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12 South African Foods That Will Make You Want to Visit

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Special things happen when dozens of different cultures and communities interface over generations, one of which is incredible foods that are shared and innovated. South Africa is a great example of this, with so much of the foods that you’ll see in South Africa having the roots in cultures around the world but settling in South African with their own particular flavor (particularly in Cape Town food).

If you weren’t already convinced that you need to visit South Africa, these 12 South African foods will get you excited and ready to book. You can experience all of these flavors across South Africa, and the best of can usually be found in Cape Town or Johannesburg. And while you’re at it, start thinking about your safari at the national park with one of the highest concentrations of animals in the world.

1. Springbok

Springbok is an antelope found in south and western Africa. Springbok meat is considered a delicacy and is often served thinly sliced. Expect something a bit gamier in taste than other meats, but it is definitely worth trying if you’re excited by different flavors. In many ways, it reminds me a little bit of kangaroo.

Of course, like any meat, you’ll find springbok used in a huge variety of dishes. Given that it is native to South Africa, it’s more common on menus in South Africa than anywhere else, which means chefs will get creative about how they serve springbok.

2. Snoek

I was surprised to find out that snoek is the same as barracouta which I ate frequently when I lived in Australia. It’s a snake mackeral that is very commonly found in South Africa.

2(a). Snoek fish cakes

One of the tastiest ways to try snoek is in a fish cake at Gold Restaurant in Cape Town. The whole atmosphere is wonderful, and the snoek is flavored beautifully. Snoek is usually found in the form of smoked pate or canned, so it’s definitely a different flavor when eaten in a fish cake.

2(b). Snoek & Chips

The South African version of fish and chips uses the national fish, snoek, as the fish. The best place to try snoek & chips is in Cape Town, specifically in Hout Bay.

3. Kota

The kota sandwich is truly the story of South Africa’s cultural melting pot in one dish. At its most basic, Kota is hollowed-out white bread filled with seasoned slap chips (thicker than French fries), cheese, egg and a protein. Then you have your choice of achaar (or pickled green mango) introduced by South Asian migrants, the Russian sausages brought to South Africa by Russian Jews, and then it’s flame roasted in the tradition of the Dutch braai.

It’s common in the Soweto neighborhood of Johannesburg. ‘Kota’ stems from the word ‘quarter’, referring to the quarter loaf of bread in which the sandwich is made. It goes by the name “spatlo” in other communities. Either way, it’s quite distinctive – and always served in a white plastic bag – so you’ll know when you’ve found it.

4. Vetkoek (or Magwinya)

It was once the case that vetkoek (which translates to fat cakes) would only be served for breakfast – and some purists may still stick to this. Nowadays, you can find this incredibly tasty combination of minced meat and fluffy, crispy dough at eateries around the country. Fat cakes are kind of like the South African answer to a hamburger, but smaller and a lot more doughy.

And don’t fear: people get very creative about how they stuff their fat cakes. You can find everything from cheese and jam to chocolate to no filling at all – just for dunking in sauce. In fact, some South Africans only know vetkoek as a sweet treat with filling – and they have a different names for it but magwinya seems to be the most common.

5. Tomato bredie

In yet another meeting of the worlds characteristic of South Africa, “bredie” is the Afrikaans word for “stew” but is actually a word of Malaysian origin.

At its simplest, tomato bredie is a slow-cooked stew made primarily of rich tomato and herb sauce. It’s always cooked with other vegetables, and you can find it made with many proteins including snoek (as snoekbredie) and venison. It’s the type of hearty dish that keeps you full and happy.

6. Bobotie

Often considered the national dish of South Africa, bobotie is a combination of curry-seasoned ground beef (though it can be made vegan, as below), and a creamy layer of egg custard that is not too dissimilar to lasagne (at least in appearance as bobotie is made with eggs). The curry flavor is a mixture of 12 spices that is high on the cinnamon which means it carries a bit of sweetness.

