The Cape colony was first established with a very specific mandate: to provide fresh food and drink to the passing ships on the newly discovered route to India.
The Dutch settled here first and brought with them their Indo-Asian slaves. Then waves of colonisation and immigration happened, bringing the French, Portuguese, English, German, Italian and Greek. In this melting pot of cultures, a wide range of unique dishes came out of the kitchens. Here is a beginner’s guide to the kind of food you’ll find (and love) in the Cape:
A delicious, much loved oven-baked dish from Malay descent, and a true South African special. Mince is lightly flavoured with curry and selection of other spices and covered with an egg custard.
A spicy sausage made from minced lamb or beef, and usually barbequed on the fire. You’ll also see street vendors selling “boerewors rolls”, much like hot dogs, just much, much better.
You will find this everywhere you go: dried, salted meat much like jerky. The Afrikaners perfected it on their trips inland, when there were no cooling facilities. Perfect for a snack, it’s also now used in soups, salads and on bread.
This is the national pastime of most South Africans. It resembles a barbeque, but never compare a braai to a barbeque in a true South African’s company. The difference is that instead of hot dogs or hamburgers, the braai is all about prime cuts of meat: lamb chops, steak, kebabs, chicken, boerewors. South Africans, especially those living along the coast, also likes to braai “snoek” (pike) or lobster. The meat and fish is usually accompanied by a range of side dishes that include salads, veggies and bread.
Samp & Beans
This is a much-beloved dish mostly eaten by the African tribes. Samp and beans are cooked, sometimes with cuts of meat like brisket, until it’s deliciously tender and creamy.
Another favourite mostly eaten by African tribes, this is a stiff porridge made from mealie flower, eaten with either milk and sugar, a tomato stew or meat sauce.
The Cape Malay cuisine is big in Cape Town, and it’s based around fragrant spices: cinnamon, cardamom, coriander. Look out for tomato bredie (or stew), waterblommetjie bredie (made from a certain lily that grows on water) and the most delicious curries you’ve ever tasted.
This little triangular pastry filled with mince (but also chicken, potato, cheese and sweet corn, amongst others) are also a Cape Malay staple. You’ll find them in every little corner shop, because they’re perfect and much beloved as an in-between snack or take away.
A deep-fried pastry filled with mince or jam and cheese. When it’s done right, it’s crispy on the outside, and fluffy and light on the inside.
It has made its way from the streets of South Africa to restaurants overseas! Bunny chows originated in Durban, with it its rich Indian culture. It’s a loaf of bread hollowed out and filled with delicious, spicy curry. Nothing elegant about it, but truly delicious!
Melktert (“Milk Tart”)
For dessert, don’t leave before you’ve tasted milk tart, similar to the British custard tart and the Portuguese pasteis de nata. A pastry filled with a custard-like filling made from milk, eggs and sugar, and dusted with a sprinkling of cinnamon. The melktert is also behind the inspiration of a shot called “melktertjie” that you will find in any South African bar and liquor store. Made from mixing vodka and condensed milk and sprinkled with cinnamon, it is very popular among South Africans.
Made famous world wide by Oprah, who loved it so much when she came to visit here, that she got the recipe and made it for her audience. A warm, sweet and sticky sponge pudding soaked with an addictive, treacly syrup. Malva pudding is served with vanilla flavoured ice cream or whipped cream.
Wherever you go, and whatever you do, do not leave our shores without having tasted the best of South African food.