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Johannesburg, Explained In 10 Dishes


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Jeralee Zepeda



Welcome to the vibrant city of Johannesburg, where the culinary scene is as diverse and dynamic as its people. Johannesburg, often called the ‘City of Gold,’ is a melting pot of cultures, making it a food lover’s paradise. From traditional African dishes to international flavors, Johannesburg offers a culinary adventure like no other.


In this article, we will take you on a gastronomic journey through Johannesburg, exploring the city’s most iconic and mouthwatering dishes. Whether you’re a local looking to rediscover your city’s culinary delights or a traveler eager to explore new flavors, this guide will introduce you to ten must-try dishes that showcase the unique food culture of Johannesburg.


Get ready to tantalize your taste buds as we dive into the world of Bunny Chow, Boerewors, Pap and Chakalaka, Bobotie, Braai, Vetkoek, Malva Pudding, Biltong, Melktert, and Koeksisters. These dishes reflect the rich history, diverse heritage, and vibrant flavors that make Johannesburg’s food scene truly exceptional.


So grab a fork and join us as we embark on this culinary adventure through the heart of Johannesburg!


Bunny Chow

One of the most beloved dishes in Johannesburg is Bunny Chow, a unique street food that originated from the Indian community in the city. Despite its name, Bunny Chow does not actually contain any rabbit meat. It is a delicious and filling meal made with a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with a spicy curry.


The story behind the name “Bunny Chow” is quite interesting. The dish was likely created by Indian immigrants who settled in the area and started opening small eateries. The original name of the dish was “Bania Chow” which referred to the community that made it. This name slowly evolved into “Bunny Chow” over time.


Traditionally, Bunny Chow is filled with Durban-style curry, which is typically made with a variety of spices such as cumin, coriander, turmeric, and chili powder. The curry can be vegetarian or include meat like chicken, mutton, or beef. The bread used for the Bunny Chow is a loaf of unsliced white bread, which is hollowed out and filled with the curry. The bread becomes soft and absorbs the flavors of the curry, creating a delicious combination of textures and tastes.


One of the best places to enjoy a Bunny Chow in Johannesburg is in the bustling streets of Fordsburg. This neighborhood is known for its vibrant Indian community and is home to numerous restaurants and street food vendors that serve authentic Bunny Chow. The dish is often enjoyed with your hands, tearing off pieces of the bread and dipping them into the curry.


Bunny Chow is not only a delicious meal but also represents the cultural diversity of Johannesburg. It is a must-try dish that encapsulates the fusion of Indian and South African flavors in a unique and satisfying way.



When it comes to traditional South African cuisine, Boerewors is a staple that cannot be missed. Boerewors, which translates to “farmer’s sausage” in Afrikaans, is a type of sausage that is known for its distinct flavor and hearty texture.


The origins of Boerewors can be traced back to the early Dutch settlers, known as the Boers, who brought their culinary traditions to South Africa. This sausage has become an essential part of South African culture and is a favorite at braais (barbecues), sporting events, and family gatherings.


What sets Boerewors apart is its blend of spices and its unique composition. It is made from a mixture of beef, pork, and sometimes lamb, which is coarsely minced or ground. The meat is then combined with a variety of spices, such as coriander, cloves, nutmeg, and black pepper, which give Boerewors its distinctive flavor.


The sausage is shaped into long, thick coils and cooked over an open flame, giving it a charcoal-grilled flavor. Boerewors is often enjoyed as a main course, served on a roll with some tomato and onion relish, or as part of a larger meal with sides like pap (a thick maize porridge) and chakalaka (a spicy vegetable relish).


The popularity of Boerewors in Johannesburg is evident from the numerous butcheries and street vendors that specialize in selling this beloved sausage. You can find it at food markets, local supermarkets, and even at roadside stalls. The aroma and sizzle of Boerewors being grilled are an enticing invitation for locals and visitors alike.


For an authentic Boerewors experience, head to the Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein or the Bryanston Organic & Natural Market, where you can indulge in this flavorsome sausage while soaking up the vibrant atmosphere of the city.


Whether you’re a meat lover or simply curious about South African cuisine, Boerewors is a must-try dish that represents the rich heritage and flavors of Johannesburg.


Pap and Chakalaka

When it comes to traditional South African comfort food, few dishes can match the simplicity and satisfaction of Pap and Chakalaka. This hearty combination is a staple in many households and is beloved for its wholesome flavors and cultural significance.


Pap, also known as mieliepap, is a porridge made from maize meal. It has been a dietary staple in South Africa for centuries, dating back to the time when maize was introduced to the region by Portuguese traders. Pap is thick and creamy, with a consistency similar to polenta. It can be enjoyed as a breakfast dish or as a side to accompany meaty stews and curries.


