South African tourism is on the upswing. This is for many reasons: the amazing natural beauty, the interesting history, and the amazing food scene. When travelling, you miss out on so much when you don’t experiment and try as many of the local flavours as you can.
By taking the time to enjoy the cuisine of South Africa, everything from bread to meats to desserts, you will be delving not only into the culture but the history as well.
The mecca of the South African foodie scene is in Cape Town, and you will inevitably spend some time there while visiting South Africa. So in this guide, we are going to give you eight foods you must try when you visit Cape Town.
Cape Town Foods To Try
The foodie scene in South Africa (the main driving force behind some of the South African tourism) is a unique conglomeration of multiple cultures. Taking the native foods and adding in flavours from the Dutch settlers, the Malay and Indian population, and many other cultures of the world that have found a home within the neighbourhoods of the Mother City, you will find some interesting dishes and foods that are absolute must-tries.
Through the mergers of these cultures, you get combinations of seasons and spices mixed with native food sources that offer a unique flavour profile. This merger is exactly why the food scene in South Africa is booming. And now it’s ready to explode into the world with the cuisine of this multicultural nation.
Here are the eight you absolutely must try:
Is that beef jerky? It may look like the U.S version of a dried meat snack. But except for the fact they are both cured dried meat, there are really no similarities. Biltong is a deliciously addictive snack that many locals and tourists alike end up craving, long after their stash is gone. This meat treat is a thicker cut cured meat and you can make it into anything (including tuna!).
Check out Fisherman’s Biltong in Cape Town if you get a chance and are into fishy treats. It looks like beef jerky, but the difference lies in the curing process that the meat goes through. Created in a time when keeping your meat fresh was difficult as there were no refrigerators available, the Dutch that settled in the land that would eventually come to be called South Africa brought with them the curing methods used back home.
Thick cuts of meat are taken and air-dried while covered in spices. Once the process is done, you can enjoy this succulent meat snack that may just be one of the most addictive things on the planet.
This South African sausage is great for any type of grill or barbecue you are looking to fire up. When translated, the name means “farmers sausage”. Every country has its sausage and South Africa’s version has specific requirements just like the others.
Most of the time, Boerewors is about a 90/10 ratio with the larger portion being meat. The flavourings tend to be spices and seasonings as well as vinegar and salt. The seasonings and spices tend to include coriander, nutmeg, allspice, and black pepper, plus salt and either malt or dark vinegar. You can serve it with chakalaka, pap (like polenta), and other sides.
The meat tends to be primarily beef, but can be a mix of other meats as well. The trick in making good Boerewors is to make sure you have 30% fat and no more. You can get some great Boerewors in many restaurants (check out this restaurant).
Or if you have access to a grill. Head down to the butchers, get some fresh meat and slap it on the grill. The unique mix of seasonings and spices mixed with the vinegar and salt create a unique flavour and one you must experience.
The Great Gatsby
Mixing culture is the name of the game in South Africa and it is present even in its most famous sandwich, the Great Gatsby. This sandwich has found its way to many menus across the country and its origins start in Cape Town. So make sure you hit up the original shop at the Super Fisheries in Athlone.
By the way, this may be the biggest reason culinarily that South African Tourism is at the level it is. Just try it and you will see what we mean!. The history of how the sandwich came about is the perfect example of the multicultural influence in South Africa. It was created by a man named Rashaad Pandy in a moment of urgency. Since then, the Great Gatsby has become a staple of the Cape Town Foodie scene.
The traditional Great Gatsby was done on a Portuguese roll with bologna and some fries (called hot chips in South Africa). Nowadays, the sub sandwich has evolved. Now, it is often served on a white loaf and can contain any type of meat and fixings inside.
One thing’s for sure, one of these will feed a small family once or a single person for several meals (and it won’t break the bank!).
When visiting Cape Town, you will find that meat plays a big role in the culinary culture. Just look at the food we are talking about right now: braai. What is braai? It is just a good old barbeque. Throwing Boerewors and other meat delicacies on the good old flame are some of the best things you can have while visiting Cape Town.
Many restaurants like The Hussar Grill offer outstanding and unique braai experiences. So unless you are a vegetarian, make sure you hit up one of the many great braai places and get yourself some of that good old South African Barbeque.
