Must-Eat Traditional Food In South Africa

traditional food in south africa
| 5 min read

The best part about traveling is to learn about a city or country through their food. There is so much to learn about a place, its culture, and people through their traditional cuisine, their ingredients, and how they prepare the food. South Africa prides itself in staying true to its indigenous roots and continues to enjoy the same food passed on to them by their ancestors. Amalgamating the influences of the Dutch rule in South Africa, and the synthesis of Malay and Indian, the traditional culinary art of South Africa has since evolved to include food elements from these aforementioned cultures. South Africans have always eaten corn porridge, with their meat, along with pumpkin, beans, and cabbage. But with the influence of other cultures, they have added more flavors, including spices such as nutmeg, chili peppers, and allspice, as well as curries, and sambal. If you’re planning to taste South African cuisine soon, make sure to secure your lodging first and choose among the many huts and beach resorts available in the country. Then read on to know more about South Africa’s mouthwatering traditional food.

1. Chakalaka

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Peter Mfulo used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Chakalaka (cha-ka-la-ka) is one of the few traditional foods in South Africa that’s also apt for vegetarians. South African history relates that mineworkers created chakalaka when they threw different ingredients in a pot that so that they could eat with their mielie meel (corn porridge). It’s a spicy dish of tomatoes, beans, pepper, onions, and curry, although each region of South Africa has their own version of it. Chakalaka can be a meal in itself or it can be served with shisa nyama (barbeque meat) or boerewors (a type of sausage).

Chaf Pozi

Address: Corner Chris Hani and Nicholas street, Orlando Towers, Soweto

Website: Chaf Pozi

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2. Mielie Meel

Meilie Meal
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Aleph500Adam used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Mielie Meel (mi-li mil), or corn porridge or miele pap, is usually served for breakfast, or as a side dish with South African meat and vegetable preparations. It’s cheap, abundant, and a local favorite because no refrigeration is needed for this South African staple. White corn is boiled with water or, to make it creamier and thicker, boiled with milk. Mielie Meel can be found in many African cuisine restaurants in South Africa.

M'zoli's Place

Address: NY 115 Gugulethu, 7551, Cape Town

Website: M'zoli’s Place

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3. Boerewors

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user CoralBrowne used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Boerewors (bu-re-vors) is a traditional South African spicy sausage, made up of pork, beef, coriander, and curry. Introduced by early Dutch migrants, a lot of locals enjoy it plain, and others enjoy it inside a soft roll, topped with grilled onions, and drizzled with ketchup. And some others eat it with Chakalaka to make it a truly authentic traditional South African experience. South Africans enjoy cooking Boerewors over braai, or barbeque, especially during national holidays.

Gold Restaurant

Address: 15 Bennett Street, Green Point, 8005 Cape Town

Website: Gold Restaurant

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4. Bobotie

Bobotie, South African dish
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Olga Ernst used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Bobotie (bo-bo-tee) is South Africa’s national dish, brought over by the Dutch and adopted by the Cape Malay community. Made with dried fruit, spiced beef or lamb, it used to be seasoned with ginger, turmeric, marjoram, and lemon rind, but now, it’s seasoned with curry powder to give it a sharp tangy flavor. It is topped with a milky egg custard and baked until golden brown. Enjoy it with rice and vegetables, with a glass of wine.

Den Anker

Address: Pierhead - V & A Waterfront, Cape Town

Website: Den Anker

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South Africa Tour Guide



Jakes is registered and accredited with FET Certificate Tourist Guiding. He is competent to advise clients on all essential aspects of travel in South Africa having passed the SA Specialist course from South African Tourism. As a good story teller, he makes any historical situation or site come to life; and this is what makes him to stand out as a knowledgeable and exciting guide. “I’m always attempting to assist and improve the environment, motivating communities to protect nature in order to create a sustainable eco-system, and to protect all species for future generations. My love for nature and history brought me to the most beautiful and spectacular places in South Africa, and that is where I want to take my tourists as well.”

Tours by Jakes

South Africa Tour Guide

Thabang Molefe

Thabang Molefe

My name is Thabang Molefe, Director/ Owner of Tsalanang Travel & Tours. I’m a qualified National Tourist Guide in South Africa, born and breast fed in Johannesburg. I have worked in the sports & events industry where I discovered my passion for traveling, and later worked with some of the TOP destination management/operators in South Africa. I love meeting people, and exchanging knowledge, I’m an outgoing person who loves discovering and learning about history, culture and nature. As part of my value standard, I always try to change the way “the world” perceive certain parts of South Africa and Africa as a hole. I have traveled the southern African region extensively and speak various South African languages. Looking forward to meet you on one of my tours.

Tours by Thabang

South Africa Tour Guide

Denis Kilumbila

Denis Kilumbila

5. Bunny Chow

Bunny Chow
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Robert Rutherford used under CC BY-SA 4.0

The origins of the Bunny Chow are a mystery but locals say Indian migrant workers created this dish to reminisce about home. It eventually evolved into a street food staple for them and for the South Africans. Bunny Chow is, basically, curry in a bread bowl. White bread loaf is hollowed out in the middle and stuffed with lamb, mutton, or chicken curry, or, for the vegetarian’s bean curry. Since it used to be sold in the streets of South Africa, the bread served as the plate for the curry. Nowadays, if you want to try this traditional food in South Africa, you’ll find the Bunny Chow in Indian restaurants and takeaways all over the country served with grated carrot, chili, and onion salad.

