South African food is unbelievably diverse, interesting, and delicious. South African cuisine is a mixture of centuries of different cultural influences that have been revised and passed on from generation to generation. The result is a melting pot, literally, of mouth-watering food that has become a symbol of the essence of the nation of South Africa itself.
Some of the common culinary dishes and foods in South Africa were inherited from Dutch, German, Malay, Indian, and British cuisines. With so much to eat, where do I begin?
- Somali Food: 20 Best Dishes You Need to Try
- Ethiopian food: 30+ Amazing Foods To Try in Ethiopia
- Kenyan Food: 25 Best Best Dishes in Kenya
No time to read this now? Click on the red pin button and save it for later!
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase or book through one of our links we may earn a small commission (don’t worry, it’s at no extra cost to you).
22 DELICIOUS SOUTH AFRICAN FOODS TO TRY
It is only appropriate that the epic Bunny Chow is at the top of the South African food list. This delightful dish was created by the Indian community of Durban, sometime in the early 20th century, presumably.
The Bunny chow, also referred to as a bunny or a quarter bunny, referring to its size, became a popular South African food by poor Indian workers who discovered a cheap and sustainable way to take their lunch to work. They would hollow out the inside of a bread loaf and fill it with curry or beans or whatever was left over from the night before.
The bunny had quickly become a popular South African street food on the streets of Durban. By the time my parents were growing up in the 70s, the bunny was already a well-established meal that was sold in local kitchens, takeaways, and even made at home by bunny lovers.
Some argue that the original bunny would have been a vegetable dish that included beans or lentils. Today, however, the bunny has several variations that reflect the common foods eaten in Durban, like mutton curry, chicken curry, beans, and so on.
Braai (South African Barbeque)
The Braai is the South African name given to the universal barbeque, which is grilling meat outdoors on an open fire. This is probably one of the oldest forms of cooking in history and a much-loved South African food.
What makes the South African Braai unique? Over the years, the braai has evolved from being a family treat to including several unique dishes and spices.
Some of the common treats at a Braai are Boerawors, spiced meat, and garlic bread. Garlic bread: another savory treat that is very important at a braai. It is the perfect side.
There are several variations of spices that are used in Braais from locally made Maslalas to Aromat (South African spice) and pepper glaze. Some even use beer on their braai meat, look out for that.
Boerewors (South African Sausage)
Boerewors is one of the famous South African food to try when you visit the country. It’s a unique sausage that literally means farmer’s sausage. I have no idea what goes into it. I assume that it is mostly meat but there is a great deal of fat and other less appetizing animal parts.
Regarding the spices, it’s a South African secret, we can’t share with you. You can, however, buy a ready-to-use Boerawors spice which you can use to make your own. Boerewors is one of Braai’s main grilled ingredients.
South African Biryani
Another popular and special South African dish that has strong Indian roots is the Biryani. The true origins of biryani go back to the 15th century in India, during the rule of the Mughal Empire.
Some even go further to say that biryani was imported from Persia, even before that. What we know is that Biryani made its way to South Africa with Indian immigrants in the 19th century.
The South African Biryani has developed in many ways over the years, to the degree that it has become quite different from its Indian relative. The Biryani in South Africa is usually layered, with the rice on the top and then steamed. This is absolutely a South African food that you have to try.
Durban Chicken Curry
The Durban chicken curry is a tasty South African dish that includes loads of spices. It is a unique dish that infuses Indian spices but you won’t exactly find this very dish anywhere in India. It is a Durban specialty food but it is famous throughout South Africa.
It is made with onions, tomatoes, the famous ginger-garlic paste, spices, chicken pieces, and potatoes. The authentic Durban curry needs to be hot like fire.
If you are not accustomed to spicy food, beware! There are other variations like the mutton or lamb curry, which are quite similar. Currys are generally served with rice and spicy pickles on the side.
Biltong (South African cured meat)
Biltong is a form of dried, cured meat that is traditionally made in South Africa. It is typically made from beef and sometimes meat, like an ostrich.
It is similar to jerky but differs in the way it is prepared and its spices. Biltong is considered a snack food in South African cuisine. it is made in different shapes and sizes and also made in different flavors.
Potjiekos (South African Fire Stew)
Potjiekos in South Africa literally means small pot food. It gets its name from the outdoor cast iron pot used, also known as a Potjie. Potjiekos is a mixture of vegetables, meat, and spices that are slow-cooked over a wood or coal fire.
This is by no means a quick meal. It could take hours for your potjiekos to be ready, which is why it is not really a weekday meal. This delicious hearty meal is usually prepared on weekends and shared with friends and family.
South African Prawn Curry
The South African prawn curry is also well known in Durban as a spicy seafood meal that is loaded with flavor. The trick to a prawn curry is to achieve the perfect balance between the natural flavor of the prawns and the repertoire of spices that are used. The prawn curry is a common food served at seafood restaurants across Durban and along the South African East Coast.
