Did you know?
The Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) operates FishMS – an innovative SMS mechanism that allows consumers to text SASSI and receive feedback that enables them to make responsible food choices on the spot.
The term seafood safari may seem a little clichéd, but if you’re trying local fish and seafood for the first time, South African seafood will be a tasty adventure.
Before tucking into the local catch, consider whether your choice is sustainable. The South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) is a reliable resource for diners unfamiliar with local fish and shellfish species to check that what they are eating isn’t on the endangered or the ‘red’ list. The SASSI website has a comprehensive colour-coded database of permitted and prohibited fish and shellfish species categories, and responsible fish restaurants.
Popular local fish choices include snoek, yellowtail, hake, pole-caught tuna, and kingklip, though the latter is becoming increasingly over-fished. Snoek is typical and sustainable and you’ll find it on many Cape menus in the form of a pâté, a tasty Malay smoorsnoek (a smoked snoek dish, similar to kedgeree), or basted with traditional apricot jam and braaied (barbequed) over the coals.
Open-air restaurants like Muisboskerm near Lamberts Bay and Strandloper in Paternoster excel at this type of rustic cuisine, so head to the West Coast. Here, you can enjoy fresh Saldanha oysters, West Coast lobster (called crayfish), seafood potjie (a local version of a bouillabaisse) and more.
Adventurous fish lovers are urged to try a bokkom – an air-dried maasbanker fish. This West Coast specialty isn’t for everyone, but if you visit the Oep ve Koep bistro in Paternoster, chef Kobus van der Merwe does wonderous things with the pungent local treat and also serves up perdevoet (limpets), alikreuk (winkles), fresh mussels, sea lettuce and samphire, all sustainably harvested and delectably prepared.
If it’s a conventional seafood platter with all the trimmings you’re after, the V&A Waterfront has some of the city’s most lavish seafood dining, including world-class sushi from Nobu at the One&Only resort. For a wallet-friendly fish treat, tuck into fish ‘n chips at Kalk Bay and Hout Bay.
For thousands of years the San hunter-gatherers that roamed along the coastline gathered and ate fresh oysters. Happily, you won’t have to forage for these tasty molluscs as the lagoon-side town of Knysna is the oyster capital of South Africa.
Visit the Knysna Oyster Company, and go on a tour of the beds before slurping down the area’s famous cultivated oysters. Wild coastal oysters are also available, and both taste wonderful washed down with a beer from Mitchells Brewery or a flute of Cap Classique sparkling wine.
Prawns are a popular seafood with tiger prawns from neighbouring Mozambique widely regarded as the best quality. Increasingly though, farmed prawns from Thailand, India and the Philippines are appearing in local restaurants. Unlike the USA where crawfish are boiled, or Australia, where prawns are blanched and eaten cold, South Africans typically butterfly their prawns and eat them hot off the braai with lashings of garlic or lemon butter.
Prawn curry is another firm local favourite, as is prawns naçionale (prawns cooked in beer with chilli and bay leaf). For a sand-between-the-toes prawn experience the Prawn Shack near Balito in KwaZulu-Natal plies diners with grilled prawns and 'Zulu sushi' (beef fillet cooked rare) - and their signature shooter contains a real drunken prawn.
Between May and July, Durban locals clamour to harvest sardines from the massive shoals that migrate up the east coast of South Africa, and if you’re not prepared to wade for your dinner, venture into one of the city’s curry joints for a finger-licking crab or fish curry.
Landlocked Johannesburg doesn’t disappoint when it comes to fresh seafood. For years, restaurants like Vilamoura in Sandton, and the Codfather in Morningside have prepared seafood platters that would please Neptune. Lovers of chilli crab swear by the scruffy-chic delights of the Fisherman’s Plate in Chinatown, Cyrildene, and Jo’burg’s Portuguese restaurants are renowned for their peri-peri prawns, sardines, and bacalhau.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI)
SMS: +27 (0)79 499 8795
SMS is charged at standard South African cellular rates.
Best time to visit
The West Coast crayfish season usually lasts from November to January. The sardine migration happens between May and July.
With the exception of the West Coast, all the restaurants can be reached by car, metered taxi, and by day on municipal bus services.
What will it cost
Expect to pay between approx R20 and R35 per portion for fish n' chips depending on your choice of fish. Luxury items like lobster, langoustines, and scallops are subject to quotation and based on market prices per kilo at the time of purchase. Check prices with your waitron before ordering. Seafood platters can range from approx R200 upwards for a platter for two persons.
What to eat
Choose fish and shellfish that are on the SASSI green list, eat seafood on the orange list only occasionally, and do not eat anything on the red list.
Annually in March, Lamberts Bay on the West Coast hosts a crayfish and cultural festival; Knysna’s famous Pick n Pay Oyster festival is in July; and the annual sardine migration takes places sometime between May and July.