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Top Ten South African Delicacies

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by Elaine (subscribe)
Impromptu adventuring, exploring our backyard and then putting pen to paper, hoping to entice you to try one, if not all, of our escapades, is my true reward!
Published October 19th 2016
Rainbow Cuisine From The Rainbow Nation
South African delicacies, biltong, bobotie, bunny chow, Cape Malay curry, koeksisters, Melktart, tripe stew, malva pudding, potjiekos, BBQ, culinary delights
African Women With Vessels - Image: www.pixabay.com CCO Public Domain


South African cooking has been influenced by so many different nationalities: African, Dutch, French, German, Portuguese, Malaysian, Indian, Chinese, Indonesian - hence, the name Rainbow Cuisine. Many of these influences can be seen in this list of the Top Ten South African Delicacies.

The merging of the indigenous population and centuries of immigration - traders, pioneers and their slaves - has contributed to South Africa having rich and varied cuisines.

1. Biltong

South African delicacies, biltong, bobotie, bunny chow, Cape Malay curry, koeksisters, Melktart, tripe stew, malva pudding, potjiekos, BBQ, culinary delights
Modern method of drying biltong - Image: Elaine de Wet


All over South Africa (in shops and homes) you will find strips of what looks like dark old leather, that is eaten primarily as a snack - South African babies are given it for teething purposes - this is the famous biltong. Biltong is a salty air-dried meat usually made from beef or wild game like the springbok (South Africa's National Animal), buffalo or even ostrich. It's much like the Australian beef jerky. Air-dried sausages (boerewors), called droewors (dry sausage) can be added to this section too as biltong and droewors go hand-in-hand.

South African delicacies, biltong, bobotie, bunny chow, Cape Malay curry, koeksisters, Melktart, tripe stew, malva pudding, potjiekos, BBQ, culinary delights
Droewors - dry sausage - Image: Elaine de Wet


The indigenous African people used to preserve their meat by curing it with salt and hanging it to dry in the air; the 17th Century European settlers to Africa added vinegar, saltpetre and spices to the mix - all preservation processes in the days before refrigeration.

Today one can purchase biltong drying boxes specifically to air-dry one's meat and the process is much quicker.

2. Bobotie, also spelt Bobotjie

South African delicacies, biltong, bobotie, bunny chow, Cape Malay curry, koeksisters, Melktart, tripe stew, malva pudding, potjiekos, BBQ, culinary delights
Bobotie - Image: By Bli - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36050628


This dish originated from the Indonesian slaves who were brought to South Africa by the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century. Bobotie is made from spiced minced meat and dried fruit with an egg and milk topping which is baked in the oven until it's set - a bit like Greek Moussaka. Bobotie is eaten with yellow rice, fruit chutney, sliced banana and a sprinkling of coconut. People often refer to Bobotie as the National dish of South Africa.

3. Bunny Chow

South African delicacies, biltong, bobotie, bunny chow, Cape Malay curry, koeksisters, Melktart, tripe stew, malva pudding, potjiekos, BBQ, culinary delights
Bunny Chow (no fluffy bunnies involved) - Image: www.pinterest.com


This food has nothing to do with fluffy little bunnies - thank goodness - it's a South African fast food. A quarter or half a loaf of white bread (bread rolls can also be used), hollowed out and filled with a hot and spicy meat or vegetable curry (or anything else curried that you would fancy). Bunny Chow originated in the city of Durban - the story goes that when migrant Indian labourers were working in the sugar cane plantations they had to take their food into the fields with them, hence 'fast takeaway' options - good for the environment too, as they didn't need containers.

Bunny Chow is available throughout South Africa as a 'take-away' but the best is to be found in Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal and cutlery is not a pre-requisite - far more fun, and messy, to eat it with one's hands, like a hamburger.

4. Cape Malay Curry

South African delicacies, biltong, bobotie, bunny chow, Cape Malay curry, koeksisters, Melktart, tripe stew, malva pudding, potjiekos, BBQ, culinary delights
The famous colorful houses of the historical quarter Bo Kaap in Cape Town, South Africa - Image: By Octagon - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6325647


When the Dutch and French settlers arrived in Cape Town in the 17th century, they brought their Indonesian slaves with them to work on the lands. These slaves used their own spices and traditional cooking techniques with local African ingredients to create aromatic curries and stews, spicy (not too hot) and sweet - now known as Cape Malay Curry. There are a great many variations: Cape Malay Lamb Curry, Cape Malay Pienang Curry, Cape Malay Chicken Curry and Cape Malay Fish Curry.

The picture I've chosen is of homes in an area in the Cape where Cape Malay Curry could well have originated.

5. Koeksisters

South African delicacies, biltong, bobotie, bunny chow, Cape Malay curry, koeksisters, Melktart, tripe stew, malva pudding, potjiekos, BBQ, culinary delights
Koeksisters - Image: By Arnold Goodway - Flickr: Koeksisters, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15592768


This is one of my all-time favourites - a speciality from the Western Cape - a syrup-coated doughnut called the koeksister. The name originated from the Dutch koekje - cookie. These delicacies are either plaited or twisted and are made in one of two styles, either as the Cape Malay koeksister which is spicier and covered with dried coconut; or as the Afrikaner one, which is crispier and drenched in syrup. The latter has proven to be my nemesis as I find them extremely difficult to resist. Both are crunchy and sticky on the outside and moist and syrupy on the inside.

