packed in sausage casings. Traditional boerewors is usually formed into a continuous spiral. It is often served with pap (traditional South African stiff porridge made from mielie-meal) or on a roll. It is usually accompanied by a traditional South African sauce called chakalaka.
Chakalaka is a vegetable relish, usually spicy, that is traditionally served with bread, pap, samp, stews or curries. It is thought to have originated in the townships of the Johannesburg. To balance its fiery flavour, it is sometimes served with amasi (thick sour milk). There are many variations of Chakalaka, often depending on the region and family tradition. Many versions include beans. For example, a tin of baked beans, tin of tomatoes, onion, garlic and some curry paste can be used to make the dish.
Bobotie is a South African dish consisting of spiced minced meat baked with an egg-based topping. Colonists from the Dutch East India Company colonies probably introduced bobotie to South Africa. Afterwards, it was adopted by the Cape Malay community, who prefer to make it with chilli and curry powder to give it a slight “tang”.
The dish is usually made with beef or lamb, although pork lends the dish extra moisture. Traditionally, bobotie incorporates dried fruit like raisins or sultanas, and is served with sambals, chutney and bananas. The texture of the dish is complex, with the baked egg topping complementing the milk-soaked bread which adds moisture to the dish.
6. Pap (mealie-meal)
Pap has always been the basic diet of poor South Africans, but it has since been adopted by the whole nation and is a popular side dish at a braai. It is a traditional porridge/polenta made from mielie-meal (ground maize). The most popular choice for a main meal is ‘stywe’ (firm) pap which can be eaten with your hands. It is either enjoyed on its own, with chakalaka (vegetable relish) or traditionally-cooked green vegetables, or served with grilled braai meat, covered in a traditional relish that usually has a bit of curry powder or chilli in it for a bit of a kick.
It is also very popular as a breakfast meal but then the consistency is softer, known as ‘slap pap’ (soft porridge), or more dry and crumbly, known as ‘phutu’ pap. Breakfast pap is served with milk, butter and sugar.
Mielie-meal is inexpensive and therefore a staple dish for poorer people who combine it with vegetables. It can be served hot or, after it has cooled, it can be fried.
This is a heavily-spiced stew incorporating meat (typically lamb) and vegetables. Tomato Bredie is the best-known version of this specialty, and was introduced by the Cape Malays. The dish is of Dutch origin and ‘bredie’ is the Afrikaans/Dutch word for ‘stew’. It is cooked for a very long time, and seasoned with a mixture of spices, including cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and cloves as well as chilli. Originally oriental spinach was a main ingredient of the dish but today anything from pumpkin, green beans and ‘waterblommetjies’ (Cape water lily flowers) are incorporated into the stew. It is either served with rice, potatoes or pap.
Literally translated “small pot food”, it is a stew prepared outdoors over an open fire using a cast-iron, three-legged pot. Potjiekos originated with the Voortrekkers (pioneers), evolving as a stew made of venison and vegetables (if available). Wild game was shot by the trekkers and added to the pot and the large bones were included to thicken the stew. Each day when the wagons stopped, the pot was placed over a fire to simmer and new bones and fresh meat was added.
The pot is greased with a bit of cooking oil and then placed over an open fire. When sufficiently hot, the meat (lamb, chicken, pork) is added first, followed by a combination of spices and usually some form of alcohol (usually beer). When the meat is lightly browned, starch (potatoes or sweet potatoes) and vegetables are added, plus more liquid if needed. The lid is then closed and the contents left to simmer slowly without stirring. This distinguishes a potjiekos from a stew that is stirred. The aim is that the flavours of the different ingredients mix as little as possible.
Little sauce or water is used, so that the contents are cooked by steam and do not boil as in a stew. The heat must be very low and constant, and requires the cook’s undivided attention. Potjie recipes and secrets are treasured by potjiekos enthusiasts. It is a hugely social activity, with the cooking process often taking up a whole day. A potjie is usually served with rice, pasta or pap.
Vetkoek translated means ‘fat cake’ and is basically deep-fried bread that is shaped like a hamburger bun. What makes it delicious is the lovely array of fillings it is known for; from butter and jam, or cheese to delicious options such as savoury or curried mince, biltong and just about anything else.
It is made from flour, salt and yeast. The dough is rolled into a ball, deep fried and filled to brimming. Vetkoek is hugely popular at country fairs where the young and old enjoy what is often quite a messy affair. Of course, vetkoek is best eaten with your hands.
Melktert, meaning ‘milk tart’, is a favourite South African dessert consisting of a sweet pastry crust containing a creamy filling made from milk, flour, sugar and eggs. The ratio of milk to egg is higher than in a traditional custard tart, giving it a lighter texture and a stronger milk flavour. Some recipes require the custard to be baked in the crust, and others call for the custard to be prepared in advance, and then placed in the crust before serving. Cinnamon is often sprinkled over its surface or the milk can be infused with a cinnamon stick before preparation.
Lekker Adventures specialises in providing you with the complete travelling experience to South Africa. Click here to find out more about travelling to South Africa with the assistance of Lekker Adventures.