You might think that a country with at least 35 indigenous languages, (including 11 official ones), and a large immigrant population speaking many others, would have a wide range of cuisines. And you’d be right. Here’s our guide to the many menu choices in South Africa.
The Dutch and Portuguese brought the first outside influences to South African cuisine, already richly varied from the range of local game, plants, nuts and berries on the veld. Later arrivals included the British, Germans and then the Indonesians, Malays and other Asians whose spices heavily influenced Cape Town dishes in particular. Seafood from the coastline along two oceans has also added to the variety for diners. And, of course, it would be remiss not to mention the 17th century French Huguenots who helped lay the foundations of South Africa’s wine industry. Explore this rich tradition as you travel around South Africa’s many different provinces.
Serving coffee from their own roastery, this steampunk-style café on Buitenkant Street has been voted the world’s best. They are so passionate about the product, they encourage you not to add sugar and “Taste the Joy of the Extraordinary”.
The “First People” welcome you to enjoy their food and hospitality in a striking setting some 70km north of Cape Town. As well as guesthouses and tented camps for visitors, San guides lead informative tours. The restaurant has dishes made from freshly prepared, locally sourced food.
Famous chefs and many other celebrities have beaten a path in Gugulethu to visit this butcher’s shop, now a major social experience where dressed-up locals and visitors mingle freely. The meat is enjoyed with a bottle of beer, either outside at one of the open-air BBQs or in the restaurant, with lots of loud music.
MUST-EAT: Potjiekos. Almost no liquid is added to this one-pot stew, as a careful layering of meat and veg lets the ingredients cook in their own juices. The secret is the traditional, three-legged, cast-iron pot.
Regularly voted the best restaurant in South Africa, as well as twice chosen among the best 50 in the world, so you’ll need to book well in advance. The open-air kitchen is part of the experience, producing a fusion of South African with French, Asian and other influences, matched with the best in South African wines.
Chef Farrel Hirsch oversees this award-winning restaurant in the Cellars-Hohenort Hotel, which sits in beautiful Winelands. A tasting menu is the best way to sample Hirsch’s imaginative cooking, with its strong Asian influences, paired with the best local wine.
So popular is La Colombe that it now has a partner, La Petite Colombe in Le Quartier Français Hotel. At the original restaurant, in the Silvermist organic wine estate, the signature dish is a can of tuna. It’s a very upmarket tin, but that’s an idea of the fun to be had eating in a place TripAdvisor users voted among the world’s top 10 fine dining restaurants.
A small fishing village, two hours from Cape Town, is not the most obvious place to find the world’s best restaurant of 2019. However, spend an evening in this intimate 20-seat venue where each dish is presented by chef Kobus van der Merwe and you’ll understand why. The menu uses local seafood, lamb and venison, flavoured with wild herbs and seaweed from the shore below.
The Kompanjiestuin or “Company’s Garden” dates to the arrival of the first Dutch East Indies ships in the 1650s. With now-mature trees and a vegetable garden that recreates those first ones, this restaurant inside it offers a variety of South African dishes aimed especially at children.
MUST-EAT: Bobotie. A dish from Cape Town with a base of curried mince beef or lamb, topped with a seasoned custard of egg and milk. Baked with sultanas or raisins, then garnished with walnuts, chutney and bananas, the whole is a rich mix of tastes.
Sample Xhosa culture, beer and food in this recreation of their traditional lifestyle. Famous for their beadwork, the Xhosa also have many beautiful songs and a rich culture that you’ll hear about in detail.
MUST-EAT: Bunny Chow. Durban’s most popular street food is a half-loaf of bread, scooped out and filled with lamb, beef, chicken or vegetable curry.
Originally built as a set for the blockbuster “Shaka Zulu” film, this vibrant village has everything from Zulu dancing to traditional beer tasting. The restaurant has a good choice of Zulu dishes and a view over Phobane Lake and the hills around.
MUST-EAT: Pap. Like polenta, this staple is made from maize meal. It’s served as a porridge with milk and sugar for breakfast; or made stiffer, like mashed potato, for other meals.
Set up inside Golden Gate Highlands National Park to show the lifestyle of the South Sotho, both in the past and today, this village also has a restaurant so you can taste traditional dishes. The Wilderness Trail is led by a traditional healer who will show you many indigenous herbs and their medicinal uses.
MUST-EAT: Boerewors. Literally “farmer’s sausage”, these meat-rich sausages are spiced with coriander, paprika, nutmeg and other favours according to taste.
Close to Kruger Park, this village highlighting Shangana culture is centred on a crafts market. The highlight is an evening meal around an open fire in the Chief’s Kraal. Singers and dancers provide the background to a wide choice of game meat and other traditional food.
Originally a mission station, this cultural village is actually lived in by the Ndebele people and showcases their distinctive beadwork and bright geometric art. The Tea Room and Café serves local dishes and a full Ndebele meal can be prepared if ordered in advance.
MUST-EAT: Chakalaka. A great topping for pap, this stew of vegetables uses a base of peppers, tomatoes, carrots and onions spiced with curry. It’s a also common side dish for a braai (BBQ).
At the foot of the twin Orlando Towers in Soweto, this is the place to chill out while watching bungee jumpers plunge to earth. Grilled meats of all kinds are the staple, washed down with a cold beer and great township music.
South Africa’s love affair with the braai (BBQ) is on show at this theatrical restaurant where grilled meat, fish, vegetables and bread are staples. Enjoy the high-energy action in the open kitchen while you choose from the near-endless wine list.
Art-Nouveau-meets-the-Orient is the setting for this restaurant with South African Chef of the Year Chantel Dartnall. Her French roots are reflected in a menu that’s constantly surprising, while the wine list regularly wins awards of its own. It’s part of the Orient Private Hotel, a boutique hotel in the tranquil Francolin Conservancy.
MUST-EAT: Koeksisters. This sweet, sticky and sweet with a chewy centre, is made by frying folded dough that is then coated in syrup. A real guilty pleasure, possibly even for dentists.