Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

South African


While the West African nations combine the most sophisticated of European, New World, and their own indigenous food influences, and the area of East Africa is principally influenced by British, Indian and Islamic food traditions, South Africa is dominated by the influence of the Dutch. As early as 1651, Dutch settlers at

the Cape created a colony with the sole purpose of supplying fresh food and other necessities to Dutch ships. “The richest, most complex and civilized contribution to the art of cooking in Africa evolved here.”

The Dutch Free Burghers and their Muslim slaves from the East Indies, French refugees, Germans, other Europeans, and British all added their influence in customs, foods, and culture. The “Cape Colored” include those of mixed black and European back-ground, strongly identifying with the Dutch, the French, and with Christianity. In some of the following typical foods and dishes can be seen the marriage of food customs that have created what is now typically South African fare.

The Cape Malay’s (Indian) favorite dishes include:

Atjar: exotic pickles and preserves prepared from tropical fruits and vegetables which may be packed with brine, syrups or oils and seasoned with varying subtle or hot combinations of East Indian spices.

Bobotie: a soft moist mixture of ground lamb, softened bread, seasoned with a blend of curry spices, lemon juice, shredded apple and chopped almonds is baked slowly with an egg and milk custard top-ping. Of Malay descent this classic South African dish is everyone’s delight.

Bredie: a specialty and often festive meat or fish stew redolent with onions and colorful with chunks of vegetables such as pumpkin, cauliflower, beans, etc. Takes its specific name from the predominating vegetable, e.g. pumpkin bredie.

Koesister: crunchy crullers fried to golden perfection and served with a tangy lemon and cinnamon syrup.

Sambal: refreshing salads prepared from grated fresh vegetables splashed with vinegar or lemon juice and zesty with chilies and cayenne pepper.

Slaais: related to Sambals and may combine unusual (for westerners) combinations such as layered dates and sliced onions sprinkled with vinegar; chicory and orange slices; fennel tomatoes and mushrooms, or the more familiar finely shredded carrots with raisins. All salads are usually well seasoned and could never be described as bland.

Sosaties (from the Malaysian sate): marinated meats, skewered and grilled; snack or main dish.

South African Cape Malay meals may include one of the traditional dishes above as well as salads, pickles, chutneys, and condiments (such as blatjang: nuts, garlic, sweet preserved fruits and spices), served with rice and rounded off with sweet bakery and candies. Dates are widely used and a combination of sugar-sweetened dates and sliced onions is a frequent side dish. The ubiquitous tameletje, basically a candy of caramelized sugar, is made in many versions too.

South African wines and brandies are known worldwide, as are their fish and shellfish (periwinkles, mussels, crayfish or rock lobster), fowl and pork dishes. Grape-stuffed chickens or roast suckling pigs take precedence and are eaten on Sundays or special occasions by South Afrikaners of European origin. The moderate climate produces vegetables so plentiful, varied, and popular that often half a dozen vegetable dishes or salads accompany the main meal. A plethora of both tropical and temperate fruits may be eaten fresh, preserved into jams and marmalades, dried, or used in desserts and bakery. Cookies of infinite variety (soetkoekie) and many types of buns (mosbolletje), as well as pies and tarts (terts), and doughnuts and crullers (vetkoekies) head the list of favorites that are nibbled for snacks or eaten at break-fast time with hot cocoa, tea, or coffee. And as with Dutch families the world over, bread on the table is an important element of every meal.

The native Bantu’s staple diet includes milk from cattle, millet porridge, millet beer, and mealie. So popular is mealie, a porridge made from cornmeal but served in many forms, such as puddings, fried patties, etc., that many a South Afrikaner’s meal is not considered complete without at least a side dish of mealie; with cream and honey it may be breakfast.

Braaivleis is the traditional South African out-door meal of grilled skewered meats (usually lamb, huge rolled links of homemade beef and pork sausage) to be grilled, and many vegetable and salad side dishes with the traditional dish of mealie.

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