South African food is a melting pot of different cultures and indigenous cuisine, making it a truly unique experience. A mixture of Dutch, Indian, Malaysian, South East Asian, and French cuisines, traditional South African foods are just full of flavor and spices.
What Is Special About South African Food
At one time, South African cuisine consisted heavily of grains, some stewed or roasted meats like goat and lamb, beans, gourds, and fermented milk products. With the arrival of other cultures came new spices and cooking methods that introduced exciting flavors to South African food.
Anyone traveling to South Africa with a sense of adventure is sure to be pleased with the many exciting South African dishes to be enjoyed. Additionally, enjoying a Braai, or South African barbeque, is an excellent way to socialize and enjoy the authentic culture of South African food.
Most Famous South African Food
Bobotie ( Curry Spiced Minced Meat And Egg Bake)
Known as one of the national South African dishes, Bobotie is a dish made of curry-spiced minced meat baked with an egg and bread soaked in milk topping. Bobotie is a perfect example of the melding of different cultures that make up South African food.
Bobotie has Dutch and Indonesian origins and ended up as a traditional dish of the Cape Malays community of South Africa, which is an Asian and African Muslim ethnic group. The name Bobotie likely came from the Malayan word boemboe, which means curry spices.
This incredibly flavorful and fragrant traditional South African food is often made with beef or lamb but can also be made of pork. The curry flavors are contrasted with sweet dried fruit like apricots or raisins, and the dish is typically served over fragrant rice.
Bobotie is a creamy and well-spiced dish that is a must-try for anyone who wants a genuine taste of South African cuisine.
Traditional South African Food: Braai or South African Barbeque
Boerewors (Farmer’s Sausage)
South Africans take their barbeque, or braai, very seriously, so it’s no wonder South African sausage is high on the list of must-try traditional South African foods.
Boerewors, or farmer’s sausage, is a spiced sausage typically made of coarsely minced beef but sometimes includes pork or lamb. Authentic Boerewors are strictly regulated and must be made of 90% meat and 10% spices and other ingredients.
Boerewors long spiral shape is often cooked at a braai, prepared over hot coals. Commonly enjoyed with sides like porridge, Boerewors contains warm spices such as coriander, nutmeg, and allspice.
This lean traditional South African sausage is a must-try, especially if you are lucky enough to attend a braai.
Sosatie (Spicy Skewered Meat)
Another traditional South African food commonly found at a braai is Sosatie. Sosatie is a skewered meat, typically lamb or mutton, covered in spicy sauce.
Before this South African cultural food gets cooked over a hot grill, it’s marinated in a mixture of tamarind juice, garlic, chili peppers, curry leaves, and fried onions, giving it layers upon layers of incredible flavor. The meat is marinated overnight and skewered with onions and peppers before being cooked the next day.
Like Bobotie, Sosatie is also heavily influenced by the Cape Malays ethnic group, so the flavors in these South African dishes reflect Asian tastes. Sosatie has become a standard at most braais in South Africa.
Braaibroodjie (Barbeque Bread)
If you love grilled cheese, this traditional South African food is sure to be right up your alley. Braaibroodjie, or barbeque bread, is a typical side dish at braais, usually made of two slices of bread, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, red onion, and even chutney.
The smokey flavors of the fire complement the combination of flavors. The addition of chutney in this sandwich exemplifies the influence of Indian culture on South African cuisine.
Chutney is a condiment of fruits, vegetables, and seasonings often found in British and Indian cuisine. This unique side is usually enjoyed after the meat courses at a typical braai.
Roosterkoek (Grilled Bread)
Along with the theme of cooking over an open flame, Roosterkoek is a grilled bread enjoyed with other traditional South African dishes at a braai. Made of flour, yeast, salt, sugar, and water, this simple dish gets most of its flavor from the char of the flames.
Enjoying Roosterkoek with the juicy, tender meats served at a braai is essential for soaking up all the flavors. Due to the yeast, these rolls are slightly hollow and fluffy inside while staying crispy and crunchy outside from the hot flames.
Roosterkoek is an absolute must when it comes to traditional South African food!
Traditional South African Food : Sides And Snacks
Biltong (Air-Dried Meat)
Biltong is an air-dried meat snack that is a traditional South African food similar to beef jerky. This air-dried meat snack is typically made of proteins such as chicken, beef, fish, or wild game like ostrich or springbok.
What differentiates Biltong from beef jerky that is more well known is the way it is cured. While both types of dried meat are sliced thin, jerky is usually marinated and cut before air drying. This traditional South African food is instead cured in vinegar and dried as a whole before being sliced right before enjoying. Biltong is very soft and flavorful due to its curing method.
Biltong can be enjoyed as a snack, put on a sandwich, or even cut up and cooked into a stew. Locals love this South African cultural food that is healthier than jerky and even more flavorful with a pleasant texture.
Droewers (Air Dried Sausage)
Droewers are another dried meat that is popular in South African cuisine. Made primarily of beef, Droewers is similar to the famous South African sausage Boerewors in the ingredients.
