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YYou certainly won’t ever go hungry in South Africa if you aren’t familiar with colloquialisms associated with cultural cuisine, but it certainly helps to know what’s about to be served for supper… We help you demystify some of the country's more popular dishes.
The most famous South African meal event is the braai or barbecue. The occasion is a social gathering during which, traditionally, the men cook boerewors (farmer’s sausage), steak and sosaties (small chunks of marinated meat on a skewer), while the women take responsibility for a range of salads and pap en sous (stiff meal porridge served with a tomato and onion relish).
You are quite likely to be offered a boerie roll, which consists of a portion of boerewors served in a long bread roll with a generous dollop of the aforementioned sous. Garlic bread is another braai accompaniment.
A township-style braai is known as a shisanyama (literally “hot meat”) and comprises freshly prepared meat seared over the flames, accompanied by vegetable dishes such as chakalaka, a spicy vegetable relish, which may contain chilli and pap.
Drinks associated with the braai are usually beer and wine, but may include a variety of other alcoholic beverages. Beers of choice usually go by brand names, such as Castle, Amstel, Windhoek, and wine by the labels white, red, dry, sweet and so on. A favourite braai drink is “Klippies en Coke”, a single or double tot of Klipdrift brandy with Coca-Cola.
Another round-the-fire speciality is potjiekos (“small pot food”), a stew-type meal containing chicken, fish, beef or lamb with vegetables, slow-cooked over many hours in a three-legged cast iron pot. More popular during the winter months, potjiekos competitions are a favourite way to create a host of delicious meals for a large crowd at a single venue. Some pots are dedicated to creating potbrood, a savoury bread baked in the same way as the stew.
A taste of Indian
If you’re keen to sample Indian cuisine, the samoosa (triangular deep-fried, stuffed pastry) is a good starting point. Samoosas come with a variety of fillings such as sweetcorn and cheese, mince, fish, potato, spinach and cheese.
Next on the list should be a "bunny chow” (a hollowed-out half-loaf filled with curry), which may contain meat or vegetable curry that is mild, medium or hot. Start with a mild one, as your idea of hot might be quite different to that of cooks who eat curry and chilli dishes regularly.
Since South Africa is home to the largest population of Indians outside of India, a wide variety of south and north Indian curries is available, particularly in and around Durban and Cape Town. With the curry comes a wide array of accompaniments such as naan (a leavened, oven-baked flatbread) or paneer (a milk-curd cheese).
In the Cape, fish is often cooked or smoked on a braai, with smoked snoek a popular local speciality. Cod is served salted, with potatoes and tomatoes in a dish known as smoor vis (braised fish).
Those who enjoy offal should try skilpadjies (literally "little tortoises"), which is actually lamb’s liver wrapped in a thick, fatty membrane similar to that used in sausage-making.
In this province, you would also find trotters and beans, a dish made from boiled pig’s or sheep’s trotters in a stew of onions and beans.
There’s also a dish called waterblommetjie bredie (water-floret stew) made from meat stewed with the flowers of the Cape pondweed (Aponogeton distachyos).
If you take up the offer of a township tour, you’re likely to discover some very different edibles.
The most interesting of these are “walkie talkies”, grilled or deep-fried chicken heads and feet – hence the name. They are typically sold by street vendors in busy areas.
Another aptly named delicacy is a “smiley” or intloko yemvu, essentially a boiled sheep’s head. Other “kasi-style” (township-style) meals to try are amasi or sour milk, a healthy drink not unlike drinking yoghurt, or mala mododu, a black tripe dish served with spinach and pap.
Melt tert (milk tart) and malva pudding are two traditional desserts. The first is made from milk, eggs and flavouring set in a biscuit base, while the second is a cake base over which a rich syrup is poured.
You may also come across the koeksuster (cooked sister), a plaited, deep-fried pastry, drenched in cold syrup after cooking.
You’re sure to be offered vetkoek, magwenya or smagwinya (fat cake), a deep-fried dough ball, which can be served savoury with fillings like mince, or sweet with jam. Sometimes they’re coated in sugar after frying, much like a doughnut.
Coffee is best enjoyed with a rusk or beskuit, a rectangular, hard, dry biscuit that it is quite acceptable to dunk in your coffee or tea. Rusks originally came only in buttermilk flavour, but today they are created with a wide variety of flavours such as chocolate chip, muesli, blueberry, cappuccino, coffee and more.