Chakalaka, on the other hand, is a spicy vegetable relish that adds a burst of flavor to the pap. It is a mix of onions, tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers, and beans, cooked in aromatic spices such as curry powder, turmeric, and paprika. Chakalaka is known for its vibrant colors, spicy kick, and the versatility to be enjoyed hot or cold.


The combination of Pap and Chakalaka is a match made in culinary heaven. The creamy texture of the pap complements the spicy and tangy flavors of the chakalaka, creating a harmonious blend of tastes and textures on the palate.


Both Pap and Chakalaka have deep roots in Johannesburg’s history and culture. They were traditionally popular among the working-class population and have since become embraced by people from all walks of life. You can find these dishes at local eateries, food markets, and even in the comfort of homes, where families gather to share a wholesome meal.


For an authentic taste of Pap and Chakalaka, head to a local township restaurant or a traditional African eatery in Johannesburg. These establishments serve up generous portions of this comforting duo, allowing you to fully experience the flavors and cultural significance of these beloved dishes.


So, if you’re in search of a truly authentic South African culinary experience, don’t miss the opportunity to savor the delightful combination of Pap and Chakalaka in the vibrant city of Johannesburg.



Bobotie is a classic South African dish that showcases the fusion of Cape Malay and Dutch influences in the country’s culinary heritage. It is a flavorful and aromatic dish that features a unique combination of sweet and savory flavors, making it a must-try when visiting Johannesburg.


The origins of Bobotie can be traced back to the Indonesian influence on Cape Malay cooking. The dish is typically made with minced meat, which is traditionally lamb or beef, mixed with spices such as curry powder, turmeric, and cumin. It is then topped with a creamy and custard-like mixture, made with eggs and milk, which is baked until golden and set.


What sets Bobotie apart is the addition of dried fruit, such as raisins or apricots, which provides a subtle sweetness that balances the spices in the dish. Some variations also include chopped nuts or chutney for added texture and flavor.


Bobotie is served with fragrant yellow rice, which is cooked with spices like saffron and cinnamon, as well as a variety of side dishes such as chutney, sambals (condiments made from chopped vegetables and spices), and pickles.


You can find Bobotie on the menus of many restaurants and eateries in Johannesburg, but for an authentic taste, head to the Bo-Kaap neighborhood. Bo-Kaap is known for its vibrant Cape Malay community and is home to several restaurants that specialize in traditional dishes like Bobotie.


Experience the warmth and rich flavors of Bobotie, as you savor each delicious bite in the heart of Johannesburg. It is a culinary delight that captures the essence of South African cuisine and celebrates the cultural diversity of the city.



When it comes to South African cuisine, one cannot overlook the significance of the braai. Braai, which is the Afrikaans word for barbecue, is not just a cooking method but also an integral part of the social fabric and lifestyle in Johannesburg.


Braaing is more than just grilling meat – it’s a celebration of community, family, and good food. It brings people together, fosters a sense of camaraderie, and creates lasting memories.


The braai tradition typically involves gathering around an open fire, grilling various cuts of meat, and enjoying the company of loved ones. It can take place in backyards, parks, or designated braai areas in public spaces.


While the star of the braai is undoubtedly the meat, which can include boerewors, steaks, chicken, lamb chops, and more, it is also about the whole experience. It’s about savoring the aroma of the fire, sharing stories while waiting for the meat to cook, and enjoying side dishes and accompaniments like pap and chakalaka, salads, and bread.


Participating in a braai is a quintessential South African experience that allows you to immerse yourself in the local culture and taste the delicious flavors of flame-grilled meats. Whether you attend a braai at a friend’s house or try out one of the many braai restaurants in Johannesburg, you’ll be treated to a feast that showcases the art of outdoor cooking in South Africa.


To truly experience the spirit of the braai, consider attending one of the popular events and festivals dedicated to this culinary tradition. These events often feature live music, entertainment, and an array of food stalls offering delectable grilled dishes.


So, put on your apron, gather around the fire, and immerse yourself in the age-old tradition of braaing when you visit Johannesburg. It’s an experience that will leave a lasting impression and create unforgettable memories.



Vetkoek, meaning “fat cake” in Afrikaans, is a beloved South African treat that is both decadent and delicious. It is a type of deep-fried dough that is known for its fluffy interior and golden, crispy exterior. Vetkoek is a popular street food and comfort food in Johannesburg, offering a satisfying indulgence.