The Hill Cafe

Address: 11 Kotze Street, Braamfontein, Johannesburg

Website: The Hill Cafe

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6. Potjiekos

The Potjie is ready
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Chrstphr.jones used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Potjiekos means “small pot food” in South Africa. Locals usually gather in homes and catch up with each other while the Potjiekos cooks between three to six hours in a round cast iron pot over wood or charcoal fire. Potjiekos regularly consists of spiced beef or lamb, flavored with alcohol, usually beer or sherry, with carrots, cauliflower, potatoes or maize (corn) and a few spices, as needed. Its cooking concept is similar to a slow cooker. Add all ingredients to the pot and let it simmer under low heat until all the ingredients have blended together, without stirring. Most South Africans eat potjiekos with mielie meal or pasta.

Cafe Ganesh

Address: 38 Trill Road Observatory, Cape Town 7925

Website: Cafe Ganesh

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7. Shisa Nyama

Burnt meat
Source: Pixabay

Shisa Nyama (she-sah-nya-mah) is a Zulu slang phrase, which means, “burn meat”. Shisa nyama actually started as a way for butchers to obtain more sales during the weekend. But the tradition stayed and has evolved to become a daily gathering place at a butchery for the local residents, old and new, to get together and connect with their roots, relax and catch up with family and friends. Coal fires up the grill, where the butcher braais rib eyes, pork rib, chicken, and even prawns, crayfish, and whole fish. Some customers also eat shisa nyama with pap (corn porridge), couscous salad, or grilled sweet potato or sweet corn.

Marble by David Higgs

Address: Trumpet on Keyes, Corner Keyes & Jellicoe Avenue, Rosebank

Website: Marble by David Higgs

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8. Koeksisters

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Arnold Goodway used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Koeksisters (kuk-sister) is another chewy-crunchy, fried dough dessert in South Africa but infused with syrup or honey. Koeksisters are prepared by frying braided dough in oil, and, when it’s done, submerging the hot dough into ice cold syrup. Although prepared the same way by frying, koeksisters are different from koesister, which is similar to the usual round doughnut. Best to have this in Cape Malay, its birthplace.

Wembley Roadhouse

Address: 25 Denchworth Rd &, Belgravia Rd, Belgravia, Cape Town, 7764, South Africa

Website: Wembley Roadhouse

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9. Malva Pudding

Malva Pudding
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Jon Mountjoy used under CC BY 2.0

Malva (mahl-vah) Pudding is a sponge cake, topped with apricot jam and cream. Some bakers create their own versions with ginger, dates, or brandy. This is best served with hot custard or cold ice cream in any South African restaurant.


Address: 1 Park Street and Hawley Road, Bedfordview, Gauteng, Johannesburg

Website: Adega

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10. Melktert

Melktert (32488608945)
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Luca Nebuloni used under CC BY 2.0

Melktert (melk-tert), or Milk Tart, is a traditional South African tart with a creamy filling of milk, flour, sugar, and eggs inside a sweet pastry crust. They use a higher ratio of milk to the egg than a Portuguese custard tart or Chinese egg tart and has a lighter texture with a strong milky taste. Sometimes, the bakers will sprinkle cinnamon on top, or infuse a cinnamon stick with the milk before baking.

The Whippet

Address: Corner 7th Street and 4th Avenue, Linden, Johannesburg, Gauteng

Website: The Whippet

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11. Vetkoek

Vetkoek with mince
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user NJR ZA used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Vetkoek (vet-kuk), also called Amagwinya, is traditional African fried dough bread, which means “oil cake”. It is eaten as a savory meal, filled with ground beef, or as a dessert, served with syrup, honey, or jam. Vetkoek is also sometimes served with another African food called boerewors. You can find vetkoek at most family restaurants, hawkers, and some street food markets throughout South Africa.


Address: Corner of Burg and Church Streets, Cape Town

Website: WOZA!

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12. Biltong

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Jamsta used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Biltong (bil-tow-ng) is similar to the American beef jerky but thicker and less sweet. Often made from beef, it can also be made with antelope, buffalo, chicken, or ostrich. It’s usually cured with black pepper, coriander, salt, and vinegar. And now, with all the European influences in their food, they’ve also added balsamic vinegar, garlic, paprika, chili peppers, or lemon juice to the curing. Biltong can be bought at butcher shops, or groceries, or at specialty biltong stores.

The Butcher Man

Address: 105 Main Rd, Green Point,Cape Town, 8005

Website: The Butcher Man

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Eat and mingle with the locals

Traditional food in South Africa is simple but comforting and filling. And one thing it does is to bring people together, families, new and old friends, and even future friends in one place to spend quality time with each other. When you travel to South Africa, don’t be too busy exploring the best islands and places to visit. Partake these must-eat traditional foods and look for festivals, events, or other settings where you get to eat and mingle with the locals. It’s definitely going to be the best way to learn about South African culture and their people.

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Jaclyn is a creative writer, screenwriter, entrepreneur, and social media marketer all at once. She cherishes her vacation and travel breaks because she gets to let her hair down and discover new...Read more

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