'Rainbow' Cuisine in South Africa

 By: Rachel Hill
Most travellers exploring South Africa for themselves will be fascinated by the food on offer. With many different styles of cooking originating in the region's different cultures, the country is host to a wide range of different meals. For many discerning diners, the centrepiece of any meal is the meat, reflected in the national appreciation of a good barbecue (also known in Afrikaans as a 'braai'), and a fondness for 'biltong', meat that has been dried and preserved. A meal might also consist of 'pap and vlies', or maize porridge and grilled meat. But national favourites aside, there are several distinctive culinary traditions and types of food in South Africa.

Cape Dutch

A distinctive regional style of cookery, Cape Dutch is often recognized through its use of spices, such as hot peppers, allspice, or nutmeg. One of the most famous dishes is 'Bobotie", minced meat cooked with spices and baked with an egg-based topping. Having been made in the Cape of Good Hope since the 1600's, when it was cooked with a mixture of mutton and pork, the dish has evolved into several different forms in South Africa today. While some recipes include chopped onions in the mixture, others include raisins or sultanas to give the meal a sweeter flavour. The introduction of modern curry powders has simplified the recipe somewhat, but the basic meal remains the same.


Curried dishes are very popular, and especially with the added ingredient of lemon juice. One of the most famous recipes involving curry is 'bunny chow', slang for a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with curry. Created in Durban during the 1940's, the original recipe was vegetarian, though it can include lamb, chicken, or bean curries. Often served with a side portion of grated carrots, chilli, and onion salad (known as 'sambals'), it's common to see one portion shared between two or more people. Served in quarter, half, and full loaves, there's usually enough to go around.


Literally translated, 'potjiekos' means 'small pot food', and consists of a stew prepared outdoors in a traditional cast-iron three-legged pot. Traditionally, the recipe includes various meats, vegetables, rice or potatoes. The meal originated with South Africa's Voortrekkers, as a stew made of venison. As the trekkers shot wild game, it would be added to the pot, with large bones included to thicken the stew. When their wagons stopped, the pot would be placed over a fire to cook, with new bones replacing old, and fresh meat taking the place of meat eaten as the journey went on. In modern cooking, often a little beer or sherry is added to the pot for flavour, as well as the contents being accompanied by rice or pasta.


A traditional Afrikaaner pastry, Vetkoek is made of dough deep-fried in cooking oil, and either filled with cooked mince, or spread with syrup, honey, or jam. Translated, the literal meaning of the word is 'fat cake'. Shaped similarly to a doughnut, and being comprised of dough rolled into a ball and then deep-fried, it's easy to make the comparison! Vetkoek remains a fantastic food for a hungry traveller to try while exploring South Africa.
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