Bobotie, a savory-sweet mash-up of ground meat, spices and egg, the bedrock of Cape Malay cuisine
There is no easy way to describe the food of a country with a history as complicated as South Africa’s. Take a stroll around the City Bowl in the heart of Cape Town and you can begin to get a sense of the incredible convergence of cultural and economic forces that influence the menu of the day: Cape Malay restaurants serving up the spice-inflected staples brought across the Indian Ocean during the days of slavery; tiny takeout stands dishing up starchy staples like pap and samp and beans for a few rands a plate; hipster burger joints flipping patties made from kudu, ostrich and grass-fed beef destined to be washed down with designer cocktails.
It might feel like a culinary identity crisis, until you consider that this enormous diversity, all there to be consumed within a few short city blocks, is what makes this country what it is.
We may not have sampled the whole of the Cape cornucopia, but we certainly put a good dent in it. We ate abalone wraps from a roadside stand run by an unemployed woman looking for a new path in life. We feasted on great mountains of grilled proteins (called braai in these parts) from a township institution with smoke and fire in its soul. We staggered through an awe-inspiring homemade feast with a Muslim family generous enough to invite two complete strangers into their home during a very special religious celebreation.
In this slideshow you’ll find 42 of the most interesting dishes we came across during out time in South Africa. And yet even after two weeks of prodigious consumption, no clear definition for South African food comes to mind. But that’s exactly what makes this country so damn beautiful.