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South Africa is a country of extraordinary diversity, so it’s no surprise that South African cuisine is equally varied. In fact, I would say a South African vacation is not complete if you haven’t tried some of the local specialties! But just what IS traditional South African food and drink? I’m often asked this question, so here is my must-try list for every traveller. As I am also often asked for my South African restaurant recommendations, I have included information on the best restaurants in Cape Town and beyond, where you’ll find South African dishes done right – be sure to add at least one or two to your South Africa travel itinerary!
SOUTH AFRICAN DISHES
A traditional Cape Malay curry dish made of spiced mince cooked with raisins, topped with an egg custard, baked, and served with yellow rice. For the most authentic bobotie, visit Bo-Kaap Kombuis on the slopes of Cape Town’s Signal Hill. If you’d prefer a gourmet twist, sample the bobotie spring rolls at Licorish Bistro in Sandton.
Another iconic part of South African cuisine, bredie is a slow-cooked stew often made with lamb and waterblommetjies (an edible flower found in Western Cape dams and marshes). If the small town of Clarens is on your South Africa travel itinerary, be sure to book a dinner at well-known South African restaurant, Clementines, and order their delicious lamb bredie.
The braai (barbeque) is a national institution in South Africa, and you will usually find these grilled sandwiches on the grill. They contain a combination of cheese, onion and tomato. At Middevlei Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, you can even enjoy a gourmet braaibroodjie and wine pairing experience!
Perhaps the best known of traditional South African food and drink, this thick, spicy sausage present at every braai is so tasty, you may find yourself coming back for seconds! Treat yourself to a gourmet boerewors roll at the Life Grand Café in Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront or a more traditional boerie roll at Vuyo’s Restaurant in Soweto.
Another braai essential, roosterkoek are griddle cakes made on the braai grill. To get the real roosterkoek experience, take a trip down the West Coast to the famed Strandloper Restaurant, where you can enjoy freshly grilled roosterkoek alongside the freshest seafood.
Durban is the place to go for this legendary street food: a hollowed-out loaf of white bread filled with curry. Capsicum Restaurant has long been known by locals for its bunnies, but Cane Cutters are the up-and-coming champions.
Samp and Beans
Often served as a side dish, samp (maize) and beans is a traditional dish also known locally as umngqusho or isistambu. Taste it for yourself at Lucky Bean in Melville, Johannesburg, along with boerewors and chakalaka (a spicy vegetable relish).
Cape Town’s signature sandwich, the Gatsby is a huge footlong brimming with sauce and filling (including hot chips), made for sharing between family or friends. Head for Cosy Corner, another Cape Town institution, and be sure to bring your appetite!
SOUTH AFRICAN DESSERTS
Peppermint Crisp Tart
A creamy dessert that layers a coconut biscuit base with whipped cream, caramel, and a crushed Peppermint Crisp chocolate bar. An excellent Peppermint Crisp sundae can be found at Republik in Durban.
A delicious pale custard tart with a shortbread crust, dusted in cinammon, milktart is the perfect tea time comfort food. Enjoy a classic milk tart at Jonkershuis, Groot Constantia, one of the best restaurants in Cape Town.
A braided, deep-fried doughnut infused in syrup – just as sweet and sinful as it sounds. You’ll find them at bakeries across the country, or on the dessert menu at Karibu in Cape Town.
A sticky pudding made with apricot jam, this is South Africa’s answer to Britain’s sticky toffee pudding. At Pigalle in Sandton, choose to smother your pudding in a crème anglaise or Kahlua butterscotch sauce.
SOUTH AFRICAN DRINKS
Don Pedro: (sometimes called Dom Pedro)
Somewhere between a cocktail and a dessert, this boozy milkshake made with either whisky or a liqueur such as Amarula or Kahlua is a South African after dinner staple. You’ll find it at most bars and restaurants, but rumour has it that the signature Don Pedros at Dale’s Black Angus are extra special.
A short drink (known as a shooter) made of Amarula poured over peppermint liqueur, it shares a name and its colours with the South African rugby team (who are themselves named after the national animal).
Van Der Hum Liqueur
A spicy naartjie (tangerine) flavoured liqueur distilled in the Cape Winelands. Take a bottle home as the perfect souvenir of your South African vacation!
Rooibos (“red bush”) tea may now be known worldwide, but the rooibos plant is indigenous only to South Africa, where the tea has been popular for generations. Enjoy a cup the old fashioned way, with a slice of lemon and a spoonful of honey – the perfect way to relax after a long day of sight-seeing.