Food in South Africa - top things to do in South Africa

Do you enjoy traveling and good food as I do? South Africa has the best of both, something for your adventurous travel spirit and your taste buds. Take a look at unique foods, snacks & desserts in South Africa, to get your taste buds coming back for more.

Unique Foods in South Africa

You may also like – Top 10 Reasons to Visit South Africa.

Unique Foods in South Africa.

​​Getting the best experience out of traveling, it will have to include traditional foods from the travel destination. A little something to keep the energy levels up and make sure those taste-buds are happy. Taking a look at the Unique foods in South Africa in alphabetical order. Foods, snacks, desserts, and even beverages.

WARNING: this would probably not be the best article for vegans to read. Most South Africans enjoy meat, the more meat, the better.

“Food brings people together on many different levels. It’s nourishment of the soul and body; it’s truly love.”

– by Giada De Laurentiis.

​Like most of the foods in this article. Similar comparisons can be found, but I can assure you with the unique flavors and recipes passed down for generations. Nothing will taste the same…

Unique South African Words For Different Foods
#1 We eat 
“mielies“, not millet corn or maize.​


– tripe and trotters ( pens & pootjies in Afrikaans ) –

Photo by Leon Brocard from Flickr​.

​Afval consists of the intestines, stomach and whatever other organs remaining after an animal has been slaughtered. No specific list of organs is used. Varying from culture to culture everyone has a different view on what Afval is. Most of the cultures have different ways of preparing Afval and is mainly because of various personal preferences.

Afval has become a delicacy over the years. With ever-rising prices, these organs or Afval have become somewhat expensive for the locals.

Some cultures even prepare this dish only on special occasions. Prepared in many different ways, it is mostly prepared in a medium or mild curry. The cleaning processes of Afval is used to eliminate the smells that often gives Afval an unpleasant smell.

​​Amarula Don Pedro.

– the Grown-Up’s Milkshake –

Amarula Don Pedro
Wikimedia Commons (click for source).

​Usually served in a wine glass made from ice cream, cream and a whiskey or liqueur of choice. The Amarula Don Pedro is even creamier, Amarula being a South African liqueur, making it a “Unique Foods in South Africa” must try. 

These Don Pedro’s are enjoyed after a meal as a dessert. A very rich tasting beverage containing alcohol. ​

Unique South African Words For Different Foods
#2 We eat 
“boerewors“, not sausage.​


– fermented milk –

Amasi; the Xhosa or Zulu name for it. Known as “maas” or “mafi” in other South African languages, fermented milk or plain yogurt.

It is used to pour over “pap” (porridge) or drunk straight from a clay pot as it is. The Zulus (South African Tribe) believe that Amasie makes a man strong, healthy and desirable.


– a form of traditional dried meat –

Biltong, Unique South African Foods

​These savory-spiced dried meat strips or carved slices can be bought at just about every Supermarket or Corner Café. A selection of various venison and beef strips are available depending on personal preference.

Biltong is mainly enjoyed as a snack. Locals prefer having biltong as a snack while watching the sport (Rugby) & enjoying a beer of choice. Biltong can also be used in various recipes as sides or even as the main component.

This curing process still used today dates back to the 17th century. Whereby vinegar and salt were used to treat the meat while naturally drying at a slow pace to give it the taste that it is famous for today.

Unique South African Words For Different Foods
#3 We eat 
“pap“, not porridge.​


– South Africa’s National Dish –

Bobotie, Unique South African Foods
Wikimedia Commons (click for source).

​It is one of South Africa’s National Dishes for a reason. Bobotie has so many perfected flavors combined to make up its unique taste. It is a form of Cape Malay curry combined with various spices, minced meat, bread, and an egg custard topping.

Dating back as far as the early 1600’s recordings of the recipe can be found in a Dutch cookbook. Yet another favorite, adding to the list of unique foods in South Africa.

Chutney and curry make up the key ingredients in this tasty Cape Malay dish. Bobotie can be served with yellow rice, white rice, pasta, bread and salads of choice.


– could also be called Fish Biltong –

Wikimedia Commons (click for source).

​Being referred to as Fish Biltong. Dried and salted Southern Mullet or referred to by locals as Harders. Yet another well-known delicacy in the West Coast region of South Africa.

After being salted and dried naturally in the sun and wind it can be eaten by peeling off the skin.

Although these fish do not have the most inviting smell when it comes to food. Neither does many other delicacies around the world nor the most appealing aromas or appearances. They are still considered a delicacy and are enjoyed by locals.

Unique South African Words For Different Foods
#4 We eat 
“sarmies“, not sandwiches.​

​​Braai Vleis.