It was made very clear to me that the big difference between Cape Malay bobotie and Afrikaans bobotie is that the Cape Malay does not put raisins. You can definitely ask the eatery or restaurant whether they use a Cape Malay or Afrikaans recipe – they’ll be pleasantly surprised that you know there’s a difference. When made properly with onions, garlic, and carrot, it’s a great consistency.

6(a). Beef bobotie

The traditional way of eating a bobotie is with beef, and it is absolutely delicious. The egg custard layer compliments the beef incredibly well. It serves to soften the sometimes jarring flavor of curry-seasoned meat.

And if you don’t like beef but still want meat, you can definitely find fish bobotie (usually made with snoek) around Cape Town.

6(b). Lentil bobotie

Cape Town’s food is known for taking on the flavors and preferences of the moment. It’s for that reason that you can find excellent fully vegan versions of a dish that was once exclusively made with beef. You can find a great vegan bobotie in Neighbourgoods Market at the Sprung food stall.

7. Gatsby sandwich

You might be tempted to write the Gatsby off as another version of the kota sandwich, but there are differences. The great Gatsby is a long bread roll stuffed with slap chips (thinner chips with vinegar), your choice of protein including steak, chicken or Russian sausage if you want to go really South African. It’s usually quite a big sandwich and so is shared with a few people.

8. Roosterkoek

Afrikaans loves putting the “koek” or “cake” into just about everything it can including the famous South African dessert koeksisters, and it didn’t stop at desserts: the roosterkoek or “grilled cake” is thicker balls of dough cooked in some way that causes it to have deep lines. Roosterkoek is traditionally grilled over a fire and accompanies a braai, but South Africans have become a lot more creative with it.

You’ll now find entrepreneurial chefs using roosterkoek as their base for sandwiches stuffed with everything from bacon and cheese to jam. Cape Town food is characterized by its flair and innovation, and the new way of eating roosterkoek is an excellent example of that.

9. Chakalaka

Chakalaka is the quintessential South African relish that you’ll find in everything from Kotas to Gatsbys and as an accompaniment to bread. Although it is said to have originated with Mozambican mineworkers, it’s become a staple dish at any South African barbecue (or braai) which itself is Dutch in origin. Yet another beautiful fusion of cuisines.

How you’ll find chakalaka served varies across the country. Some South Africans only serve chakalaka with pap, a type of maize porridge. But nowadays you can find it served with many different types of breads and other dishes.

10. Dombolo

Dombolo is often simply described as steamed bread, but it’s closer to a dumpling (or at least a bread dumpling). It’s the perfect accompaniment to, say, chakalaka, but is also commonly used as part of stews.

11. Poochka

Poochka is the South African version of pani puri which are flaky, round balls broken at the top and stuffed with filling. Traditionally, in Indian cuisine, these would simply be stuffed with chickpeas, potatoes or a combination, depending on where in India you were eating it.

But South Africans of Indian descent have seen the potential of pani puri and taken it way beyond the original fillings found in India. A special shoutout is to be made to Kapoochka for turning a very simple dish into something incredibly tasty that combines South African and Indian flavors.

Make a special trip to Kapoochka to try their ‘explosive pops’. In particular, the shrimp poochka was fantastic with its kick of spicy mayo. Eateries like Kapoochka are one of the reasons why Cape Town food is so special.

12. Sosatie

Sosatie is the South African answer to the loved kebab. It is skewered cubes of chicken or lamb with capsicum and red onion, fried in spiced tempura batter and served with aioli. You can also find it wrapped in a flaky butter roti in an ode to Cape Malay cuisine. It’s also very common to find sosatie made with apricot jam marinade which is truly delectable.

You can find this everywhere from Nando’s to high-end barbecue (or braai) restaurants. But no matter where you try it, you’re guaranteed to get that very unique South African flavor which makes sosatie so delicious.

And if you want more South African food, check out the South African desserts that you simply must try.

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