They call it the Rainbow Nation. A country with an extraordinary political and social background, with a kaleidoscope of ethnic Peoples, blended into one nation. Shaken not stirred.
But here it is – amazing South Africa. Hundreds and hundreds of years of slavery and oppression, colonization and apartheid but surprisingly today
together. A mere 25 years after the end of apartheid (meaning apartness in Afrikaans) people of all backgrounds seem to get along here, quit happily.
But despite equal rights it’s clear to see the economic difference still between white South Africans, “non- whites” and colored. These terms are from the apartheid era, when every person fit into one of these three categories and laws kept groups separate in all aspects of life. Today you’ll still find people living separately in historically separate neighborhoods such as the
Muslim Bo Kaap and the Black Townships, but progress is slowly changing this.
There are nine South African native tribes who lived as hunter gatherers and pastoral people for thousands of years before the Dutch East India Company arrived 1652. As the Dutch entrenched (and later the British) they used indigenous people as slaves and began bringing in slaves from Angola, Mozambique, Madagascar, Malaysia, Indonesia and India as well as others.
Today’s South Africa is made up of the ancestors of all of these races, a colorful mix of cultures truly
making it The Rainbow Nation.
The gastronomic effects of such a blended nation cannot be overstated, and luckily for visitors the reward is superb. Taking the foods of these groups and combining it with the wide variety of fresh produce, local seafood and game you get a melded and delicious South African cuisine.
I am no expert, but I sure like to eat, and during my time so far in South Africa I have joyfully discovered wonderful foods and flavors and also took a fun cooking class to delve even deeper.
Let me share with you some of my favorite discoveries;
Pap – for breakfast or anytime, pap is a staple food with a long history. It is very much like fufou that we ate in Burkina Faso (made from plantain) and when made from maize (the most frequently used grain) it tastes much like grits or polenta. We have enjoyed pap several times and my favorite by far was the Pumpkin Pap we made together at our
cooking class with Nadege Cuisine. It was served with a curried cabbage and delicious smoked Snoek.
Snoek – is a very popular (and very ugly) locally caught white fish that can grow very large. It is of the mackerel family and is known as barracuda in other parts of the world. One of the favorite ways to enjoy this fish is grilled on the Braai (see below) or smoked. Smoked Snoek is available in grocery stores. It tasted very much like smoked sturgeon to me. The smokey and salty mixed with the sweet pumpkin pap was a real winner.
Braai – the local word for BBQ is as much a social function as a food. Most anything can be thrown on the Braai, but most meats and fish are slathered with a spicy rub mix of chili, salt and herbs. Braais happen frequently where neighbors and friends gather to enjoy each other’s company around the Braai. The host provides the salad and the guests bring their own meat and drink. It’s very popular to cook Snoek on the Braai slathered in apricot jam.
Bobotie – my favorite of all the foods I have tried so
far, this is the unofficial national dish of South Africa. The dish likely has its roots in Indonesia and it is a savory mix of ground spiced meat with a custard topping and usually served or combined with rice. We had this at a famous Bo Kaap restaurant called Biesmiellah and it was fantastic. Always served with chutney.
Chutney – Nearly every meal in South Africa is served with chutney, a sweet preserve usually of fruits but it also can include onions or savory produce. Mango chutney is very popular and usually served with the Bobotie.
Breyani – we also tried this dish at Biesmiellah and it was great. The masala spice noted the heritage of this dish as Indian or Malaysian. It can be made with different meats, we enjoyed it with chicken. The dish is a fragrant mix of cumin, corrrinder, cinnamon, cardamom,lentils, rice and sometimes hard-boiled eggs and is served with a yogurt sauce on the side.
Crayfish – I ordered this item at a nice restaurant we
went to in Cape Town called Aubergine and it was fantastic. It’s nothing at all like what I think of as the small crayfish we sometimes eat at home. It actually is a small lobster. Lucky for me this appetizer dish was perfectly cooked and served with a luscious squid ink pasta. Perfection.
Ostrich – a very popular red meat all over the
southern parts of Africa you will find ostrich on menus and in grocery stores everywhere. It is a very dark red meat, best prepared and served simply, and we enjoyed it flash pan-fried and medium rare at our cooking class with Nadege. Ostrich is farmed in South Africa and all parts of the animal are used including the skin for leather, the feathers for down, the beak and bones for jewelry and the egg shells for jewelry and decorative items. It’s not as easy though to find a fresh ostrich egg. Each egg is the equivalent of 24 chicken eggs. I still hope to buy and cook one soon.
Mealie Bread – I love this delicious bread, similar to cornbread we make at home but lighter. My favorite preparation I’ve had so far was at Aubergine where they added a hint of caraway. Delicious.
Cape Malay Curry – Sweeter than other curries I’ve had, Cape Malay curry once again uses the favorite apricot of South Africa as well as cinnamon and ginger and makes a delicious not to be missed meal.
Game – much of the game meat is farmed and
available and shows up on restaurant menus including Warthog, Impala and Springbok, which is small deer-like animal we saw a lot of in Namibia. We enjoyed the Springbok at Aubergine where it was perfectly cooked medium rare and served with a nice black mushroom sauce with a hint of walnut.
Malva Pudding – using the word pudding in the British way for cake, Malva pudding is one of several popular dessert and sweet dishes uniquely South African. This dark spongy cake made from butter, vanilla and apricot jam (there it is again) tastes much like a bread pudding and is usually
served with a warm custard or ice cream.
Potato Pudding – similarly this lovely cake, also much like custard or bread pudding, is made from potatoes, coconut oil, cardamom, almond extract and condensed milk and is served with a stewed fruit sauce of dried peaches and cinnamon. A perfect end to the meal we had at Nadege Cuisine.
Through out the Cape Town region you will also find many offerings that reflect the British, French and Dutch population as well as other African nations. We enjoyed a fabulous Ethiopian meal one afternoon for lunch at Madam Taitou’s and a
beautiful Eggs Benedict the next day for breakfast at the historic and gorgeous British colonial hotel Mount Nelson. However, you won’t find a restaurant calling itself a “South African” restaurant. The cuisine is just really coming into its own as a stand alone fare, and rightfully so. Hopefully soon, South African will be as common as Mexican or Italian.
It certainly is just as delicious.