What to Eat
South African cuisine has something for everyone. There is spice. There is subtlety. There is richness. There is freshness. There is both elegance and simplicity. This multi-faceted cuisine is the ultimate in gourmet cookery!
Because the South African coastline borders both the Atlantic and Indian oceans, seafood is abundant and, of course, an important part of the South African diet. Treasures from the sea include varieties of fish and shell fish that are served in many different ways. The local specialty, rock lobster, might be prepared simply with lemon butter, in a French souffle, or even as a salad stuffed in avocado. Crayfish are served braised with onions and chilies, or in curry - a popular and elegant Indian-derived dish. Salt cod is typically prepared in a manner reminiscent of Scandinavian cuisine, with the addition of hot chile peppers. Pickled fish, usually snoek, is a local delicacy, although it was originally prepared for Dutch sailors for their long ocean voyages. Snoek is also often barbecued and used in pates.
Meat pies introduced by the British had a profound influence on South African cuisine, although the resulting recipes are quite different from the traditional ones. Hoender Pastei, or Boer Chicken Pie, is basically a chicken-pot pie topped with a crust, but more seasoned, and layered with hard-boiled egg and Danish ham slices. Bobotie, the mainstay of the Boers, is a "pie" of chopped beef or lamb mixed with raisins, almonds, apple, and curry powder, and topped with a custard - not exactly the bland fare of England.
Frikkadels, or little hamburgers that are subtly seasoned with nutmeg, are popular in South Africa. They are sometimes wrapped in cabbage leaves and served with yellow rice, a cousin to West Africa's jollof rice. Other popular meat dishes include Bredie, or stew. These "one-pot meals" contain mutton and vegetables. Sausages made from beef and pork are also popular either grilled or fried.
Curries - sweet, mild, or hot - are popular, and served with sambals (chopped vegetables), atjar (pickles), or blatjang (chutney). Each of these is evidence of the Indian and Asian influences on this multi-cultural cuisine. The atjar and blatjang "condiments" are made with local fruits cooked with garlic, hot chile peppers, onions, and often curry powder, and then pickled to some degree. Some of the Eastern-influenced sambals are prepared with vegetables such as carrots and cucumbers.
Local vegetables that play an important role in South African cooking include tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, cabbage, mealies (corn), and pumpkin. Fruits such as quince, peaches, mangoes, citrus, apricots, grapes, pomegranates, and melons are eaten fresh, dried, and also preserved . The naartjie is a variety of indigenous tangerine from which a regional liqueur, Van der Hum, is made. Because of the mild climate, almost all vegetables and fruits that were not native to South Africa were introduced successfully to this fertile land. Thus produce is common in this diet, which adds a fresh and incomparable quality to this diverse cuisine.
One cannot read a South African menu without noticing the obvious Dutch, or Afrikaner, culinary presence. This is especially the case with baked goods such as the desserts that are an integral part of a South African meal. With names like Soetkoekies and Krakelinge and Klappertert, it's easy to see the influence from Holland, even though this sister-country is thousands of miles away. Cakes, pies, and custards are the most favorite desserts, but melons such as honeydew, watermelon, and cantaloupe, are also popular, as are fruit-based ice creams.
Drinks served with a South African meal can include a native beer called mechow made from a fermented, corn-based brew. If wine is preferred, the Cape vineyards produce a variety of internationally acclaimed wines, from Muscadel to Burgundy and Cabernet Sauvignon.
English-type tea is often served after dinner, and American-type coffee served with cookies and dessert. Tropical fruit-based drinks, similar to smoothies, are available for between-meal treats.
A South African meal can range from a simple meal served in earthenware pots spread out on floor mats, to an elegant, multi-course meal served on crisp, white linen. Either way, hospitality is an important factor. To be an honored guest in a South African home is an unparalleled gastronomic experience.