Food in the Free State has for far too long been pigeonholed as fodder for an unsophisticated carnivore with an appetite for little besides sport and meat. Prepare to be surprised: a rich, aromatic casserole of delicious things has been quietly simmering in the melting pot of Free State food.

Did you know?

You can eat traditional Basotho food prepared with ingredients harvested in the wild at the Basotho cultural village in Qwa Qwa National Park, near Clarens.

Food in the Free State needs to be understood in an agricultural context.

The province is the country's breadbasket, and produces much of South Africa's wheat, maize and potatoes. Add dairy, beef and lamb, wild game, trout, cherries, apples, peaches and asparagus and you've a pantry filled with gourmet delights. No wonder restaurants and chefs are popping up faster than the province's famous mielies.

Towns like Clarens, Ficksburg and Parys are good places to experience the best the Free State has to offer.

Clarens is packed with artists, and creative abundance flows easily from palette to plate. Though you're spoiled for choice here, 278 on Main, the Gourmet Shed and the Purple Onion Deli are not to be missed.

For a double helping of Free State food, art, and hospitality go to Parys. Craft beer, excellent Lebanese food and juicy grass-fed steaks are the order of the day in 'Paris by the Vaal River'.

Ficksburg/Rosendal is another Free State foodie area to explore. A famous cherry festival every November, and some of the country's best organic cheeses are a hint of the gastronomic delights on offer.

Fill your tummy with seasonal, home-cooked meals at the Rosendal Handelshuis. If you're after the best boerekos and wholesome meat, seek out the quaint village of Verkykerskop and its organic butchery.

Bloemfontein is the Free State's fine-dining capital. For brilliant posh-nosh, go to Free State restaurant, One on Park, for the seven-course degustation menu and impeccable silver service by the final year students of the Central University of Technology. For swoon-worthy classical French cuisine prepared using the Free State's best produce nothing tops the Oudekraal Estate restaurant.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Free State Tourism Authority
Tel: +27 (0)51 411 4300

Ficksburg Tourism
Tel: +27 (0)51 933 2130

Clarens Tourism
Tel: +27 (0)58 256 1542

Parys Tourism
Tel: +27 (0)56 811 2000

Tel: +27 (0)58 625 0071
Cell: +27 (0)79 873 0470

How to get here

The Free State province is in the centre of the country, and less than half a day’s drive from places like Johannesburg Pretoria and Mafikeng. Bloemfontein, the capital city, can be reached by air, road and rail.

Tours to do

Pick cherries in Ficksburg, go on an asparagus pack-shed tour in Clocolan, or walk a medicinal herb trail with a Basotho guide in the Qwa Qwa National Park.

Get around

Bloemfontein has public transport and metered taxis. Not all Free State towns have car hire; it’s best to hire a vehicle in the larger cities. You won’t need a 4x4 unless you’re planning to visit very remote areas.

Length of stay

You could happily spend a few days exploring the back roads of the Free State.

What to eat

Try Green Goose organic cheese, cherries and asparagus in season, local trout, pasture-fed beef, traditional homemade sweet treats, boerewors, biltong, and Free State mielies (sweet corn).

What's happening

In February, Clarens hosts one of the country’s best craft beer festivals; in November Ficksburg holds its famous Cherry festival; in September, Smithfield hosts its Bibberchill Festival.

Best buys

Cherry products from jams to liqueurs, witblitz (a local, very potent, white fruit brandy), eastern Free State trout, and seasonal fresh asparagus. Meat products made from grass-fed beef and lamb.

Related articles