South Africa is often referred to as the ‘Rainbow Nation’ because of its diverse population and multicultural landscape, and this range of influences can also be applied to its cuisine. The country’s food is colourful, interesting and uniquely South African – but it also tastes terrific too. With spices ranging from curry powder to coriander seeds and a number of different ingredients, South African dishes are definitely amongst some of the best in the world. But what are the most iconic dishes and which are the tastiest? We’ve listed our top five South African dishes below with a little bit of information about how each local food is made.
Boerewors is South Africa’s signature sausage and no braai would be complete without a Boerie coil. Quite simply, Boerewors comes from the Afrikaans words ‘boer’ (farmer) and ‘wors’ (sausage). It is made from coarsely minced beef that is then mixed with coriander seeds, black peooper, nutmeg, cloves and allspice. After mixing, it is preserved with salt and vinegar before packing into sausage casings. It is traditional for Boerewors to be formed into a spiral and it is usually braaied, but can be cooked indoors too.
Droëwors is a version of Boerewors, although Droëwors is made by using pork or veal meat instead of beef. Droëwors is usually served as a snack and literally translates as ‘dried sausage’. It is somewhat similar to cured sausages like salami, but the actual drying process is quite different.
Melktert translates directly as milk tart, which is a popular South African dessert. It is similar to European custard tarts, however the milk to egg ratio is much higher. This results in a filling that has a milkier taste and a lighter texture. The filling is encased by sweet shortcrust pastry and is sprinkled with cinnamon. Milk tarts can be oven baked or set in the fridge (unbaked milk tart is sometimes known as ongebakte melktert). It is said that milk tart has Dutch origins with some influences from the Cape Malays.
For South Africans with a sweet tooth, koeksisters are definitely the dish of choice. Akin to a doughnut, it is made by plaiting dough, deep-frying and then dipping into cold syrup. There is a certain art to koeksister making and the idea is to ensure that the outside is crispy with a moist and syrupy inside. If the syrup isn’t cold enough, the dough won’t absorb the syrup properly and you will end up with a dry koeksister (not good!). Koeksisters are originally believed the come from Dutch origin but potentially have a Malays influence too.
Koeksisters should not be confused with koesisters, which sound similar but are actually quite different!
Perhaps not the tastiest dish on this list, mieliepap is definitely a staple in many diets and is seen as a traditional South African food. In fact, pap has been eaten across Africa for centuries and can be served in a variety of different ways. Mieliepap simply translated refers to ‘maize porridge’ and this is essentially what it is. Made from corn, it is ground and is cooked with water to create a kind of versatile porridge. It can be eaten as a starch with savoury meals, as a side dish at braais or even as a breakfast dish. You can also cook your mieliepap to different consistencies, which vary from very stiff to quite runny.
This is another famous South African dish and it is one that is said to have Indonesian influences brought over by the Dutch East India Company. Bototjie has changed quite a lot over the years, but the basic principles are still the same. Spiced meat (usually pork or beef) is oven baked with an egg mixture topping. The spices used mainly consist of curry powder, but have incorporated ginger, marjoram and lemon rind in the past. Bototjie can be served with bananas, walnuts and raisins, but is usually dished up with fruit chutneys and rice (or mielepap).