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South Africa is a beautiful country with stunning natural surroundings, a deep and twisted history, and some mouth-watering traditional foods that cannot be missed. So, while you are busy seeing, doing, and experiencing everything South Africa has to offer, don’t forget to eat! There’s a wide variety of dishes to choose from and South African cuisine is more than just the braai (South African BBQ).
Traditional South African food is as complex as it is delicious. So, how will you know what to eat in South Africa? Follow our guide on what to eat, how to eat, and even how to say it — you’ll be feasting like a local in no time!
This (pictured above) is a must try street stall staple in Durban (its origin city), however this dish has now spread across South Africa. Originally created by the Indian immigrant community in Durban, this curry was served to the working class as an on-the-go lunch. Now, this hearty meal is enjoyed by everyone. First, a loaf of white bread is hollowed out, then it’s filled with a chicken or pork curry. The vegetarian variety is an equally delicious lentil and bean combo.
- Say what: no tricks — just like it sounds!
- Tips: Tear bits of the bread bowl off and dip in the curry. When the curry’s finished, eat the bowl! No clean-up involved.
A spicy vegetarian dish of tomato, beans, peppers, onions, and curry. Other spices and vegetables like carrots, cabbage, and chilies are added depending on the region. The dish packs a punch in terms of flavors and spices. Its origins stem from the Johannesburg townships when mineworkers used simple ingredients they had on hand (such as a tin of baked beans and tomatoes) to make a filling meal. It has since grown into a staple dish across the country.
- Say what: cha-ka-la-ka
- Tips: Enjoy it as a relish that can be combined with almost anything — rice, meat, bread, or other veggies — it most commonly accompanies a braai as a side dish.
Biltong is the original dried meat, known as beef jerky in other parts of the western world. Although similar to jerky in that they are both dried, cured strips of meat, biltong has a distinctly different taste. Traditional biltong is much thicker and chewier than jerky and not as sweet. It is often made from beef; however, the South African variety includes ostrich, antelope, and buffalo, too.
- Say what: bil-towng
- Tips: Perfect for long bus or car rides, camping trips, or a satisfying snack between meals.
A South African braai is incomplete without the appearance of the traditional South African spicy sausage known as boerewors. This high-quality sausage is a combination of beef, pork, coriander and curry. Because it’s typically prepared and served as one long, coiled piece, this sausage is a huge hit at backyard BBQs.
- Say what: bu-rev-ors
- Tips: Enjoy it sliced and plain or atop a soft roll with grilled onions and ketchup. Pair it with the above side dish, chakalaka for an all-round authentic South African style BBQ plate.
Bobotie is considered a traditional Afrikaans dish. The original concept of bobotie is thought to have been introduced by Southeast Asian immigrants hailing from Malaysia or Indonesia. Minced meat is simmered with curry, herbs & spices, and dried fruit. It’s then topped with a milky-eggy custard and baked until golden brown, creating one of South Africa’s most tempting comfort foods. It may sound like a strange mixture, but the irresistible sweet and spicy combination works — Bobotie is South Africa’s national dish.
- Say what: bo-boo-tee
- Tips: Bobotie is the center of a main dish and is usually served with a side of yellow rice and vegetables. It also pairs well with a glass of pinotage.
This dessert is of Cape Malay decent, originating in a community of Dutch colonized East-Indian immigrants who settled in the Cape of Good Hope centuries ago. The original dessert is a sweet, spongy cake made with apricot jam and a cream sauce poured on top. It’s possible to find variations of malva, which include the addition of ginger, dates, or brandy.
- Say what: mahl-vah
- Tips: Malva pudding is best consumed hot with a side of custard or ice cream.
If there’s a chill in the air then a bowl of bredie is highly recommended. This rich, thick, and hearty dish has a likeness to stew; but don’t let any South African hear you say that. Locals believe their bredie is far more superior to any ordinary stew. Slow cooked until all the flavors are perfectly blended, there is no other traditional South African food quite like this. There are plenty of variations, but the original bredie is almost always made from lamb. The disparities come in the type of vegetables added. Waterblommetjie (a native South African flower) is common, in addition to the typical onions and potatoes. Other frequently used vegetables are tomatoes, cabbage, green bean, and pumpkin.
- Say what: bread-ee
- Tips: Best with a side of white rice and pickled vegetables.
Literally meaning “small food pot”, this dish was created by the Afrikaans as they traveled the countryside and were in need of meals made in a single pot. The main ingredients are meat and vegetables. They are slowed cooked over an outdoor fire in a three-legged cast iron pot. All that’s needed is cooking oil, a tiny bit of water, and a dash of alcohol for an extra kick of flavor. The meat used is typically lightly seasoned lamb or pork. Vegetables are added after the meat is browned, and then the whole pot is left to simmer. You may be thinking this sounds very similar to bredie. The difference is potjeikos is not stirred, so the flavors remain separate and easily distinguishable.
- Say what: pot-jee-koz
- Tips: Goes amazingly well with rice or potatoes.
The main ingredient in amadumbe is sweet potato. South Africa uses sweet potato the way more western countries use regular old white potatoes, but with a major twist. Amadumbe is mashed sweet potato combined with butter and served with a sprinkling of peanuts and a drizzle of honey. How irresistible does that sound?
- Say what: uh-ma-doom-bee
- Tips: Take it with any hearty meat dish and you are in heaven.
This South African pastry pulls double duty as both a savory snack or a satisfying dessert. It all depends on how it’s prepared and served. Vetkoek means “oil cake” in Afrikaans, which makes sense since the doughy pastry is first deep-fried in cooking oil. The inside of the pastry is sometimes stuffed with minced beef and eaten as is. It can also be cooked plain and then served with honey, butter, jam, and/or cheese, turning it into a sweet treat. The crispy fried outside and warm soft inside makes the vetkoek a local favorite any time of day.
- Say what: vet-kuk
- Tips: You can take it as a snack, as a small meal, or as a dessert — this is one of South Africa’s most versatile foods.
South Africa is literally a foodie’s dream, pulling inspiration from all corners of its checkered past. The British and western European influence blends surprisingly well with adopted influences from the Southeast Asian immigrant population. Both are seamlessly fused together with the native flavor of South African dishes. The result is an undeniable unique, delicious, creative, and flavorful cuisine of which South Africa is inherently proud. So, if you’ve been asking yourself what to eat on your next trip to South Africa — now you know!
Traveling to South Africa? Chat with a local travel specialist in South Africa who can help organize your trip.