South African food is as varied as its people, all of whom have left their mark upon the country's culinary culture. The traditional dishes of South Africa's indigenous groups blend with recipes borrowed from Portuguese, Dutch and British settlers. In some areas, immigrants from India and South East Asia have developed their own distinct cuisine, re-inventing the traditional techniques of their ancestors with the ingredients readily available to them in South Africa.
Perhaps you're a South African expat living in the United States, or maybe you just arrived home from a visit with a taste for South African food. Whatever the case may be, finding national delicacies like biltong, bobotie and malva pudding can be tricky in the United States. It's a sad fact that despite the many virtues of South African cuisine, it hasn't yet become popularized on this side of the Atlantic. This article looks at a few ways for you to satisfy your cravings without having to fly all the way to Cape Town or Durban.
South African Staples
Internationally, South Africa is most famous for its Cape wines, its abundant seafood and its high-quality beef and venison steaks. However, there's more to the country's cuisine than fillet and fine wine. Here are a few staples to look out for on your quest for an authentic South African meal.
Biltong: Not so much a meal in itself as the unofficial snack food of South Africa, biltong is raw meat cut into strips, marinated in vinegar and spices, then hung out to dry. It is of Cape Dutch origin and can be made with beef or game (including ostrich, kudu, and springbok).
Bobotie: Often labeled as South Africa's national dish, bobotie is a traditional Cape Malay recipe comprising minced meat (or sometimes fish), mixed with spices and dried fruit. The pie is served with a savory egg custard topping and is especially popular in the Western Cape.
Bunny Chow: An icon of Durban's famous curry scene, a bunny chow is a half loaf of bread that has been hollowed out and filled with curry. You can find many different kinds including beef, chicken and even bean for vegetarians but mutton bunny chows are the most authentic.
Potjiekos: A potjiekos (sometimes known as a bredie) is South Africa's version of a feel-good stew. Meat, vegetables, and potatoes are cooked together over a low heat in a three-legged cast-iron pot. Instead of adding liquid, the ingredients soften for several hours in the juices released by the meat.
Malva Pudding: Possibly the country's favorite dessert, malva pudding is a caramelized sponge infused with apricot jam. It is traditionally served with custard, or with a sweet cream and vanilla sauce. This is the ultimate comfort food for cold winter days in the Cape.
South African Restaurants in the United States
Given the diversity of South Africa's cuisine and the vast choice of fine-dining restaurants in the Cape Winelands, it's somewhat ironic that the most successful South African export is Nando's, a fast food chain. Inspired by the Portuguese flavors of the Mozambican border, Nando's specializes in flame-grilled peri-peri chicken. You'll find U.S. branches of the chain in Illinois, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC.
Karoo Restaurant in Eastham, MA serves traditional South African cuisine in a picturesque setting complete with indoor and outdoor seating. The menu reflects the unique blend of African, British, Dutch, Portuguese, Malaysian and Indian inspirations for which South Africa is so famous. Here, entrees include Cape Malay stew, beef or tofu bobotie and beef bunny chow.
San Francisco's Amawele's South African Kitchen is owned by Pam and Wendy, twin chefs from Durban. In Zulu, "Amawele" means "twins", and the sisters pay homage to their roots with a simple yet authentic menu featuring Durban favorites like roti wraps and bunny chows. For the ultimate comfort food experience, order a frikaddel slap chip roll (made with fries and Afrikaans meatballs).
Named after the African word for a traditional township tavern, The Shebeen in Charlottesville, VA serves South African favorites for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a decidedly more salubrious setting than its namesake. Lunchtime highlights include boerewors burgers and sadza cakes, while Cape mussels and Camps Bay calamari provide a taste of the country's seafood bounty for dinner.
Run by South African family the Anthonys, Altanta's 10 Degrees South recreates the fine-dining establishments of the Western Cape. Innovative entrees include biltong carpaccio salads and beef fillet sosaties, while the extensive wine list features imported vintages from the famous vineyards of Paarl, Stellenbosch, and Franschhoek.
South African Online Shops
If you'd prefer to create your own South African classics, you can buy authentic ingredients from a variety of different online shops. Try A Taste of Africa Shoppe for a wide range of snacks, sauces, spreads and other goods, including Beacon chocolates, Mrs Balls chutneys, and Ouma rusks. African Hut and The South African Food Shop also ship imported goods to addresses all over the U.S. For an impressive selection of biltong and droewors products, try The Biltong Guy.