– also known as BBQ , no way, no comparison –

Braai Vleis, Unique South African Foods
Photo by Chris Bloom from Flickr.

Braai Vleis is a big thing in South Africa. National Heritage Day ( 24 September) has even been renamed by locals to “National Braai Day”. Braai vleis, just recently received a new local slang name as Chesa Nyama, “Burn Meat” directly translated.

Braai vleis, not perfect without pap, braai broodjie or even roosterkoek. Nothing beats a perfectly tasty meal made on the open coals of a wooden fire.

You can cook just about any meat on a braai; sosaties (kababs), steak, lamb chops, boerewors (sausage) and even toasting cheese sarmies on the coals.

Braai vleis and the word “local is lekker” go hand in hand. Perfect opportunity to socialize with friends or families, maybe just an excuse to have a great time.

“Lekker”; another South African slang word that can describe so much depending on how it is used. It is a word that describes festive times, great experiences and a homely feeling. Anything that gives you that feeling that words can’t express is “lekker”!

​Bunny Chow.

– not bunny meat, but a curry filled loaf of bread – 

Bunny Chow
Wikimedia Commons (click for source).

​Originating from Durban and surrounds by the Indian population. It has become a widely adopted take away meal all over the country. The unique food in South Africa, just as diverse as the country.

Made by hollowing out a full, half or quarter loaf of fresh bread. Filled with a mild, strong or extra-strong curry varying from chicken, lamb and beef curries. On my recent visit to Durban, I had tried a mild Bunny Chow, Believe you me, there was nothing mild about it. Just be cautious if you are sensitive to spicy food.

With many names in different areas of the country it can be referred to as; a Bunny Chow, a Bunny, Quarter loaf or even a “Kota”( another local slang word )” custom to South African people.

Unique South African Words For Different Foods
#5 We eat 
“slap tjips“, not french fries.​


– Submarine Sandwich –

Gatsby, Unique South African Foods
Photo by Christoph Scholz from Flickr.

​Very popular in the Western Cape region, it will typically be sold as a foot-long cut into portions. Gatsby is bought and shared among a small group of people, being a tasty & filling budget meal.

These foot-long rolls can be filled with various ingredients depending on customer likes and dislikes and what the vendor offers. Ingredients vary but mainly contain “slap tjips” (french fries) with a selection of meats. A selection of fillings topped with an achar or peri-peri sauce.

Meat selections of russians, viennas, grilled steak, polony, and even chicken are popular. Why not try the option of calamari, pickled or fresh fish-filled gatsby.


– or known as Crackling –

Photo by Simon Doggett from Flickr.

​Kaaings, also known as crackling but yet again not the same. Kaaings made from the fatty skin layer (salted & spiced to taste) of pork. Baked in an oven until crispy brown has found its way into many recipes as an additive to great meals. 

It is enjoyed the same as biltong, as a snack. Used as an ingredient in recipes for a cooked meal, soups or on a slice of fresh buttered bread.

Unique South African Words For Different Foods
#6 We eat 
“sosaties“, not kebabs.​

​​Malva Pudding.

– Something for those with a sweet tooth! –

Malva Pudding, Unique South African Foods
Photo by Jon Mountjoy on Flickr.

A pudding originating in South Africa made with apricot jam, a sweet caramelized sponge type dessert. Offered by most restaurants in the country and served with homemade ice-cream or fresh cream. 

This dessert became famous in the western world after 2006. Oprah Winfrey was served this dessert by her chef. During the time of her opening the all-girls school in Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa.

This dessert is a favorite to many locals and will probably be a favorite for some time to come. You will have to try this one to appreciate the taste sensation.

​Mielies (Braaied).

– corn & cob –

Braaied Mielies
Photo from Pxhere.

​Like with most other food types, these can also be prepared on the fire (braaied). You can find these in larger areas being prepared at pavement stalls all over South Africa. Generally “mielies” can be boiled or braaied. But something about food prepared on a fire that just gives it that extra bit of flavor.

Mielies are usually covered with butter and assorted savory spices to flavor before braaing. Best served hot off the coals and straight from the cob.

Unique South African Words For Different Foods
#7 We eat 
“naartjies“, not tangerines, mandarins, satsumas.​


– in English, milk tart –

Milk Tart, Unique South African Foods
Photo by Roelof Beukus from Flickr.

​A South African dessert made from milk, flour & eggs. With its sweet pastry crust and custard-like creamy filling made with milk> Nowhere as sweet as Malva Pudding and with a much lighter creamier texture with a milky taste infused with cinnamon.