Droewers are slightly thinner than regular sausage, helping it dry faster and less likely to go bad. Once the meat has been stuffed into the casing, it dries for nearly a week before it’s ready to be eaten.
While this traditional South African food is usually made of beef, it is also made of lamb or ostrich, with warm spices like allspice, coriander, garlic, and even chili peppers.
Samosa (Filled Pastry)
The heavy Indian cultural influence is apparent in South African cuisine with snacks like Samosa, this filled pastry with vegetables, potatoes, meats, and lots of spices.
Samosas can be baked or fried, giving the outside a desirable crunchy and flaky texture. Typically served with chutney or other sauces, the Samosa is delicious as a snack but can quickly become a meal when you enjoy several of them.
This Indian-influenced traditional South African food is a beloved snack eaten in a restaurant or on the hunt for tasty street food.
Chakalaka (Veggie And Spice Dish)
Chakalaka is a spicy vegetable side dish commonly found as an accompaniment to many traditional South African foods. Chakalaka is usually made of tomatoes, beans, onions, and a mixture of spices making up a delicious curry flavor.
Chakalaka can be a side dish staple in South African cuisine or a condiment eaten atop meats. You may even find Chakalaka at a street vendor served with bread or typical porridge for a quick snack on the go.
Different locations may have favorite styles of Chakalaka, depending on where you are, since it is highly adaptable and versatile.
Vetkoeks (Fat Cakes)
This fried dough cake is surprisingly not in the dessert section of traditional South African foods. That’s because after these pillowy cakes are deep fried, they are usually stuffed with minced meat, South African sausage, or cold sliced meats.
Vetkoeks are often served at braais, where freshly grilled meat can be stuffed inside the warm dough. You can trace this South African food back to Dutch origins, similar to a Dutch doughnut or oliebol. Vetkoeks are hearty and delicious, making a simple savory meal.
Hoenderpastei (Chicken Pie)
Hoenderpastei is a comforting and authentic South African food you must try if you love traditional chicken pot pie. Layers of chicken, veggies, ham, and hardboiled eggs are folded into a pastry dough along with pickling spices, white wine, and lemon juice.
Hoenderpastei can be a large casserole, baked into a roll, sliced, or made into individual hand pies. Another Dutch-influenced recipe, this chicken pie is another staple in the Cape Malays community that is commonly enjoyed during holidays and celebrations.
Gatsby Sandwich (South African Sub Sandwich)
A Gatsby sandwich is one of the South African dishes typical of Cape Town. This delicious giant submarine sandwich stuffed with french fries, meat, and pickles was created when a shop owner became resourceful while finding a way to quickly and inexpensively feed construction workers.
Fillings for the Gatsby sandwich include bologna, chicken, and steak, and you can order massive-sized sandwiches or more human-sized ones for a single meal. Fans of a hearty sandwich will love this beloved traditional South African food.
South African Food : Grains And Porridge
Pap is a staple food in South African cuisine, often found alongside proteins and vegetables at every table. This is a porridge made of maize meal that is combined with butter and usually a vegetable or meat stock.
Pap can be made runny or thicker, depending on who prepares it. Smoother and thinner Pap is known as slap Pap, while thicker Pap is called stywe Pap. A crumbly preparation known as phutu Pap is also typical in South African cuisine.
Pap is a starchy side dish that is very comforting, like fluffy mashed potatoes. With all the spices common in South African foods, simple Pap is filling and complements spicier and meat-forward dishes.
Umngqusho (Dried Corn Kernels And beans)
Umngqusho is a traditional South African food made of samp and beans. Samp is made of dried corn kernels that are chopped up and not finely ground, giving it a gritty consistency.
To make Umngqusho, samp is combined with sugar beans that are soaked overnight and then slowly simmered to a soft texture. Along with these ingredients, potatoes, onions, and garlic are added to make this staple of South African dishes.
Like Pap, you can eat Umngqusho with meats and vegetables or the typical Chakalaka side dish often found on the tables of many South African homes.
Biryani (Spiced Rice Dish)
Another Indian-inspired dish in South African foods is Biryani, a spiced and fragrant rice dish. While Biryani is made with lots of rice, it typically includes some protein, like chicken or lamb, and hardboiled eggs.
Potatoes, rice, and lentils combined with the warming Indian cuisine spices make a delicious main dish or side to any South African cuisine. Biryani is often spicy and can be enjoyed with chutney or cooling raita, yogurt, and cucumber sauce.
Melkkos ( Milk Porridge)
Melkkos may seem like just a breakfast food, but in South African cuisine, locals also enjoy it for lunch and dinner. The simple ingredients of this “meal made from milk” include a flour dough that can be smooth or crumbly, combined, and then cooked in milk, butter, and cinnamon liquid.
Melkkos is a typical traditional South African food best enjoyed with lots of cinnamon and sugar added before serving. Melkkos is a unique, comforting alternative if you love traditional oatmeal or porridge.
FLAVORS AROUND THE WORLD
South African Food : Stews And Mains
Frikkadel (Meatballs With Tomatoes)
Another of the Dutch-influenced South African dishes typically enjoyed is Frikkadel. Frikkadel is meatballs made of meat and soaked white bread that serves as a binder and keeps the meatball moist.
