I've often been asked what food is like in South Africa and what I eat here. These are two very different questions, so I'm going to answer them separately.
Let's start by talking about traditional South African food. I will first offer the disclaimer that, like everything else in this incredibly diverse country, what you eat depends on what area you are from and what culture you're talking about. Here are some traditional foods eaten in my area of the Western Cape:
Boerewors: sausages, usually cooked on a braai and served on a roll like a hot dog with butter and tomato sauce (which is less salty catsup). Very tasty.
|Boerewors on the braai|
Biltong: South African jerky. Could be made from beef or any of the game animals around. It's not too bad, considering I don't much like jerky.
|Biltong, which I like way more than I thought I would.|
Fish: remember I live in a fishing community, so obviously we eat a lot of fish. Common local fish are snoek (not my favorite - it's very bony), hake (a firmer fleshed white fish, way fewer bones), and kingklip (also a white fish with few bones). Depending on where you are, you could have fish cooked in any one of a thousand ways, but I would say fish and chips is probably the most widely available.
Crayfish: very different from the crayfish in America. Much more like a lobster except they don't have the big scary pincers. The tails are the best part. Crayfish could be served in a curry, cooked on a braai, or just boiled. They're good any way you prepare them.
Abalone: called perlemoen in Afrikaans. A type of shellfish that is native to these waters. It is not very easy to cook - you have to know what you're doing or else it will turn out very tough. But it's kinda fun to make because you have to tenderize it, which involves beating it with a heavy mallet. I have only eaten abalone once, the time I helped cook it (I did the beating). It was cut into slices and fried, and it was very tasty.
Koeksisters: like doughnuts, but shaped differently and dipped in a sticky sweet topping.
|Koeksisters... am I spelling that right?|
Pap: a porridge made from cornmeal, a very Afrikaans dish. Usually eaten at a braai as a side dish and often with some sort of sauce, possibly a tomato and onion sauce. Pap reminds me very much of grits, and I like it.
|Pap, which is like grits.|
Ok so those are some traditional foods for this area. I've tried all of the above things, and I like most of them. But that's not what I eat on a daily basis. Why not? Because this is the Western Cape, and there are real grocery stores that sell any type of food you could possibly want (except Mexican food, which does not exist here unless I am making it with taco seasoning that I brought from home). Also, I have some weird food preferences. Before I came to South Africa, I had been a vegetarian for about 3 years. Needless to say, I don't really fit in all that well in this meat-loving culture. It's a little like visiting my in-laws in Kansas.
So what do I eat here? When I'm at my house and cooking for myself, I tend to eat the same foods all the time because I'm lazy and I like them. Breakfast is plain yogurt (my very favorite food, and readily available here. Fair Cape Bulgarian yogurt is absolutely the best!) and muesli, or plain yogurt topped with almonds and drizzled with local honey. Lunch is usually a salad and some sort of sandwich. Grilled cheese is my favorite, and it's easy to make ever since I stole Hananja's sandwich press. Most of the large grocery stores here sell fresh bread made in their bakeries for about $1 USD. The best bread is the home made seed loaf from Peregrine farm stall, which is on the side of the road in between Cape Town and Hawston. I make a point to stop there every time I travel through.
|This is why I don't cook complicated things very often. See the problem?|
I cook myself dinner at my house probably about 3-4 times per week. The other nights I'm eating with friends or having dinner out because I'm super popular like that. By far my most common dinner at home is roasted vegetables with chickpeas, topped with feta cheese. I used to be a vegetarian, remember? Common veggies around here are butternut squash, pumpkin, zucchini (called baby marrow), bell peppers, eggplant (called aubergine), mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes. My second most common dinner that I cook myself is pasta, usually with bottled tomato sauce and some sort of veggie like zucchini or eggplant, again topped with feta cheese. Feta cheese in South Africa is a bit different from our feta cheese. It is a milder cheese here and it is not as salty. I don't much like American feta, but clearly I like it here.
Other food staples in my South African diet are:
Crackers - there is a type of cracker called cracker bread that I really like.
Cottage cheese - TOTALLY DIFFERENT from what we call cottage cheese. It's more like cream cheese, except low in fat and high in protein. I absolutely despise American cottage cheese, but I like it here.
Dried fruit and nuts - dried peaches and pears and almonds and cashews are my most common. You can also get something called 'guava slices' which are fabulous. I'm pretty sure they're made by crushing up the guava and drying it flat then cutting it into slices, a bit like fruit leather.
Tea - rooibos and honeybush are my favorites. Both of these are fynbos plants that are made into herbal teas.
|My current tea selection, with my super cute tea box. The bottom of the box says, 'Take a second to think about how scared the tea bags must be when a hand reaches in.' Indeed!|
Coffee - obviously coffee. Only whole beans, freshly ground and made in my french press. I take it black. Many South Africans drink Nescafé or other instant coffee, and all of them put milk and sugar in it. I'm sorry, but that is not coffee.
Cheese - cheddar, Gouda, feta, mozzarella... You name it, the grocery store has it. The cheese section is always good in every store I've been in.
Cookies - I have discovered the best cookies in the world. Actually, it was Hananja who introduced me to them, and (darn her!) I would probably weigh several pounds less if these cookies had never made my acquaintance. The brand is Cape Cookie Company, and they make an oat and coconut cookie that is sandwiched together by chocolate. It's like a Samoa without the caramel.
I mentioned that I often go out for dinner. Hermanus has lots of good restaurants. The most common types of restaurants I go to are seafood (again, not shocking considering I live by the ocean) or pizza. Pizza in South Africa is always thin crust, like thinner than a tortilla. It may not have tomato sauce, but it will always have cheese and other toppings. I have had some fabulous pizzas here, with everything from butternut, rocket, and pumpkin seeds to bacon, fig, and blue cheese. With so many different types of pizzas, I guess it's no wonder I eat pizza a lot. I've also had good sushi, Indian, bakery sandwiches, tapas, Italian, falafel, and Thai at various restaurants in Hermanus and Cape Town. Basically, you name it, I can find it at a restaurant in one of these cities (except Mexican food).
|A typical lunch I might order at a restaurant... a salad with smoked salmon and fresh baked bread. And a local craft beer, of course.|
|This was at the Old Biscuit Mill market in Cape Town, where this lovely gentleman was making me a fabulous market sandwich for brunch.|
When I eat at other people's houses, nine times out of ten it's a braai. I've discussed a braai before. Basically it's just a barbecue, but a braai is more of a thing here. It always uses wood. Gas or charcoal would not be a 'real' braai. The type of meat you cook could be anything, but the people I braai with usually cook lamb, pork, or boerewors. Usually everyone brings their own meats, and we share side dishes like salad.
|Two boys and a braai... I don't know for sure what they were saying because they were speaking Afrikaans, but I think Dewald was telling Stefan, "Dude, if you touch my braai again I will hit you with this plate."|
Of course no discussion of South African food would be complete without mentioning South African drink, namely wine. There are like a dozen wine farms within a 20 minute drive from my house. Wine here is usually very nice and very affordable. If I spend $8 USD on a bottle, then I'm buying the good stuff and it must be a special occasion! The most common varieties of white wine in this area are Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. However, I seem to have finally acquired a taste for red wines! Pinotage is my favorite. It's a very South African varietal, and you can find a good pinotage at most vineyards around here and in pretty much any shop.
OK now all this food talk has made me hungry. Good thing I have some cookies in my pantry.