Potjiekos (photo courtesy of South African Tourism)

My neighbors just got back from their first trip to South Africa, a life long dream of theirs. They were still reeling from seeing giraffes, zebras, elephants, and lions (mating!) in their natural habitat, which I related to having seen kangaroos in Australia. Pictures are one thing, having a 6 1/2 foot buck bang his chest like a gorilla a couple of yards away is quite another!

I asked them if South Africa lived up to their expectations, and they wholeheartedly agreed that theirs had been exceeded. Of course, my next question was about the food. Incredible they said. They ate, among many other things, crocodile, warthog, impala, and wildebeast. The conversation got me curious about what else South Africans eat.

So I did some research. Hundred of miles of coastline, rich soil, and a temperate climate produce a wide variety of seafood, produce, and game. African, Afrikaners, English, and Indian and Asian cultures have merged over the last four hundred years to create a unique fusion of flavors. Every dish seems to be a combination of cultures.

Potjiekos (means pot food) is a culinary tradition brought over from the Dutch but fully integrated into South African culture. Browned meat, sauteed vegetables and wine or broth are layered in a cast iron pot and cooked over a fire. Not stirring the pot once all the ingredients have been added is apparently part of the deliciousness of the dish (see photo).

Other mainstays are pickled fish and fruity mild curries from Cape Malay, brought over by slaves in the mid 1600s, salted dried meat (biltong), and bobotie, a version of shepard’s pie.

Afrikaners (South Africans with Dutch heritage) are famous for their meat-laden barbeques, called braai, including handmade farm sausages (boerewors) flavored with coriander, nutmeg and cloves and curried kabobs. Pap en sous, a thick porridge made of corn (not unlike grits recipes), is a staple served at most South African braai as well as tables across all of Africa. It is often accompanied by tomatoes and onions or wild spinach.

To wash down there favorite meals, South Africans are very fond of their African-style mildy alcoholic beer made from the maize or sorghum as well as their world-famous wine from the Cape region.

Just one small conversation with friends and I’ve expanded my culinary horizons!

(Photo courtesy of South African Tourism)