The beef-based meatballs are seasoned with onions, garlic, salt, and pepper and then topped with a sweet tomato sauce.
Also enjoyed in many European countries, Frikkadel is often baked or fried before the sauce, sweetened with onions and sugar, is added.
This traditional South African food can be eaten hot or cold and can also be eaten with a less sweet sauce known as Sheba sauce, which is full of herbs and chunky tomatoes.
Cape Malay Curry (Curry With Meat)
Like many other dishes in traditional South African cuisine, this curry is influenced by the Cape Malay people of South Africa. Cape Malay Curry may be one of the most popular dishes from the Indonesian and African peoples.
Cape Malay Curry is very flavorful and made with either chicken or lamb. Aromatics such as onion, garlic, and ginger combined with typical curry spices of turmeric, masala, cumin, and coriander, create layers of flavor in this typical South African food.
This curry is often eaten without utensils and served over rice.
Potjiekos (Small Pot Food)
Potjiekos, meaning “small pot food,” is typical of South African cuisine. Cooked in a potjie, or a small round cauldron, over an outdoor fire, this meal is a traditional South African food first made famous by Dutch cuisine.
Potjiekos is made of vegetables, meat, and Dutch and Malay spices. Unlike a stew, Potjiekos’ ingredients are cooked in very little liquid, with just a little beer or cooking sherry added to steam the ingredients instead of simmering them.
Potjiekos is a unique South African food because the ingredients are never stirred to combine throughout the cooking process. When indulging in this traditional South African cuisine, you can tell the flavors of each component from one another.
Denningvleis ( Meat Stew With Spices)
Denningvleis is a typical South African food made of stewed ingredients slowly simmered over a fire. A typical dish in the Malays culture, Denningvleis is made with tamarind paste, giving it a unique sweet and sour flavor.
This meat stew is made of additional ingredients, including lamb or mutton, but was initially often made with buffalo meat. Onions and garlic are simmered together with the meat. This traditional South African cuisine is served over geelrys, a conventional South African rice.
Bunny Chow (Bread Bowl With Curry And Salad)
Often served as street food, this traditional South African food is an all-in-one meal of spicy curry inside a hollowed-out bread bowl. Bunny Chow originated in the coastal city of Durban in South Africa and is an Indian cuisine-based dish.
Usually made with white bread that is hollowed out, this South African dish was invented when plantation workers needed a way to carry their food while working in the fields. You can add any curry to the bread bowl, and today, salad and rice are typically served alongside the spicy or sweet stew.
Mala Mogodu (Tripe And Intestine Stew)
For those who love tripe, Mala Mogodu is a traditional South African food that will appeal to your tastebuds. Mala Mogodu translates to tripe and intestines, making this a straightforward dish with only a few ingredients.
Stewed with aromatics and typical spices such as garam masala, Mala Mogodu is cooked over low heat for about three hours before being served alone or over rice or Pap. Mala Mogodu is popular in other African countries, such as Botswana and Lesotho.
South African Desserts And Cakes
Malva Pudding (Baked Sponge Pudding)
Malva pudding is a decadent, spongy South African dessert made with caramelized apricot jam. A sweet cream sauce is poured over the cake-like pudding while it’s still hot, soaking up all the flavors of the simple ingredients.
Like an English pudding or a Mexican Tres Leches cake, Malva pudding is simply a delightful part of South African cuisine. Malva comes from the Afrikaans word for marshmallow, likely describing the texture of the pudding!
Koeksister (Fried Dough With Sticky Syrup)
Koeksister is a braided and fried dough covered in sticky syrup that is a popular South African food in the dessert category. Often sold by street food vendors and grocery stores, Koeksister is a favorite dessert throughout South Africa.
This doughnut-like dessert comes in two different forms, one version is crispy on the outside and doughy and soft on the inside. The other, typical of Cape Malays culture, are in small round dough balls rolled in desiccated coconut. Both desserts are a beloved part of South African cuisine.
Melktert (Custard Tart)
Melktert is a South African food made of milk, flour, sugar, and eggs, creating a custard dusted with cinnamon and sugar. The custardy dessert is served inside a pie-like pastry crust.
The Melktert is a variation of the Dutch dessert mattentart, which is cheesecake-like. The Melktert can be served hot or cold and is considered a typical national sweet South African dish.
Cape Brandy Pudding (Date Pudding With Brandy Sauce)
The Cape Brandy Pudding is also known as “tipsy pudding,” and for a good reason! Comforting and warm flavors of dates and brandy make this traditional South African food a favorite.
The boozy brandy sauce is poured over a spongy base, helping it to soak up the ingredients while it’s still warm. South African brandy is equally as tasty as French-made, making this pudding a deliciously perfect dessert for holidays or special gatherings.
Discovering The Delicious Food In South Africa
South African cuisine is a melting pot of flavors and traditions, with each dish telling a unique story. From the spicy bunny chow to the decadent malva pudding, South African food is not to be missed. Whether you’re visiting South Africa or just looking for something new to try, these traditional dishes are sure to satisfy your taste buds.