An Introduction to South African Cuisine

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A tasty photo of a potjiekos preparation. [Photograph: Riaan de Lange on Flickr]

Alright, I'll admit it. I never thought I would be the kind of person to succumb to addiction, but over the past few weeks, well...I've become addicted to the World Cup. I can't explain it, but I've watched nearly every game in some capacity. And Serious Eats editor Erin Zimmer and I are often guilty of sneaking some mid-match commentary into the otherwise very professional SE office discourse.

Naturally, restaurants across the country are publicizing their extended hours and special menus during World Cup month, but they aren't usually featuring actual South African cuisine. And I've been sorely disappointed in the lack of coverage available online about the the foods of the country whose spectacular scenery I observe from afar every day.

So, I set off to investigate some of the most traditional and representative dishes of South African culture. Here's what I found:

Braai

The most common and festive means of food preparation in South Africa is the braai. Comparable to a cook-out in America, throwing a braai is how communities connect and families celebrate. Usually several types of meats are prepared on the grill, and served with a variety of side dishes. Learn how to barbecue on a braai here.

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Meats grilling away on the braai. [Photograph: ossewa on Flickr]

Biltong and Boerewors

In this meat-heavy culture, many snack on these dried meats throughout the day. Biltong is somewhat like American beef jerky—it's a seasoned, dried meat product available in stick or uncut form. While normally made from beef, biltong can also be found made of game meats or even ostrich.

Boerewors is a dried sausage, as traditional as biltong but prepared differently. Always made of beef, boerewors are spiced with coriander and hung to dry. Generally mild, the sausages can be served with a variety of condiments and are a prominent feature of any braai. Check out a boerewors recipe here

Mealie (Corn)

Maize is a huge staple crop in South Africa. The most traditional and common dish in the country is mealie pap, a porridge-like mixture made of white corn meal. Mealie pap is eaten for breakfast, and also as a side dish for any meal. Corn meal is also used to made breads and other items. Check out a recipe for mealie bread here.

Potjiekos

A potjie (pronounced poy-kee) is a cast-iron pot, used to cook stews over an open fire or hot coals. A potjiekos is a stew prepared in such a pot, containing meats and various seasonal vegetables. The South African climate is conducive to growing yams, squash, eggplant, and pumpkin among other crops - many will find their way into a giant pot of potjiekos. Check out a recipe for potjiekos here.

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A delicious bobotie. [Photograph: jeroxie on Flickr]

Bobotie

This dish consists of a ground meat base, similar to a meatloaf, with a baked egg topping. Ground meat is mixed with bread and seasonings, then baked for a short time - then, an egg mixture is poured over the top and the whole casserole bakes again. The dish is often served with a side of rice or mealie. Check out a recipe for bobotie here.

South Africa has a rich culinary heritage shaped by colonial influence and the traditions of a hunter-gatherer culture. These are just a few of the many delicious-sounding dishes I found in my research. Anyone familiar with the cuisine? What's your favorite South African dish?