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WWhat could be a better taste-memory of your trip to South Africa 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.
While maize is a staple food in most of Africa, it is the Xhosa of Eastern Cape province 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 to Italian risotto and is delicious when served with a meaty stew. It was 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, the dishes on offer at Wandies Place in Soweto, or the meats at Mzoli’s Tavern in Gugulethu (Cape Town).
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Tel: +27 (0)21 638 1355
Wandies Place Soweto
Tel: +27 (0)11 982 2796
How to get here
Xhosa food is at its best in Eastern Cape, and the province is best toured in self-drive mode, so fly to Port Elizabeth and hire a car.
Best time to visit
Eastern Cape winters are wet and cool, but Xhosa food is hearty and ideal for chilly days.
A hire car is recommended. Look out for the cows on the roads!
What to pack
Eastern Cape winters are wet and raincoats are essential. Summers are hot – a hat and sunblock are recommended.
Where to stay
Accommodation ranges from boutique hotels and country lodges to township B&Bs and backpacker lodges.
What to eat
Crayfish in Port St Johns, umngqusho in Mvezo, amasi everywhere!