While you enjoy the number 5 entry on the foods you must try when you are in Cape Town, make sure you add this vegetable side dish to the festivities. It can vary in heat and is often served at celebrations or braais. The origins of this dish are questionable, but many say it came out of the mines.
The story goes that the miners were looking for something easy and filling to eat while working, and took whatever veggies they had, threw them in a can of beans, and voila! Chakalaka was born. No matter what the true origins of this dish are, it is super delicious and filling too. So make sure you get a chance to try this side dish staple of South Africa when you get a chance.
This South African dish is highly influenced by the large Indian community in the Cape Town area. Basically, this is a loaf of bread filled with curry. Though many restaurants have tried to fancy this street food up, it is still better for you to hit one of those takeaway joints to try your Bunny Chow.
The curry is usually beef or chicken. This dish is another option that will fill you and your whole squad up. If you are travelling solo, make sure you get the quarter loaf option; otherwise, you may find yourself in a food coma sometime during the day.
So when you are in Cape Town, find yourself a place that serves Bunny Chow and make sure you get yourself a taste of this scrumptious dish.
In the 1600’s, Indonesian slaves brought with them their culture and cooking methods. And that is where the influence of this now signature South African Dish comes from. Bobotie consists of minced beef covered with custard.
This is a sort of meatloaf with fruit and eggs. The fruits used are usually raisins, but some have used cranberries as well. It sounds weird to some, but it is delicious. You serve this dish with rice and it is a mainstay in the homes of many locals.
Going all the way back to 1609, it has evolved over time. Bobotie has found its way to some great restaurants as well. There are now many variations and with the ever-growing availability of new ingredients, this dish and many others will continue to evolve. But make sure you try the original before branching out.
No South African tourism excursion to Cape Town would be complete without one of the amazing sweet treats that is traditional to the South African culture. One of the best is Malva Pudding. This is a soft sponge cake-like pudding with a caramelised crust. The interior is soft and often contains apricot jam.
Once the cake has come out of the oven, you can pour cream sauce over it and allow it to soak into the sponge cake. Though primarily popular during the winter months, this sweet treat can sometimes be found in restaurants and bakeries and is a great way to round out any meal mentioned above.
You can enjoy this with warm custard or some delicious ice cream. Either way is great, and you will be very happy when you have finished this delicious dessert.
We have focused on eight of the most traditional and beloved dishes in South African cuisine. But there are so many other great dishes that you could add to your list.
Other dishes you may want to try are:
Potjiekos: South African version of beef stew
Milk Tart: South African Dutch-influenced custard
Pap: cornmeal porridge
Vetkoek: Mincemeat-filled dough that is deep-fried
Mealie meal: maize meal
Bredie: spiced stew
Frikkadel: South African meatball
Sosaties: marinated meat skewers
Chutney: a sweet jam-like substance often used on meat
These are just eight of the Cape Town and South African staples you need to have on your list of must-try dishes. Taking time to enjoy the culturally rich cuisine and learning of the history of each will make every bite just a little tastier when you are visiting the beautiful Mother City of South Africa.
How To Find Good Food
So, with the list of these must-try foods, you are probably wondering how to find places where you can taste these great dishes. There are many options. You can try a food tour which is offered by many companies and groups. They will have you tasting these and some other amazing foods from South Africa.
The other option is to check out a site like Yelp or Trip Advisor. But the best option is to simply make friends and ask the locals. Who knows? Maybe you will score an invite to their home and get some home-cooked versions of these amazing dishes.
There are tons of resources now available. So there is no way you won’t be able to find exactly what you are looking for. And that means some exciting and indescribable memories built around your food obsessions.
Food is a great window into the culture of any location you travel to… Especially when it is a place where many cultures have mixed together to create a unique atmosphere. The amazing culinary offerings are boosting South African Tourism. With a foodie scene growing into a global phenomenon, more and more tourists are travelling for food and the experiences that those dishes and traditional cuisines bring with them.
So when you are travelling through South Africa and get to your stop at Cape Town, make sure you get to try these eight delicious and unique dishes. They are brought to you by the coagulation of the cultures that found themselves inhabiting this naturally beautiful and historically rich country.
So in between hiking Table Mountain or checking out those lovable African penguins, make sure to pack a lunch with just a few of these amazing dishes and then simply enjoy the entire experience.
If you enjoyed this article about famous Cape Town cuisine, be sure to check out the different safety tips while travelling in the area.