What could be a better taste of your trip than to discover Nelson Mandela’s favourite food in the village of his birth? If you have an insatiable appetite for alimentary authenticity, Xhosa cuisine is for you. From rhabe wild spinach to amasi fermented milk, Xhosa cooking is deliciously diverse.

Did you know?

Xoliswa Ndoyiya, Nelson Mandela’s chef, cooks umngqusho every Wednesday for the former president

While maize is a staple food in most of Africa, it is the Xhosa of the Eastern Cape who have refined its culinary usage to an art.

The most famous maize dish in Xhosa cuisine is umngqusho. This dried maize and bean mélange has been compared with Italian risotto and is delicious when served with a meaty stew. It is also Nelson Mandela's favourite food. Other key Xhosa foods include isopho corn soup, umpoqhoko maize porridge and soured milk porridge.

Vegetable dishes are common in Xhosa cuisine. Imithwane is a pumpkin leaf and butter mélange; when the leaves are cooked together with fresh pumpkin the combination is called ilaxa.

There's also a range of wild indigenous plants that are specific to Xhosa cooking. Ikhowa is a mushroom that grows after summer rains, imvomvo is the sweet sap of an aloe, and rhabe is a lemon-scented wild spinach, reminiscent of sorrel.

When an ox is slaughtered there are traditional regulations as to who gets which portion of meat. Inguba, the meat between the intestines and the stomach wall, is reserved for the elderly men, whereas isibindi (the liver) is only for young men, and irhorho (the portion where the leg meets the body) is for women.

Xhosa cuisine is at its most authentic in the rural Eastern Cape, but those wishing to taste it outside of its traditional home should try the umngqusho at Gramadoelas in Johannesburg or the meats at Mzoli's Tavern in Gugulethu.

Travel tips & Planning info

Related articles