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South African Explorer Series: 7 foods you can’t miss

To everyone who loves travel, exploring local cuisine is one of the best aspects of visiting a new place. And as we’ve been covering all things South Africa because we’re giving away a free trip for two to this fascinating locale on our Facebook page (now closed), we couldn’t help bringing you our take on the “hit list” of South African foods in this installment of our South African Explorer Series.

South Africa’s cuisine has Malay, Dutch, French, British, Indian and Eastern European influences, which, when combined with locally available food, results in a unique assortment of tasty treats. Here are seven of the most popular and delicious foods available in South Africa.

Braai (Pronounced as in “rye”). The most popular type of food in South Africa is braai, which is Afrikaans for “barbecue” or “grill.” It also refers to the social custom of gathering friends and family over for a pot-luck style meal that focuses mainly on barbequed meat. Chicken, pork, beef, lamb, mutton, or “boerewors” (see below) is prepared over an open flame made with wood, charcoal, or briquettes, although using gas has also become more common in recent years.

Braai is often served with pap, a thick type of porridge, along with various sauces, such as Mrs H.S. Ball’s Chutney, a bottled chutney sauce brand that is wildly popular with South Africans. In South Africa, “ketchup” as we know it is referred to as “tomato sauce.” Chutney is used by many South Africans the way Americans use ketchup.

Braai is a very important social custom in South Africa. It’s how locals celebrate Christmas, birthdays, graduations, and special events in their lives. You’ll get plenty of chances to taste Braai when you visit South Africa.

Boerewors (Pronounced bur-eh-vors). This is the most important meat for your braai and practically a national institution. It looks similar to Italian sausage with a very distinctive flavor. But don’t call boerewors “sausage” in South Africa, or you’ll get a hot dog! No self-respecting South African would consider a braai without boerewors, and here’s a tip. You can brush your ‘wors’ with Mrs H.S. Ball’s Chutney before putting it on the braai!

Rusks. You’ll certainly encounter these hard pieces of bread if you travel to South Africa. They’re most commonly served with tea or coffee before a game drive. When you return after your game drive for a hearty South African breakfast, you’ll likely see them on the buffet again. (Rusks taste best dunked in coffee or tea.) 

Rooibos tea (Pronounced roy-boss). The rooibos plant is native to South Africa, and the leaves are used to make one of the country’s most popular drinks — rooibos tea. It’s often served in the same fashion as black tea with milk or sugar, although it is caffeine-free. Rooibos tea is becoming popular around the world for its health benefits, including its antioxidants and phenolic compounds. It’s said to help with tension, allergies, and digestive issues.

Bunny chow. The recipe for bunny chow is simple: curry with mutton, lamb, chicken, or beans in a hollowed-out bread loaf. It’s a delicious treat unique to Durban that dates back to the 1940s. Here are a few tips for ordering your bunny chow: It comes in a quarter, half, or full loaf. According to local slang, simply ask for the size and the kind in one short phrase. If you want a quarter loaf of mutton, say “quarter mutton.” Oh, and yes, Mrs Ball’s Chutney goes well with bunny chow, too!

Biltong (Pronounced bill-tong). This is the national snack of South Africa, and is similar to beef jerky, although it can be made from a variety of meats, such as beef or game. This is eaten at sports games, at home, and anywhere.

Bobotie (Pronounced bor-bor-tee). This is a dish of minced meat with egg topping, similar in consistency to meatloaf. It was among the first dishes created in South Africa that takes influences from both the East and West, and the result is a spicy, flavorful dish. Bobotie has a mild curry flavor and is eaten with rice and Mrs Balls Chutney. If you’re getting the idea that Mrs. Balls Chutney goes with a lot of foods, you’re right! South Africans are known to put it on everything, from bobotie to scrambled eggs.

Braai, bunny chow, bobotie — I’m hungry just thinking about it! Which would you want to try first in South Africa? Let us know in a comment below.

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About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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