SOUTH AFRICA CUISINE
Of their 3 meals a day, most South Africans enjoy their main meal at night. Lunches are generally far lighter, except for the business lunch which may be a full 3-course affair, depending on the occasion. On weekends, however, you may encounter large parties in cafes around mid-morning, as ‘brunch’ becomes increasingly popular for laid-back Saturdays and Sundays. Lunch hour is the normal 13h00-14h00, but may stretch to before and beyond on a business date. Restaurants generally take bookings in the evenings from 19h00 on. And on that note, it’s a good idea to call ahead and make a reservation, especially at the more popular establishments, which can be booked weeks ahead in peak holiday season. South African food etiquette is mostly westernised, with some of its own oddities. For instance, it’s ok to eat pasta twirling it onto a fork with aid of a spoon, and lobster with your hands. The popular braai (barbeque) is another occasion where you can use your hands. In rural areas, traditional stew and mealie pap are also eaten with the hands – use your right hand only and roll the pap into a ball with your fingers, then dip it into the stew and eat. Most restaurants supply bread rolls as you wait for your meals – these should be broken and buttered a piece at a time. At fine dining restaurants, dress a little more formally towards a ‘smart-casual’ look. Most other eateries, however, are extremely informal, and in the many family-friendly establishments South African food and general etiquette is relaxed. If you are invited to dine at the home of South Africans or share a braai with them, it is good etiquette to take a box of chocolates or a bunch of flowers, or a small gift as a token of appreciation.
South Africa’s cultural/ethnic culinary experience include:
VhaVenda traditional food is at its most authentic in Northern Limpopo province where rich soils and temperate climates combine into culinary perfection. While maize porridges are common throughout South Africa, VhaVenda cooking includes a porridge which is unique in taste, texture and shape. Known as Vhuswa, it is traditionally served in a stack of what look like thick pancakes. Vhuswa are eaten with Mukusule wild spinach, and meat stews. In addition to maize porridge traditional VhaVenda food culture also includes a Baobab porridge in which the acid flesh of the fruit of the Baobab tree is pounded and mixed with milk. The acid in the fruit pulp will thicken and mildly ferment the milk.
Africa’s Diverse Foods: In the post apartheid era, migrants from all over Africa’s continent have introduced a delicious new layer of gastronomic diversity to South Africa. African immigrant food is found most commonly in Gauteng but there are a few eateries outside of the golden province. Be aware that many of the most authentic tastes are to be found in the least salubrious spots so be prepared for shabby chic. If you like food markets try Johannesburg’s the Congo Corner Market in Yeoville where you will find everything from aphrodisiac spices to chikwanga cassava breads. The Little Addis building in downtown Jo’burg is a blissful jumble of Ethiopian spice shops, bottle stores and coffee bars. If it’s restaurants you’re after try Chef Amsale Debela’s Abyssinia in Kensington, Johannesburg, where sour dough injera breads are piled high on a range of mild curry-like stews, washed down with Tej honey wine. Addis in the Cape on Long Street, Cape Town offers similar fare. Since the Ethiopian Coptic Church has many non-meat fast days within its calendar such restaurants are always ideal for vegetarians, as meat is always in the minority. If you fancy your African immigrant food served with Mozambican flair try the Flamingo restaurant in Troyeville, Johannesburg or Port Elizabeth’s Fernando’s Chicken House for super hot piri-piri and so much more. No one is ever going to get thin on the opulence of West and Central African food. This African immigrant cooking style is a delicious mélange of peanuts, palm-nuts and plantain bananas. Super-smart Congolese is available at Zemara, Pretoria where the patrons are largely diplomats and big business types. Cheap and cheerful can be had at House Ivorian in Yeoville, Johannesburg, where carp with nya-nya aubergines and attieke couscous is washed down with palm wine and cold beers.
Cape Malay cuisine is a fusion food born in Africa. Its alimentary origins can be found in the cooking pots of 17th and 18th century exiled dissidents and slaves brought to the Cape from the Dutch East Indies. While there are recognizable Asian elements, Cape Malay cooking has undergone a considerable degree of adaptation to suit local conditions and ingredient availability. Geel rys (yellow rice) made with saffron, cinnamon and raisins provides the perfect accompaniment to the gentle aromatic flavours of bredie lamb casseroles. Tamarind soured crayfish curries are mopped up with flaky textured rooti breads. And no Cape Malay meal is complete without condiments which range from palate-cooling sambals to fiery blatjang chutneys and atjars. Sweet toothed travellers should look out for oval, coconut rolled koesister fritters (which are the antecedent of Afrikaaner platted koeksisters) and the rose water rice pudding kolwadjik.
Afro-lusitanian cooking is very common in restaurants throughout South Africa. When in Johannesburg try the Flamingo Restaurant at the Troyville Hotel where piri-piri prawns are served with fat salt slaked chips. In Cape Town head for the Castle Hotel in Zonnebloem for piri-piri chicken livers deluxe. When in Port Elizabeth you must try the flame grilled, super fiery perfection of the chicken at Fernand o’s Chicken House.