South Africa may not be known for its food culture, but be prepared to be surprised! There are many delicious dishes to be found if you make the effort to look for them. Most of them are ‘boerekos’, or what we would call home cooked meals. Pure, tasty food, that may not always win the prize for the best-looking meal, but almost always tastes great! The dishes mentioned below can probably be found all across South Africa if you ask around, but I tasted all of them in the Free State region. This region includes the places Bloemfontein, Clarens and Parys, among others. It’s a region that hasn’t been hit by mass tourism yet, where you can eat surrounded by locals and speak to all kinds of people, while searching for pure South African food: a beautiful experience you won’t want to miss!
A ‘braai’ is probably No.1 in South African food culture. When in South Africa, you will be invited at least once, but most likely more than once, to have a braai at someone’s home, because the South Africans love their barbecue. And no, we’re not talking about frying a few hamburgers; the preparation of meat is a serious matter for South Africans. A braai usually involves the preparation of large pieces of meat. It’s a true social occasion that’s very nice to have the chance to experience!
A must-eat in South Africa is ‘bobotie’: a spicy ground meat dish accompanied by yellow rice with raisins. It ‘s probably the most internationally famous South African dish. All the different flavors you can taste at the same time make this a real treat to eat!
Vetkoek’ can best be compared to the Dutch ‘oliebol’. But it’s less greasy on the inside, which is why it’s also used as a type of bread roll in South Africa. It’s usually also a lot bigger than the Dutch ‘bol’. Vetkoek comes in all sorts of varieties, with meat, cheese or jam, for example. There’s even a ‘Vetkoek palace’ in the town of Parys. I had the best vetkoek at the Roadside Cafe in Clarens.
Biltong is a popular snack that you can buy at every supermarket or gas station. It’s best compared to American beef jerky, dried meat. And the funny thing is that it was actually the Dutch that brought the South Africans this snack. When the Dutch first arrived at the Cape, they brought the recipe for dried meat with them. Because refrigerators and freezers didn’t yet exist in those times it was ideal to combine this with hunting for wild animals in South Africa, thus, biltong was born. It’s a nice snack to have with a glass of South African ‘rooiwijn’ (red wine).
Perhaps not a very attractive name for a dish in Dutch (it means ‘garbage’ in Dutch), but it really is listed on the menus of South African eateries. It’s a dish made with cooked, crushed corn kernels (‘stampmielies’/’samp’) and vegetables.
A hollowed out loaf of bread with a type of stew inside, that’s ‘bunny chow’. It makes the sauce kind of seep into the bread: delicious!
STEW WITH PORRIDGE
Stews are also popular at restaurants that serve ‘boerekos’. The stew often comes with ‘porridge’, a kind of mash made of cornmeal with several different vegetables.
You’ll find South Africa’s favorite ‘boerewors’ at a braai; it’s long and shaped into a spiral. But besides this real boerewors, you’ll find all kinds of sausages in South Africa, even a Frankfurter, such as at the beer brewery in Clarens below. A visit to this brewery is definitely recommended, because you can taste all the beers in a special (free) tasting tray, before choosing one from the elaborate menu.
‘Potjiekos’ really just means eating from the pan. It’s mostly one-pot meals, slow food, cooked in a large cast iron pan. This dish originated with the ‘Voortrekkers’; a group of Dutch colonists that moved away from the British rulers. The ‘Voortrekkers’ filled the pan with all kinds of ingredients they came across during their trek, creating ‘potjiekos’. Want to know more about the ‘Voortrekkers’? Then you should definitely visit the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria; an impressive structure worth a visit, even if it’s just for the view.