The origins of Vetkoek can be traced back to the Afrikaners, who brought their culinary traditions from the Netherlands to South Africa. It is similar to other fried dough dishes found in various cultures around the world, such as beignets or doughnuts.


Traditionally, Vetkoek is made by combining flour, yeast, sugar, and salt to create a dough. The dough is then left to rise before being shaped into small balls and deep-fried until golden brown. The result is a light and fluffy pastry with a slightly crunchy exterior. Vetkoek can be enjoyed sweet or savory, depending on the filling.


One of the most popular ways to enjoy Vetkoek is by filling it with curried mince, known as “mince vetkoek.” The savory filling adds a burst of flavor to the pillowy dough, creating a satisfying and hearty meal. Other common fillings include cheese and tomato, chicken and mayo, or even sweet options like syrup or jam.


Whether you enjoy Vetkoek as a quick snack from a food truck or as a sit-down meal at a local eatery, it is a treat that will leave your taste buds craving for more. Don’t miss the opportunity to try this delectable South African street food when you visit Johannesburg.


For an authentic Vetkoek experience, head to the lively and bustling Neighbourgoods Market in downtown Johannesburg, where you can find numerous vendors serving up their unique takes on this beloved treat. Indulge in the warm, doughy goodness of Vetkoek and embrace the flavors of South African street food.


Malva Pudding

When it comes to indulgent desserts in Johannesburg, Malva Pudding takes the cake – quite literally! This rich and delectable dessert is a South African classic that will satisfy any sweet tooth.


Malva Pudding has its roots in the local Cape Dutch cuisine and is believed to have been inspired by traditional Dutch and Malay influences. It is a warm sponge cake soaked in a sticky, sweet, and buttery sauce, creating a melt-in-your-mouth experience.


The pudding is made with a combination of butter, sugar, eggs, apricot jam, and milk, which is mixed with flour, baking powder, and a touch of vinegar to create a light and fluffy cake batter. After baking in the oven, the pudding is drenched in a sweet sauce made with cream, butter, sugar, and hot water. The sauce seeps into the cake, resulting in a moist and decadent dessert.


Malva Pudding is often served hot, complemented by a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of custard. The combination of the warm, syrupy pudding and the cool creaminess of the accompaniment creates a heavenly balance of flavors and textures.


This luscious dessert is a favorite in many households and restaurants throughout Johannesburg. Whether you enjoy it in a fine dining setting or at a cozy café, Malva Pudding will leave you craving for more.


To experience the ultimate Malva Pudding, head to one of the many acclaimed bakeries or dessert spots in Johannesburg, where they skillfully prepare this iconic treat. Sink your spoon into the velvety goodness of Malva Pudding and let the flavors envelop your palate with sheer delight.


Indulging in Malva Pudding is not just a culinary delight, but also an invitation to savor the rich history and cultural influences that have shaped the diverse food scene of Johannesburg.



When it comes to South African snacks, Biltong is a true culinary icon. This dried meat delicacy is a firm favorite among locals and visitors alike and is renowned for its rich flavor and satisfying texture.


Biltong has a long history in South Africa, dating back to the time of Dutch and British settlers who needed a way to preserve meat during long journeys or hunting expeditions. The word “biltong” is derived from the Dutch words “bil,” meaning buttock or hindquarter, and “tong,” meaning strip or tongue, referring to the meat cut used to make biltong.


To make biltong, strips of beef, game meat, or even ostrich are seasoned with a blend of spices, including salt, pepper, coriander, and other secret ingredients that vary depending on family recipes. The meat is then air-dried under controlled conditions to achieve the perfect balance of tenderness, flavor, and chewiness.


The result is a snack that is savory, slightly salty, and packed with umami flavors. The texture of biltong can range from soft and tender to chewy, depending on personal preference. It is commonly enjoyed as a snack on its own, but can also be used to enhance the flavors of other dishes like salads, sandwiches, or even stews.


In Johannesburg, you can find biltong in various forms and flavors at specialty stores, supermarkets, and local markets. The city is home to many renowned biltong producers who take great pride in their craft and offer a wide array of options, including different cuts of meat, seasoning blends, and levels of dryness.


Whether you’re a meat lover or simply looking for a protein-packed snack, biltong is a must-try when visiting Johannesburg. Its rich flavors and convenient nature make it the perfect companion for exploring the city or enjoying a picnic in one of its beautiful parks.


So, sink your teeth into a delicious piece of biltong and savor the taste of South African culinary tradition. It’s a snack that embodies the rich heritage and appreciation for quality meat that is deeply ingrained in Johannesburg’s food culture.



