South Africa has 11 official languages, as well as eight non-official languages which are used in everyday life, attesting to the country’s cultural diversity. The various ethnic groups that make up the population of South Africa brought with them different tastes and recipes. It is thus not surprising that South African cuisine reflects the country’s rainbow culture.
Early South Africans were mainly hunter-gatherers. The Bantu people later introduced agriculture by growing vegetables such as maize, squash and sweet potatoes.
The first Europeans to set foot in South Africa were Portuguese explorers, who introduced fish dishes and peri-peri to the local cuisine. Peri-peri derives from the hot chili peppers that the Portuguese introduced from Angola and Mozambique. South African peri-peri is a blend of chilis combined with hints of other herbs and spices. It is daringly fiery and is commonly used to marinade chicken, fish and seafood.
From the seventeenth century onwards, colonists from the Netherlands, Germany and France, and much later from Great Britain, settled in South Africa. Dutch settlers, known as Boers, planted farms where they grew among other things cucumbers, pumpkins, potatoes, pineapples and watermelons. They brought slaves from the east (Java, Sumatra and Malaysia) to work in the fields. The Malay slaves brought with them curry and various spices that added flavor to meals. The Malay cuisine is nowadays among the most popular in South Africa.
About two hundred years after the arrival of the Malay slaves, sugar farmers brought laborers from India to cut the cane. Indian cooking traditions use a large variety of curries in their recipes. These curry dishes have become much sought after among all ethnic groups in South Africa.
Soon after Dutch settlers, the French Huguenots arrived in South Africa. Known for making wines, the French began establishing vineyards, making their own imprint on South African wine culture. The German immigrants also brought their cuisine, introducing Wurst (sausage), later known as boerewors (farmer’s sausage). Boerewors is a very popular dish in South African cuisine today.
When the British took over permanent rule at the Cape in 1806, their famous English breakfast became part and parcel of South African cuisine. They also left their marks with their “pudding” culture, their pies (e.g. meat pies) and their English roasts.
With so many cultures having traveled through the country, one finds in South Africa the most extraordinary range of cuisines.
Many traditional South African dishes include pap, a staple food of the Bantu people in South Africa. Pap simply means "porridge" or "gruel" and is primarily eaten by the black and African population. South African dishes that include pap are smooth maize meal porridge and crumbly phutu pap, among others.
Another traditional dish is Bobotie, a unique tasting sweet, sour and spicy meat dish. It consists of minced meat that is cooked with brown sugar, apricots, raisins, milk-soaked mashed bread and curry flavoring.
A delicious South African desert not to be missed is Melktert. Meaning “milk tart” in African, melktert is a sweet puff pastry filled with a mix of milk, flour, sugar and eggs and sprinkled with cinnamon.
For more information on African cooking, visit Africa Guide
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