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.

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