Many travellers returning from a trip to South Africa can’t stop raving about the delicious food they ate while there. Yet, strangely enough, South Africa doesn’t jump to mind when talking about gastronomic travel, but it really, really should!
We have gone in search, with empty tummies and suitably clad with elasticated waste bands, of some of South Africa’s best foodie adventures. Like the country itself, her food is rich, diverse and unforgettable. From street food to gourmet dining we’ve searched high and low. So, as they say down south Smaaklike Ete! (that’s Bon Appétit! to you and me).
Bo-Kaap Cooking Tour
The rows of colourful houses along upper Wale Street and down Chiappini Street have become almost as iconic as their majestic Table Mountain backdrop. This is the Bo-Kaap, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the country. The cheery palette brightening the lower slopes of Signal Hill belies an altogether much murkier past, of slaves plucked from their homes on the islands of East Asia and brought to work the soil in Southern Africa. With them came the flavours of home, which were blended with the ingredients of their new land, and from this was born Cape Malay cuisine and many of the country’s most classic dishes.
Zainie Misbach and her team have been championing the rich gastronomic and cultural heritage of the Cape Malays for many years. The good news is that every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday you have the chance for a crash course in all this history and flavour. Join Zainie on a walking tour around the quarter, taking in the Jackson Pollockesque array of colour, the soothing sounds of the muezzin’s call to prayer and smell of spices wafting through the air.
Once you have a feel for the area and its sense of history and tradition, it is time to head to Zainie’s family home for a participatory lesson in Cape Malay cooking. The cooking is followed by a leisurely lunch, sampling your morning’s graft. Expect crunchy triangles of flavour-packed samosas, rich curries or bredies (stews) made with anything from lamb to warterblommetjies (the flower buds of a local aquatic plant), and all accompanied by the traditional golden geel rys (rice infused with saffron).
Cape Malay food is renowned for its blend of savoury and sweet in many dishes, but the day will inevitably end on a very sweet note with koesisters, irresistible balls of fried dough drenched in syrup and dusted with coconut specks.
Kobus Se Gat
When it comes to classic South African foods, it is impossible to ignore comforting mounds of “boerekos”, traditional Afrikaans home food. This is a food that has evolved by blending Dutch heritage, touches of Cape Malay spices and produce that thrived in the semi-arid conditions of the Cape. This is hearty food, the kind that would see you through not only a cold winter’s night, but an entire week.
Hidden away on the Swartberg Pass, linking the Klein and Groot Karoo areas close to the town of Oudtshoorn, you will find Kobus Se Gat. A true bastion of traditional Afrikaans comfort food. The Swartberg mountains provide a dramatic backdrop to the incredible views of the valley below, but the real stars of the show are roasting gently over glowing embers. South Africa’s famous braais are laden with boerewors (farm sausages) and succulent Karoos lamb chops, while three-legged cast iron potjie pots bubble away with the heartiest of stews.
Mop us the juices with warm buttery roosterkoek, leavened bread cooked over the coals (that is if you have managed to resist eating it all smothered with home-made marmalade), and cinnamon dusted pumpkin fritters. Make sure to leave just a little space for sticky malva pudding or a slice of irresistible creamy melktert.
Why not make a whole day of it, and truly celebrate the Karoo in all its glory by joining one of their tours. Explore the dramatic mountain passes and sleepy villages of the area to build up your appetite, and once replete you can even spend the night in a farm-style mountain cottage!
Jozi Street Art & Street Food Walking Tour
A world away from the peace and tranquillity of the Swartberg mountains are the pulsating streets of Johannesburg, or Jozi as it is affectionately known. This is the real entry point to modern day South Africa, attracting people from every corner of the globe in all their amazing diversity.
Let the charming Gilda Swanepoel, the “blond” from Eenblond (one blond) Tours guide you through one of the most colourful and diverse corners of the city. Work up your appetite while exploring the Muslim neighbourhood of Fordsburg. This is where Africa meets the Indian subcontinent and you can’t get more vibrant than that. Glaring street art awakens the senses to fully appreciate the feasts to follow.
Meet up with the traders and merchants as you discover the flavours of India, Bangladesh, Syria, Pakistan and north Africa. Warming curries, fluffy flatbreads, succulent skewers and sublime sweet treats await as your mouth is taken on a culinary journey. Browse the food markets and uncover exotic herbs and spices in hidden away stores that you would likely never discover by yourself.
Of course, there is no way to end such a tour without sitting down and tucking into a shared meal. That just brings it all together!
Yeoville Dinner Club
If we are talking about sitting down to share a meal, well, there can be no serious discussion if we do not include the Yeoville Dinner Club. That’s where the seriousness ends though.
Let’s start off by saying that you may get more than a couple of odd looks if you tell most people in Joburg (another moniker for Johannesburg) that you are headed to Yeoville for dinner. If you had to condense the whole of Africa into a single suburb you would end up with Yeoville. Imagine an agglomeration of Lagos, Accra, Brazzaville, Yaoundé and Harare, all its colour, all its noise, all its vibrancy, and all its taste. It is fitting then that the ever smiling and disarmingly charming Sanza Sandile offers up “A Pan Afrikan Plate” here at his Yeoville Dinner Club.
Sanza himself is a pan African product, with a Swazi father and South African mother. He has spent the last 17 years living in Yeoville, absorbing the cultures and cuisines of its inhabitants to present the lucky few who get to share his table with an unforgettable experience. This is pan African fusion, taking what Sanza feels are the best from each country and creating something truly unique. We imagine his recipes would read something along the lines of “add a pinch of Nigeria, grate in a little Congo, add a handful of chopped Ghana, sprinkle on some Tanzania and at the last moment squeeze a little Zambia into the mix”. No corner of the continent is left untouched, as is evidenced by his Moroccan tagine blended with chunks Zulu phuthu pap (ground maize puree), linking Africa’s extreme South East and North West.
We could go on and on about what this gentleman can do with a casava or a tilapia, how he transforms rice and don’t even get us started on his ridiculously moreish ginger and litchi juice (which let’s just say when mixed into a cocktail…..), but we won’t. Just get yourself a seat at his table and you will not regret it, after all, even Anthony Bourdain came in search of his food!
Jamala Madikwe African Food Journey
No visit to South Africa would be complete with time in the African bush. If Sanza’s Pan Afrikan Plate whet your appetite for a taste of Africa let Nico Verster round you off in grand style.
While you will likely feel like you hit the jackpot when you step foot into your gorgeous villa with private plunge pool and deck overlooking the savannah, there is more. No, we don’t mean the thrilling open vehicle safaris in search of Africa’s big game in the malaria-free Madikwe Game Reserve. No, not the gin tasting on the deck while watching elephants at the waterhole either. We are talking about the magic that happens when you sit down under a canopy of stars for dinner.
Nico Verster has written two acclaimed books on safari cuisine, Safaris & Spices and Savannah to Sea, and here the books come alive. Starched white table clothes, crystal candelabras, polished silver and the distant whoop of hyenas all set the scene for a gourmet journey across the continent.
Think of decadent Kalahari truffles, plump Madagascan vanilla pods, Zanzibari cinnamon and Egyptian Dukkah paired with warthog, springbok, and velvety melktart. Let’s not forget about South Africa’s celebrated wines which will be perfectly paired with each course. This is African fine dining at its absolute best, and what better way to end a South African gastronomic voyage of discovery?
Warwick Blow is Owner of Safari In Style. Safari In Style uses more than 50 years of personal experience to create tailor-made unique journeys through Africa’s finest safari destinations.