From South African street foods to sweet curries, find out why the top South African dishes are known as South Africa’s rainbow cuisine.
South African food has so many different influences: African, Dutch, French, German, Portuguese, Malaysian, Indian, Chinese, Indonesian; no wonder it’s the rainbow cuisine! Many of these influences are in this list of top 10 foods in South Africa.
The combination of the indigenous African population and centuries of immigration – traders, pioneers, and their slaves – has given South Africa one of the world’s most exciting and varied cuisines. Here is some of the top South African cuisine you have in store, with recipes to make them at home.
All over South Africa you can find strips of what looks like dark old leather that locals eat as a snack; this is the famous biltong. Biltong is a thinly sliced, tough and salty air-dried meat, most often beef or game like springbok, rather like beef jerky. You will also find droewors, air-dried sausages. Indigenous African peoples use to preserve meat by curing it with salt and drying in the air; European settlers added vinegar, saltpetre and spices to the mix and today’s biltong evolved meat preservation processes of 19th-century pioneers in the days before refrigeration.
Make your own biltong
- Do-it-yourself biltong recipe.
- Watch a video on how to make biltong.
Bobotie may very well be the national dish of South Africa. The dish originates from enslaved Indonesian people brought to South Africa by the Dutch East India company in the 17th century. Bobotie is made from spiced minced meat and dried fruit with an egg and milk topping. All of this goes in the oven until ready – a bit like Greek moussaka. Eat bobotie with yellow rice, some fruit chutney, sliced banana, and a sprinkling of coconut.
Make your own bobotie
- Traditional bobotie recipe.
- Here’s a recipe for venison bobotie.
- Try a vegetarian lentil bobotie recipe.
This is South African fast food – and it has nothing to do with rabbits. It’s a quarter or a half a loaf of white bread, hollowed out and filled with hot and spicy meat or vegetable curry (or anything else that takes your fancy). Bunny chow originated in the city of Durban, some say when migrant Indian laborers working in sugar cane plantations had to take their food into the fields. You can grab bunny chow as a takeaway all over South Africa. The very best, though, is in Durban – eat it with your hands!
Make your own bunny chow
- A recipe for lamb bunny chow.
- Or try out a vegetarian take on bunny chow.
Cape Malay curry
When the Dutch and French settlers came to Cape Town in the 17th century they enslaved people from Indonesia to work on their lands. These enslaved people used their own spices and traditional cooking techniques with local African ingredients to create aromatic curries and stews – spicy but not fiery, and sweet – now known as Cape Malay curry. There are a great many variations.
Make your own Cape Malay curry
Another South African specialty from the Western Cape, is koeksister, syrupy doughnut. The name comes from the Dutch koekje – say it out loud and you’ll hear what it means: cookie. Adept bakers twist or braid the koeksisters into one of two types. The Cape Malay is spicier and comes with dried coconut; the Afrikaner is crispier and has more syrup. Both are crunchy and sticky on the outside, and moist and syrupy on the inside.
Make your own koeksisters
- A recipe to make the Afrikaner koeksisters.
- Here’s how to make the Cape Malay version.
- This recipe for Cape Malay koeksisters uses potato.
This delicious baked egg custard tart is a pastry case with a fluffy mixture of eggs, milk, and sugar. It’s an Afrikaan recipe with Dutch influences. Enjoy your melktert with a dusting of cinnamon after a meal as a dessert or as a treat with a cup of coffee.
Make your own melktert
- A simple recipe for melktert.
- A South African grandmother’s recipe for melktert.
Mala mogodu is a traditional African dish. It’s hearty stewed tripe – animal intestines (mala) and stomach lining (mogodu) – and it’s a true South African delicacy. It’s often eaten lightly curried and accompanied by new potatoes and fried onions. Other South African culinary delights you might not have tried are protein-packed, dried or fried mopane worms in tomato sauce and cooked chicken feet and heads called ‘walkie-talkies’.
Make your own mala mogodu
- Mild chilli mogodu with white samp recipe.
- An authentic mogodu recipe.
This is South African comfort food at its sweet and sticky best: malva pudding. Malva pudding came from the Cape Dutch settlers and is a spongy cake-type pudding made with sugar, eggs, flour, butter, and apricot jam. As soon as it’s out of the oven, a hot sweet and creamy sauce goes over the top of the pudding. Malva pudding is often served up after Sunday lunch in South Africa and can be enjoyed with custard, ice cream, whipped cream, brandy butter, crème anglaise, or whatever your choice.
Make your own malva pudding
- A classic recipe for malva pudding.
- Here’s another version.
Potjiekos or ‘little pot food’ is an Afrikaan term to describe food cooked in layers in a traditional three-legged cast-iron pot (a potjie) but essentially it’s a slow-cooked meat and vegetable stew. The potjiekos go well with pap (maize porridge), umngqusho (samp and beans), morogo (wild spinach), amadombolo (dumplings) and pot-baked bread (potbrood) or steamed bread (ujeqe).
Make your own potjiekos
- You find lots of different recipes for potjiekos here.
- Here’s a recipe for amadombolo and one for umngqusho.
Shisa nyama means ‘burn the meat’ in Zulu and means meat – steak, chicken, kebabs and boerewors (spicy ‘farmer’s sausage’ which is coiled up like a snake) – cooked over the fiercely hot wood fires of a braai (barbeque). Eat with chakalaka (a spicy tomato and bean relish) and pap (a white corn maize porridge rather like the US grits).
Make your own shisa nyama
- Click here for a selection of braai recipes.
- Celebrity chef Benny Masekwameng’s chakalaka recipe.