Sosaties (South African Kebab)
Originally a Cape Malay braai skewer, Sosaties are cubes of lamb or beef grilled on an open fire. The skewers include onions, dried apricots, and mixed peppers. The South African sosatie is a sweet-sour meal of sorts, characteristic of traditional Cape Malay cuisine. The sosatie marinade is made from apricot jam, curry powder, and garlic.
Cape Malay Chicken Curry
Cape Malay Chicken Curry is one of these worth mentioning South African curry foods. You can get really delicious curries: Malay, Indian, Pakistani… you name it. However, Cape Malay Curry is unique! It is a fusion of traditional South African curry and Malay cooking styles and traditions. The chicken is so tender and full of Masala and tomato sauce flavor.
Bobotie (South African meat casserole)
Bobotie is made with minced meat, dried fruit, and spices. It is a purely South African delicacy that is topped off with a savory egg-based custard and bay leaves and then baked in an oven until the custard is ready.
South African Oysters
South Africa is a big producer of oysters. They even have an Oyster festival every year in July in which they organize oyster-eating contests, oyster-themed tours, and oyster farm visits.
Malva Pudding is one of the most loved South African baked desserts. The delicious recipe from the Cape Peninsula is a Dutch recipe by origin. Malva Pudding is a South African spongy brown cake soaked in syrup and custard and sometimes jam. So yummy!
Melktert (South African Milk Tart)
This was by far one of my favorite things in the world when I was growing up. Melktert is the default dessert or treats that is mandatory on the dessert table on any occasion.
As a child, I remember buying small milk tarts from the tuckshop at school on Fridays. It was the highlight of my week. Basically, Melktert consists of milk, condensed milk, and sugar, set into a tart and topped with cinnamon powder. It is to die for.
Koeksisters (South African donut)
A famous Cape Malay treat is Koeksisters. This is a type of South African donut, spiced with cardamom, dipped in syrup, and then dipped in coconut. It sounds weird, I know. But words can’t do justice to how good koeksisters really are. Knowing how to make koeksisters is a gift and an honor. There is no door that a fresh plate of koeksisters can’t open.
South African Peppermint Crisp Tart
South Africans love Peppermint Crisp Tart. Kids and adults all go crazy for this very popular South African pudding and that is why I made sure to include it in my list. It is simply a delicious and easy-to-make dessert. Honestly, it does not look like much until you taste it.
Peppermint Crisp Tart is a cold tart made of layers of a famous South African biscuit Called Tennis, cream, and peppermint crisp. What is Peppermint crisp? Well, it is a popular chocolate bar in South Africa that has a strong minty taste. It is commonly used for baking cakes and other South African food treats.
Chakalaka (South African vegetable stew)
Chakalaka, which goes well with pap, is a South African vegetarian mix of beans, tomatoes, relish, and other healthy vegetables, depending on the region of South Africa. An important ingredient is the added spicy chili.
Some say that Chakalaka was a dish first consumed by the Mozambican laborers, who gave it a Portuguese-inspired taste. Anyhow, it has become a popular dish all over South Africa.
Pap or Phuthu (South African maize flour)
Pap is the staple South African food. It is a coarse white flour made from maize (mealies). It is relatively cheap and can be stored for a long period of time without being kept in a fridge. It is eaten as a substitute for bread, which is more expensive and not traditionally home-made, and rice. For those who are less fortunate, Phuthu serves as a meal on its own, served with butter and salt.
Marog (South African Green)
Marog is a well-known traditional South African food. Marog leaves are used as spinach. Local people in South Africa handpick the leaves from the fields and prepare them with potato, onion, salt, and pepper. This vegetarian dish is usually served alongside Pap (maize porridge).
Gatsby (South African sandwich)
Gatsby is a popular South African street food sandwich, specifically in Cape Town. The sandwich consists of a french-style bread roll filled with chips, different fillings (fried fish, steak, or polony sausage), and dressed up with pickles and Peri Peri hot sauce. The Gatsby makes for a good lunch on a beach day!
Kota (South African quarter sandwich)
The inexpensive Kota sandwich is a favorite quick meal for tourists looking for a South African local food experience. Kota means “quarter” referring to the quarter of the loaf break making the sandwich.
Street vendors make Kota by hollowing a piece of loaf bread, filling it with a layer of french fries, and then adding extra layers of meat, cheese, egg, and sauce. Kota is similar to the concept of the Bunny chow.
Vetkoek (South African bread cake)
Vetkoek bread is a part of the South African food culture and cuisine. The word vetkoek literally means “fat cake” in Afrikaans. It is made by frying a dough to make round bread buns like a burger. The traditional Veltkoek bread is usually served alongside Boerewors or during Braais. You can also find it stuffed with curry mince in takeaway restaurants and fast food shops.
Which one of these foods would you try in South Africa? Is our South African food bucket list missing a dish that we need to try on our next trip? Please let us know in the comments below!