6. Melktert (Milktart)

South African delicacies, biltong, bobotie, bunny chow, Cape Malay curry, koeksisters, Melktart, tripe stew, malva pudding, potjiekos, BBQ, culinary delights
Melktert (Milktart) - Image: Elaine de Wet


This is a delicious baked egg custard tart in a pastry case filled with a fluffy mixture of eggs, milk and sugar, sometimes thickened with flour. It's an Afrikaans recipe with Dutch influences. Savour this delightful delicacy with a dusting of cinnamon after a meal for dessert or with a cup of tea or coffee as an in-between snack.

7. Mala Mogodu

Mala Mogodu is a traditional African dish which might not sound too appealing as it's a derivative of tripe served as a stew ­– animal intestines and stomach lining – and considered a true South African delicacy. It's often eaten lightly curried and accompanied by new potatoes, fried onions and pap (maize meal). I must add here, that this is a dish that I have never been too keen to attempt , but my late mother-in-law used to accommodate my choices by adding a lamb chop or two to the stew - and I can vouch for the absolutely delicious flavours that were absorbed from the gravy.

8. Malva Pudding

South African delicacies, biltong, bobotie, bunny chow, Cape Malay curry, koeksisters, Melktart, tripe stew, malva pudding, potjiekos, BBQ, culinary delights
Malva Pudding - Image: By Jon Mountjoy - Malva PuddingUploaded by Diádoco, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10870677


If it's sweet and sticky you're after, Malva Pudding is a South African comfort food, having originated with the Cape Dutch settlers. It's a spongy cake-type pudding made with sugar, eggs, flour, butter and apricot jam. Immediately it comes out of the oven, a hot, sweet, creamy sauce is poured over the top of the pudding. This delightful decadence can be eaten with custard, ice cream, whipped cream or brandy butter and is a favourite dessert on Sundays in South Africa.

9. Potjiekos (Little Pot Food)

South African delicacies, biltong, bobotie, bunny chow, Cape Malay curry, koeksisters, Melktart, tripe stew, malva pudding, potjiekos, BBQ, culinary delights
Three-legged Potjie (Pot) - Image: By אסף.צ - Transferred from he.wikipedia to Commons by Kameraad Pjotr using CommonsHelper., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16134324


This is an Afrikaans term to describe food cooked in layers in a traditional three-legged cast iron pot (potjie); a slow-cooked meat and vegetable stew. Potjiekos can be served with pap (maize porridge), umngqusho (stamp mealies and sugar beans), morogo (wild spinach), amadombolo (dumplings) and pot-baked bread or even steamed bread.

10. Shisa nyama

Shisa nyama means 'burn the meat' in Zulu and refers to any meat - steak, chicken, kebabs and boerewors (farmers sausage) and cooked over a hot wood fire called a braai (barbecue). Here in Australia we tend to use gas and/or electric BBQ's, but in South Africa the preferred method of BBQ-ing (braaing) is with a wood fire. This can be eaten with chakalaka (a spicy tomato and bean relish) and pap (maize porridge).

South African delicacies, biltong, bobotie, bunny chow, Cape Malay curry, koeksisters, Melktart, tripe stew, malva pudding, potjiekos, BBQ, culinary delights
Chakalaka - a spicy tomato and bean relish - Image: By philipp from cape town, south africa - chakalaka, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1791971


Other South African culinary delights you might not have tried or perhaps even heard of, are protein-packed, dried or fried mopane worms in tomato sauce and cooked chicken feet and heads called 'walkie-talkies'.

South African delicacies, biltong, bobotie, bunny chow, Cape Malay curry, koeksisters, Melktart, tripe stew, malva pudding, potjiekos, BBQ, culinary delights
Protein-rich Mopane Worms are eaten dried or fried - Image: By JackyR - Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=619176


South Africa truly has a rich and colourful heritage, brought about by many of the pioneers and settlers of the early 17th Century which has all added to the delightful culinary delicacies making up their Rainbow Cuisine.
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Why? To experience the taste-sensations that IS South Africa
When: When one wants to experience the distinctive flavours of the Rainbow Nation
Where: The perfect excuse to visit South Africa, or more low-key would be to visit a local South African speciality outlet
Your Comment
Congratulations winning first place.
by Bryony Harrison (score: 4|11138) 147 days ago
The bootie and malva pudding look good.
by Bryony Harrison (score: 4|11138) 149 days ago
Congratulations on winning a prize in the International Cuisine Competition.
by Gayle Beveridge (score: 3|5354) 147 days ago
Jirra jong, man lekker kos. And these you do not buy, but make. Cape to Cairo has all the ingredients and increasing numbers of butchers sell borewors. Excellent article.
by Douglas Sutherland-Bruce (score: 3|1566) 146 days ago
Yummy!! Great article Elain - congrats on winning the comp!!
by Paula McManus (score: 3|2321) 147 days ago
Congratulations! Great article.
by Sightseeingshoes (score: 1|73) 147 days ago
Great article on South African food, but nothing on where the outlets for this food are available in Australia. For those who can't go to SA, it would be nice to know where to obtain these delicacies
by pammy (score: 1|27) 153 days ago
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