When it comes to South African desserts, Melktert holds a special place in the hearts of many. Melktert, meaning “milk tart” in Afrikaans, is a sweet custard tart that has become a beloved treat in Johannesburg and beyond.


Originally introduced by Dutch settlers, Melktert has evolved to incorporate local flavors and techniques, resulting in a uniquely South African dessert. The filling of the tart consists of a smooth and creamy custard made from milk, sugar, eggs, and flour. The custard is flavored with a hint of vanilla and sometimes infused with cinnamon, providing a warm and comforting aroma.


The custard is traditionally poured into a crisp and buttery pastry crust, which adds a delightful contrast of textures. The tart is then dusted with a sprinkle of cinnamon on top, adding a touch of warmth and spice to each bite.


Melktert is served chilled, allowing the custard to set and the flavors to meld together. The tart can be enjoyed on its own as a sweet ending to a meal or paired with a cup of aromatic coffee or tea for a delightful afternoon treat.


When in Johannesburg, be sure to seek out local bakeries and cafés that offer Melktert on their menu. These establishments take pride in their homemade recipes, ensuring that every slice of Melktert delivers that authentic and nostalgic taste.


Indulging in Melktert is not just a sensory delight, but also an opportunity to appreciate the cultural heritage and Dutch influence that has shaped South African cuisine. So, satisfy your sweet tooth and experience the creamy goodness of Melktert when you visit Johannesburg.



Koeksisters are a beloved sweet treat that holds a special place in South African cuisine, and Johannesburg is no exception. These delicious pastries are a true indulgence, with a unique combination of flavors and textures that make them irresistible.


Originating from South African Cape Malay and Afrikaner traditions, koeksisters are made by deep-frying dough that has been twisted or plaited, resulting in a sweet, syrup-soaked pastry that is crispy on the outside and wonderfully moist on the inside.


The dough is made by combining flour, butter, sugar, and yeast, resulting in a light and fluffy texture. Once the dough has risen, it is shaped into long braids or twists before being deep-fried until golden brown. The freshly fried koeksisters are then immersed in a sweet and sticky syrup made from sugar, water, and sometimes flavored with a hint of lemon or ginger.


There are two main types of koeksisters in South Africa: the Cape Malay style and the Afrikaner style. The Cape Malay koeksister is spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, and aniseed, while the Afrikaner koeksister tends to be plainer in flavor, with a stronger emphasis on the syrup’s sweetness.


Koeksisters make for a delightful indulgence, whether enjoyed as a snack, dessert, or with a cup of tea or coffee. In Johannesburg, you can find them at local bakeries, specialty sweet shops, and even at food markets.


As you take a bite into a koeksister, you’ll experience the satisfying crunch of the sugary crust, followed by the burst of syrupy sweetness that lingers on your palate. It’s a treat that embodies the essence of South African comfort food and is guaranteed to satisfy any sweet craving.


Don’t miss the chance to try koeksisters when you visit Johannesburg. They’re not only a delicious treat but also a testament to the cultural diversity and culinary heritage of the city.



Culinary exploration in Johannesburg is a feast for the senses, offering a tantalizing array of flavors and dishes that reflect the diverse cultural heritage of this vibrant city. From traditional South African favorites to fusion creations influenced by Indian, Cape Malay, and Dutch traditions, Johannesburg’s food scene has something to satisfy every palate.


Throughout this gastronomic journey, we’ve delved into the iconic dishes that define the food culture of Johannesburg. From the spicy and comforting Bunny Chow to the smoky and flavorful Boerewors, from the beloved staple of Pap and Chakalaka to the indulgent desserts like Malva Pudding and Melktert, each dish tells a story and paints a picture of the rich history, flavors, and traditions that make Johannesburg’s food scene truly unique.


Whether you’re a local or a visitor to Johannesburg, these dishes offer a delicious and immersive way to explore the city’s culinary identity. Each bite is an opportunity to appreciate the cultural diversity that has shaped the cuisine of this cosmopolitan metropolis.


So, as you embark on your own culinary adventure, be sure to indulge in the flavors that Johannesburg has to offer. Whether you’re exploring street food markets, dining in trendy restaurants, or sampling traditional dishes in local eateries, embrace the opportunity to savor the mouthwatering tastes that capture the essence of this dynamic city.


From Bunny Chow to Koeksisters, from braais to melktert, let your taste buds guide you through the culinary delights of Johannesburg. Immerse yourself in the flavors, traditions, and history that each dish represents. Johannesburg is a city that invites you to eat, explore, and experience the vibrant and diverse food culture that makes it a true food lover’s paradise.