Culture Wider World

On the Menu – South African style

South African born and bred chef Grant Hawthorne now living in the UK lifts the lid on some of the foody dishes and influences from his native land.

South African cuisine is heavily influenced by European and Asian styles of cooking, spices and flavours; not forgetting of course traditional tribal cookery combined with more modern influences.

Being such a vast country dishes tend to be regional and specific: eg Durban with its large Indian population is renowned for curry; the Cape (Cape Malay), heavily influenced by Indonesian and Malaysian tastes, favours a sweet-savoury approach to cookery. Coastal regions tend to enjoy an abundance of great sea food: from the staple of the kingklip, kreef and tuna to the more exotic steenbras, swordfish and dorado; whereas inland visitors are more likely to be served hearty farm-style stews.

Cooking Equipment and Typical Dishes

Cooking equipment can range from the traditional open-fire method of cooking, termed a ‘braai’ or barbeque where vegetables, various cuts of meat along with fish and shellfish are cooked over naked flames or coals on a grid; or in a ‘potjie’ a cast-iron three-legged pot, known locally as an Irish self-basting pot, to form a stew.

Typical South African dishes might include Boerewors, Biltong, Bobotie, Waterblommetjie Bredie, Putu pap en sous, Smoked snoek, Samoosas, Perlemoen and of course Cape Malva pudding.

Whether it is the hearty foods that prevail amongst the farming communities to the more refined, Euro-centric and gastronomic creations and, no matter the cultural differences or skin colour, most South Africans go by the adage: ‘Live to eat’. An adage that holds true wherever they are in the world.

Home and Abroad

Many of the dishes South Africans take overseas with them need to be adjusted and tweaked to accommodate the regional influences of the host country. An example would be the size of the eggs and metric versus imperial measurements. A range of flours, chocolates and raw natural ingredients need to be tried and tested to evolve and become similar or nearly identical in flavour, texture and presentation to the original.

A typical South African’s larder will consist of waatlemoen konfyt (watermelon preserve), provitas (crackers), koeksisters (a type of syrup infused doughnut), boerewors (sausage), samp (maize meal), peri-peri (hot chilli), biltong (cured meat), Rooibos tea, chutney and a wide variety of spices, snacks and other goodies that friends and family bring over on their visits or that can be purchased through local shops.

Recipe substitutes

For visitors to South Africa who want to try out or long for a taste of Africa cooked to African ways when they get back home getting hold of some ingredients can be problematical. For instance, for dishes, like Waterblommetjie bredie cooked in a potjie, there is no substitute for waterblommetjies (‘little water flowers’) so the recipe tends to become useless unless authentic ingredients can be sourced.

Snoek is a firm South African favourite but as scarce as hens’ teeth. The Australian barracouta fish is an alternative, however supplies of this are hard to come by. On the other hand the perennial and ubiquitous kingklip can be substituted with the local version of ling. Or Scottish black ling makes a suitable alternative to the pink ling or kingklip as a ‘Saffer’ might call it. Whilst on the subject of seafood Mozambique or Madagascan white tiger prawns obtainable from specialised shops and fishmongers are preferable to their farmed flavourless Indonesian or Malaysian cousins.

There are also numerous online and localised expat South African shops from where a wide variety of goods can be purchased to give that ‘authentic’ feel and taste to the food. The abundance of South African wines and occasionally beers can also be found alongside the vast selection of goods available to expats.


The types of meals that South Africans tend to have for weddings, birthdays and other festivities tend to range from the Spit-braai, traditional Sunday roast to the more exotic shellfish braai, potjiekos and gourmet European and Asian-style food. Christmas tends to be a massive family affair with the usual assortments of roasts, cured meats, joints of poultry and the inevitable glazed carrots and mince pies cooked at home with a blazing sun outside and an inviting swimming pool nearby. A snooze in the afternoon post-lunch will lead to an evening of cooking the leftovers and sipping quietly on a glass of wine or a decent whisky with the older generation regaling the kids with stories from their youth! Something else that most South African kids were brought up on is biltong – great for babies teething.

The Atlantic seaboard afforded the inhabitants of the small fishing villages with fresh fish and shellfish. The older generation, during leaner times, had to rely on staple foods like lobster to supplement their diet. It’s not uncommon even today to find their aversion to this luxury item as for them it was regarded as a poor man’s food.

A UK taste of South Africa

An example of a South African restaurant group doing well locally in Britain would be Nando’s. Most British people have heard or seen their tongue-in-cheek advertising and even sampled their food and think it’s a Portuguese company. In fact it originates from the Mozambiquan-Portuguese community in South Africa.

Foody Traveller is indebted to Grant Hawthorne for his help with the above article and for letting us reproduce some of his favourite recipes, including his family favourite Cape Malva pudding. Click here for his recipes.

Grant Hawthorne: Classically trained (French cuisine), award-winning, qualified chef, with more than 10 years’ fine-dining experience at head chef level (national and international).

Grant, a Master Chef of Great Britain, also produces the award-winning African Volcano Peri Peri sauces and marinades, which as he says are ‘inspired by Africa, produced in Great Britain’. 30 pence from every bottle sold goes to support the initiatives of Habitat for Humanity South Africa predominantly in their work with the Youth Build.

Four months after launching African Volcano, the sauce (Gold) and marinade (double gold) were recognised as excellent in the United Kingdom’s (Guild of Fine Foods) Great Taste Awards 2012 (the food producer’s equivalent of a Michelin star). African Volcano

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