5 Ways to Taste South Africa's Diverse Culture Through Food

April 08, 2021

5 Ways to Taste South Africa's Diverse Culture Through Food

At the southernmost tip of the African Continent, there's South Africa. Once an obligated stop for merchant ships going from Europe to the East Indies, the then Danish Colony saw one of the most heated cultural exchanges between colonists and locals.

The new country certainly had a troublesome history, especially when it comes to equal rights. Still, things have turned around, and the cultural diversity that led to past conflicts is now what holds the country together, and you can experience South Africa's diverse culture on the table. Here are five ways to taste South Africa's diverse culture in its food.

  1. The Potjiekos - Dutch Roots

    To understand South African cuisine, you must first get to know its African roots. The Potjiekos (poi-key-cos,) meaning 'small pot of food,' was once peasant food, a stew cooked over an outdoor open flame in a steaming cast-iron cauldron, one of the Dutch’s first contribution to the region’s cooking. Created out of necessity, just like any other hearty broth in the world, anything goes when making potjiekos. Veggies might include carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, potatoes, rice and even pumpkin. Meat plays a vital role and used to be wild game, now substituted for lamb or pork. The seasoning spices might vary from household to household, but they're always mild.
  2. Bobotie - Dutch Malay Roots

    The bobotie might be one of the oldest dishes recorded, as noted by the Ancient Romans 2,000 years ago. This is a layered dish with a meaty base, seasoned minced beef or lamb, and a top layer of eggs and dairy in something not dissimilar to a casserole or a pie. Some sources suggest the first Dutch immigrants brought this dish to South Africa from Malaysia, an interesting multicultural exchange. People often flavor the hearty dish with dried fruit, pine nuts, raisins and bananas for a sweet and savory Asian-inspired casserole with the uniquely South African flair.
    Bobotie - A Classic South African Casserole
  3. Durban Chicken Curry - Indian Roots

    South Africa has had its fair share of Indian and Southeast Asian influences through history. You can see it in Durban, the largest Indian city outside India and the third-most populous city in South Africa. Curry is immensely popular in South Africa, and the best are made in Durban by early Indian immigrants of the 19th century. A wide variety of traditional sides, including rice, chutneys and samosas, are customary, too. This shows there's more than African and European influences in the 'rainbow nation’.
  4. Milk Tart - Afrikkaan Roots

    This Afrikaner dish is just what the name suggests, a decadent puff pastry tart with a custard filling made from milk, eggs, sugar and flavored with cinnamon. From all South African typical recipes, this is one of the most closely related to Dutch classic food, where a similar cheesecake named mattentaart is popular. This is also one of few European-inspired dishes that has changed little in centuries. Being deliciously sweet, palate-coating and satisfying, it's easy to see why the milk tart is present in every celebration in South Africa. What's not to love?
  5. Malva Pudding

    Ending on a sweet note, a South African classic and a crowd-pleaser, the malva pudding is a sweet treat not to miss. Malva means geranium in Afrikaans, which was probably used to flavor this spongy treat in the past. Today, a modern malva pudding is a spongy bread cake dozed heavily with apricot jam and coated by a gorgeous golden-brown caramel topping. Moist and sticky, South Africans often serve this dessert with ice cream while still warm, making it more than a dish — it's an experience! You'll find the malva pudding literally in every South African restaurant, and it embodies all that diverse cultures have brought to the South African table in over 200 years.

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