This dessert showcases distinctive dutch traits and has been inspired by the Chinese egg tart and the Portuguese custard tart.


– direct translation Pot Food –

Wikimedia Commons (click for source).

​Ever have those cooking moments where you find just about anything you have and combine the lot into one pot?

Well, Potjiekos is almost that. Potjiekos has a wide range of recipes and it all gets made on the fire in a big black pot. Having won two Potjiekos competitions with my “Biltong Pot”. No, the recipe is my secret and will be passed on in the family. 

You can get afval, seafood, lamb, beef, venison, biltong, and even an Oxtail pot. Families have there secret recipes and combinations to make that one special pot of food that everyone wants to taste. These foods can be served with rice, paste or pap, it is all up to the Potjie Chef.

Many regions hold annual Potjiekos competitions and people go the extra mile to create that single taste sensation that stands out from the rest.

Unique South African Words For Different Foods
#8 We eat 
“spanspek“, not Cantaloupe.​


– Direct translation “Grilled Cake” –

Food in South Africa

​The traditional way of making bread has been adopted by all cultures in South Africa. Originating from the KhoiKhoi (formally known as Hotontots) and makes up part of our South African heritage.

Having a braai without a roosterkoek or braaibrrodjie just won’t be the same.

The annual festival Oppiekopie has been waking up for the past six years to a roosterkoek breakfast. Enjoyed in various ways, on its own, filled with jam and cheese, or with just about anything you would put on a sandwich.


– most definitely not an emoji icon –

Photo by Bleusnap from Pixabay.

​This is rather a strange but yet another delicacy that locals have taken a liking too. It is a whole sheep’s head that gets boiled in a pot on the fire and served with pap.

A traditional Xhosa dish, the name comes from the strange widely grimacing mouth after cooking. Served whole or be shredded to be served in smaller portions.

Unique South African Words For Different Foods
#9 We eat 
“gherkins“, not pickles.​

​​Umngqusho / Samp & Beans.

– maize with beans –

Samp and beans, Unique South African Foods
Photo by Jon Mountjoy on Flickr.

​This starch-filled dish is made from samp and beans. A very filling dish and is heavy on the stomach filled with nutrients. Various ways of serving this dish topped with a beef or lamb stew are very tasty and even more nutritious. 

It is also believed to have bee one of the late Nelson Mandela’s favorite foods. This is probably one of the most popular foods unique to South Africa mostly consumed by locals.


– Traditional Beer –

Traditional Beer
Wikimedia Commons (click for source).

​From the Xhosa & Zulu language, Umqombothi is a traditional beer. Made from yeast, maize, maize malt, sorghum, and water. With a rather low alcohol content of around 3%. Considered much cheaper than commercial beers and can be made at home.

To the eye, it may not be very appealing. With its tan color and a thick gritty texture but yet creamy appearance due to the maize.

Unique South African Words For Different Foods
#10 We eat 
“All Gold“, not ketchup.​


– direct translation “fat cake” –

Vetkoek Nomad Feeling

​Similar to roosterkoek, it is prepared by deep-frying in oil instead of prepared on the fire. This is one of my favorites and can be eaten with almost anything on it. Favoring a curry mince or a chicken and mayonnaise filling.

Vetkoek can be served both hot or cold. Seen as a household alternative to bread for many either by choice or due to it being cheaper than bread. It is also a very filling meal and can be served any way you prefer.


– not what it sounds like I guarantee that –

Walkie Talkies, Chicken Feet
Photo by Buenosia Carol from Pexels.

​All these traditional delicacies, Walkie Talkies are eaten by various cultures and ethnic groups. Made from chicken legs & feet cooked or deep-fried and spiced, the tender meat will change your opinion of the appearance.

Mainly eaten as a snack and can also be eaten as a meal combined with pap. Walkie Talkies are also one of the most favorite street dished and enjoyed by many South Africans.

“Meals make the society, hold the fabric together in lots of ways that were charming and interesting and intoxicating to me. The perfect meal, or the best meals, occur in a context that frequently has very little to do with the food itself.” 

– by Anthony Bourdain.


​As I mentioned, this is not the most Vegan-friendly list of foods. Every meal unique in taste, flavor & texture and a little something for every taste bud to enjoy. With more foods to choose from in this culturally diverse country, some of the Unique Foods in South Africa.

No matter where you go, hospitality is on everyone’s agenda. Seeking to make sure everyone is comfortable, with a satisfied stomach and friendly people wherever you go.

There you have it. Looking for a reason to travel to South Africa then let your taste buds do the deciding for you!

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