Wild South African Eats: Tastes of the Road

5:46 AM Jmo 2 Comments

     Half the fun of travel is eating! They say the quickest way to a man's heart is through his stomach; therefore, I think it's fair to say the quickest way to experience a culture is through our own stomachs. Language barriers can quickly be squashed and forgotten by sitting down to some food and drink. Try and appreciate the local cuisine and not only will you be richer because of it, but your relationships with the locals will be as well. I can almost guarantee it. 
     This is my culinary mindset when I travel. My normal diet is plant based and I typically adhere to a vegetarian or vegan diet. But I do make some small exceptions while traveling to fully experience the culture, show respect to the locals, and just overall live it up and check things off my foodie Bucket List.  (Though I do advocate responsible eating regardless of country. Be aware of endangered species, destructive cultivation methods, and conservation efforts while traveling. Please! Be a mindful travler!)

     My time here in South Africa has been no different. Though I did challenge myself to remain vegan for an entire month here in SA, (post here: A Vegan Diet In South Africa), I have strayed into unfamiliar and somewhat "exotic" culinary exploits during my first jaunt here in Africa. And let me tell you, South Africa is delicious!  I've yet to have a bad meal here!  Vegetarian or otherwise... South Africans know how to eat, cook, and enjoy everything that their land has to offer. And not only is the food here delicious but, for the most part, it's healthy as well.  Good on you, SA!
Here are some of my top eats that you can most likely only find here in South Africa...
     Biltong, though many South Africans would recoil at this statement, is very similar to beef jerky. Cured strips of meat, sliced into strips or bits, seasoned to perfection amounts to South Africa's favorite snack.
     Biltong comes in all sorts of styles and meat varieties. Beef being the most typical, ranging all the way to more exotic varieties such as kudu, springbok, impala, crocodile, kangaroo, wildebeest, and giraffe. Yes, giraffe
Never thought I'd nibble on giraffe...

     I've tried a few different varieties, and thought I'm a Veggie at heart, I can be a sucker for this stuff. South Africans in general swear by it and it has truly been a staple food ingrained in their culture. I dare say you haven't truly experienced South Africa without diving your hand into a brown paper bag, oil stained and full of biltong.


Bunny Chow:
     Now, I haven't been to Durban, yet (where I hear the true Bunny Chow is made and eaten), but my South African boyfriend claims to have found a fair and equally delicious substitute here in the capital city of Pretoria. 
     Bunny Chow is a beautiful thing. I love bread. And I love curry. I love good bread. And I love good curry. Combine those things together and you have the spicy, delicious, calorie-packed, powerhouse called Bunny Chow.  (No, it's not made with bunnies. Don't worry, my vegetarianess couldn't stray that far!)
     Originating in the Durban Indian community, this delectable "fast food" is simple, yet satisfying: Cut a loaf of bread in half. Hollow it out. Fill with your choice of curry. And mow down.  It's so good. I could probably eat one every day.  But then again, I'd be giving a new definition to the term "chubby bunny" if I did.

     It's said that Bunny Chow was developed by Indian migrant workers coming to South Africa and the bread loaf stems from a lack of access to traditional Indian breads, such as roti. The convenience and "take away" style of the bread loaf can also be attributed to the Apartheid regime of South Africa when segregation prevented different cultural groups, such as Indians, from entering certain restaurants or shops.  Regardless of its hard and tumultuous roots, Bunny Chow is here to stay. And thank goodness, because it's delicious.


     (Cha-Kah-Lah-Kah) Not only is this South African side dish fun to say, it's equally appealing to eat!  Sweet, salty, spicy, hearty in texture and flavor, chakalaka found an easy path into my heart.  It's typically served with pap (a thick, starchy, porridge type dish made from ground maize), chakalaka recipes vary. Most recipes though contain beans, tomatoes, onion, chilies, and curry paste.

     Now, it's not exactly filling like a Winter chili or anything; even with the beans. Chakalaka is more of a side relish. The first time I tried to cook with it I paired it over top of wild rice and I was in comfort food heaven. It's cheap, sweet and vibrant in flavor, and can be paired with almost everything.  Nom, nom, nom ~Chakalaklakalakaaah~  (Go on, say it!)


Fantastic Fusion:
     South Africa is composed of an incredible amount of different cultures, languages, and ancestry. (South Africa has 11 official national languages! Eleven!) So with all this heritage comes an astounding amount of distinct food cultures. But, what's really fun is seeing how these distinct food cultures mix together to create a remarkable and delectable fusion food scene.  Being an American coming from my own beautiful melting pot of a country, I'm no stranger to fusion food. I embrace it, I love it, and I love the creative potential with little to no boundaries. 
     Though it is important to hold on to cultural traditions and Grandma's secret recipes, it's also fun to shake things up a bit. Ostrich sushi anyone?

Baobab restaurant, Pretoria

     Here we have two prime, modern, and yummy examples of South African fusion. Number 1: Ostrich sushi. Though I wouldn't say that it's a popular dish by any means, somehow it found its way onto my plate. The ostrich was smoked and delicate and paired with cream cheese; the ultimate sign of fusion sushi. I wonder how the Japanese would find this?
    Number 2: "Modern" Potjie. Poitje is an Afrikaans stew, simmered in a cast iron pot outdoors. It's hearty, flavorful, and reeks of farm to table; synonymous with Afrikaans farming culture. This stew is often thought to have been born from the collaborative cooking efforts of both the Afrikaaner farmers and Malaysian immigrant workers. A lot of veggies, copious amounts of thick, mild coconut milk (traditionally cooked with beer, though my dish was a fusion of a fusion!), Dutch-Malay spices, and the meat of your choosing (though I opted for none) served with rice. 
Hungry for more? Don't worry, my ravenous appetite for South African cuisine is just getting started. Check back later for more foodie conquests.
Have a great, unknown, yummy food suggestion? Let me know I'd love to write about (and eat!) it.
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  1. Nice post. I am vegan too. Good to know that there are places around the world where you can find lot of veggie options. I have never been to SA, but your blog has motivated me enough to visit this wonderful country. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    John from http://www.couponsmonk.us


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