South African dishes represent our rich culture and history. Food has always been a catalyst for human connection, bringing people together through the universal language of taste and flavour.
South Africa has an abundance of culinary heritage that spans different cultures and traditions, creating a unique blend that could only be achieved right here in the “Bowl of Africa”.
To fully experience the breadth of SA’s culinary heritage, travel search website Cheapflights.co.za recommends enjoying the traditional dishes in the places they were originally created. So, take a culinary journey around the country and make sure you visit the places listed below.
Chakalaka is a spicy stewed vegetable relish most often made from a combination of tomatoes, carrots, peas and/or peppers – with a lot of spices! Often served over mielie pap (maize meal porridge) – the starch accompaniment to a meal – different varieties of chakalaka now add zing to a broad selection of meats and dishes.
Where to try this dish: Although this tangy side dish can be found throughout the country – even in jars or cans in supermarkets – it is most popular in the north of the country. You’ll find it on the menu in any of the popular food outlets in Johannesburg’s townships. A visit to Pitso’s Kitchen in Soweto Vilakazi Street will allow you to immerse yourself in some of the country’s most important recent history – and to enjoy the traditional township fare.
Mogodu is a combination of chopped serobe (tripe) and mala (intestines) served as a stew often with hot mealie pap or dumpling. Mala (in Setswana/Sotho) is the insides, usually of a mammal such as a cow or sheep.
Where to try this dish: You’ll find this hearty dish at many restaurants that serve traditional African food. Try it at one of the many African food destinations in Pretoria such as Heritage Lifestyle Lounge.
3. Shisa Nyama
This braai concept originated in the townships of SA, when butcheries tried to increase their sales over weekends by selling meat, then braaing it on-site for their customers. Shisa Nyama directly translates to “Burn The Meat” but has has since become Zulu slang for “buy and braai”. The concept took off countrywide and has grown to become a community experience where diners come not only to choose and have their meat braaied, but to enjoy local music, socialise, and even use the venue as a vibey remote working spot.
Where to try this dish: Blomfoentein has a unique venue which offers great music, the opportunity to wash your car and buy alcoholic drinks while waiting for your meat at Sechaba Lifestyle Lounge & Car Wash.
4. Bunny chow
This dish, which is basically a delicious curry filling stuffed into a hollowed-out portion of a loaf of bread, was actually designed in the 1940s as a means for the Indian labourers to carry their meals for the day, as the traditional roti wasn’t able to do so. The concept spread like spicy wildfire, and today bunny chow is enjoyed as a hearty and very filling meal across SA, but particularly in Durban.
Where to try this dish: Durban being the originator of Bunny Chow has many stores that offer the meal, but The Curry O’s have established themselves as one of the city’s most trusted bunny chow suppliers.
Poitjiekos is a South African meal prepared outdoors over a small fire using a three legged pot. Literally translated to ‘Small pot food’ the meal was originally from the Netherlands and arrived during the 17th century only to lure itself into homes all around South Africa.
Where to try this dish: Chief’s Boma at Jozi’s Indaba Hotel in Fourways offers a great poitjie alongside a buffet selection of other iconic South African dishes. Zulu-patterned pillars and a live marimba band make it an ideal setting for a traditional meal.
Melktert is a baked tart made from milk and eggs, infused with cinnamon and almonds, while baked in a delicious crust. It is similar to the Portuguese custard tart, but with a more milky flavour due to the higher ratio of milk to eggs.
Where to try this dish: You’ll find Melktert at most home baking stores anywhere in the country but definitely consider trying one from Ouma se Kombuis in Paarl for a taste of heaven on earth.
For many, this mildly spiced dish could be considered South Africa’s national dish. The core ingredient is minced meat, and it is topped with a creamy egg custard. It’s served with yellow rice and sambals.
Where to try this meal: Cape Town’s rich Malay culture makes it the perfect place to try and enjoy a bobotie cooked to perfection. Biesmiellah restaurant in Bo Kaap has become the place to go for both locals and tourists alike.
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