There are many reasons to visit South Africa: the exotic wildlife, adventurous offerings, scenic winelands, and, of course, the traditional dishes. Influenced by the country’s tumultuous past, mix of cultures, and location near water and bush, you’ll find everything from spicy Malay to interesting game preparation to hearty street food. To help you plan a mouth-watering itinerary, here is a foodie guide to South Africa.
Don’t worry; no rabbits are harmed in the making of bunny chow. This traditional South African dish originated in Durban, as it’s home to a large Indian population. It consists of a scooped out loaf of bread filled with flavorful curry, vegetables and chunks of chicken, lamb or beef depending on your tastes. In terms of how it came to be, many believe Bunny Chow originated in the 18th century before takeaway containers were invented, hence the use of the bread as a vehicle for the dish. A common street food, Bunny Chow is a great way to enjoy something hearty and tasty on a budget. Caution: Bunny Chow in Durban tends to pack a lot of heat!
In Cape Town, you’ll find a rich Cape Malay culture, mainly located in the colorful (literally, every house is a different pastel color) Bo-Kaap. The neighborhood is filled with Islamic book stores, leather workshops and the aromas of Malaysian spices, and it’s here the people from Maritime Southeast Asia, once brought to South Africa as slaves, reside. One great way to experience this part of the culture is on a Cape Malay Cooking Safari, where you’ll cook a typical Cape Malay meal in the home of a local. During my experience, I got to make -- as well as eat -- chili bites, samosas, chicken curry, sambal, roti and koeksisters, for a delicious glimpse into local culture.
For foodies with a sweet tooth, no trip to South Africa would be complete without indulging in some koeksisters. A type of donut, they’re deep fried, drenched in syrup and usually braided. Typically, they’re eaten for dessert or when craving something sugary.
Meaning "barbecue" in Afrikaans, indulging in traditional South Africa braais means you’ll be eating meats grilled on open coals for a moist, tender and smokey flavored protein. While the food originated in the Afrikaans culture, it has now spread throughout the country, and even English-speaking locals call this type of eating Braais. Keep in mind, it’s very different from American barbecue, especially in terms of traditions as it’s typically enjoyed in a social, pot luck setting. Here you’ll sample marinated chicken, beef skewers, mealie meal pap (thick maize porridge), sosaties (skewered lamb), Boerewors sausages (made with a mixture of meats like beef, lamb and/or pork, spices and sometimes cheese and chilies), lamb chops, steaks and other hearty offerings.
Touted as the national dish of South Africa, Bobotie has been around since at least the 17th century, originally made with mutton and pork, although today you’ll more likely find curried beef or lamb. The minced meat is topped with egg, milk and seasoning and baked like a casserole. It naturally awakens the palate, with flavorful herbs and spices mixing with sweet dried fruits and preserves, nutty almonds and citrusy lemon.
The national animal of South Africa is the springbok, a type of slender, horned antelope. Not only are these animals beautiful to look at, they’re also tasty, and present in many South African dishes. You’ll find springbok listed on the menu as carpaccio, loin chops, steak, a burger and in other delicious dishes. Want to pair it with a traditional vegetable dish? Try chakalaka, a spicy relish of tomatoes, beans, onion, garlic, bell peppers, chilies, salt and pepper.
Which of these delicious South African staples do you want to try first?
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Jessica Festa is a full-time travel writer who is always up for an adventure. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia and doing orphanage work in Ghana. You can follow her adventures on her travel websites, Epicure & Culture and Jessie On A Journey. You can also connect with Jessica directly on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, or follow her epicurean adventures on Facebook and Twitter.
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