The heart and soul of traditional food culture in Cape Town is perhaps not glaringly obvious on the surface but dig a little deeper and you will be surprised by the culturally rich flavours and history that is the essence of Cape cuisine. It is complex, varied and really delicious in a simple, unpretentious way.
Anyone who’s ever been to Cape Town will tell you it’s amongst the most breathtaking cities in the world – stretches of blue ocean, sunny skies, rows of vineyards and the beguiling vistas of Table Mountain.
Those who visited the Mother City in recent years will also tell you about something else: the food. It is an excellent time to be hungry in Cape Town with an exploding foodie scene.
There are trendy poke-bowl spots, fine-dining tasting menus as long as your arm, boutique wine bars, hipster burger joints, croissant-slinging bakeries, cool hidden gin bars, and menuless tapas eateries. But where do you go to find the traditional food of the Cape? And what is it all about?
To discover the cultural heartbeat of the city’s food requires some snuffing out and exploration of the surrounding region because Cape Town has an unique multi-cultural heritage from Dutch to French to British, Malaysian and indigenous cultures.
The essence of local cuisine can be elusive as there are few dishes that stand alone as customary. Flavours, traditions and cooking techniques were borrowed, cross-pollinated and merged to form a diverse, intriguing palate.
So here it is: 30 dishes that all visitors – and residents – should eat in Cape Town to get a taste of the vibrant cuisine inspired by the region’s cultural diversity. Tip – you are venturing off the beaten track for this one (read no trendy hotspots).
Bobotie (pronounced ba-bo-tea)
Back in the 17thcentury, the Dutch established a mega vegetable garden on the foothills of Table Mountain, now known as the Company Gardens, a popular resting spot in the Cape Town inner city. The birth of the garden can be traced back to the unfortunate shipwrecking of the ‘Haarlem’ that was driven ashore at Bloubergstrand.
The washed up crew set out exploring and erected camp next to the first stream of fresh water they could find (not-so-ingeniously named the Fresh River), sowed some vegetable seeds they salvaged from the shipwreck and were soon able to reap crops. Once rescued and back in The Netherlands two of the survivors submitted a report to the Directors of the Dutch East India Company stressing the advantages which could be had from a refreshment station in the Cape.
Jan van Riebeeck was appointed commander of the expedition, arrived in 1652 and this was how the Dutch literally started growing their presence in the Southern tip of Africa. And this was also how the seeds were planted for the development of many of the Cape’s most iconic dishes, such as the bobotie. Dutch traders made pit-stops in Cape Town on their journeys back and forth to Indonesia bringing spices, the Malay people, their cooking techniques and delicious recipes with them.
The first recipe for bobotie appeared in a Dutch cookbook in 1609. History buffs argue whether the origin of this dish is the Malayan word ‘boemboe’ (meaning curry spices) or ‘bobotok’, an Indonesian dish which consisted of totally different ingredients. But there is no arguing over the deliciousness and popularity of this traditional Cape-Malay staple.
The dish comprises gently spiced minced lamb or beef topped with a savoury custard and browned in the oven until the egg layer is set. At our family table we serve it with ‘geelrys’ (rice cooked in tumeric giving it a golden glow) speckled with raisins and some chutney and yogurt on the side but you will find many opinions on how this dish should best be enjoyed!
WHERE: Go traditional with The Bo-Kaap Kombuis, the Gold Restaurant or Jonkershuis Restaurant on the historic Groot Constantia Wine Farm. You can get a different take on bototie at Oumeul Bakery bottom end of Longstreet where you can tuck into a bototie pie and yes, it is as good as it sounds! Or try an updated version of the classic dish at Skotnes Restaurant situated at the Norval Foundation Art Museum.
A pillar of Cape Malay cuisine, samoosas is ingrained in Cape Town food culture. These spicy pockets of light, crispy pastry is filled with beef, chicken or vegetable mixed with onion, spices and coriander and just the perfect snack on the go at only a couple of rand.
WHERE: There are no shortage of samoosa vendors throughout Cape Town but if you are after the ideal setting as well as great samoosas it is hard to beat Biesmiellah’s in the Bo-Kaap. Tucked away amongst the rows of colourful houses this halaal restaurant and takeaway has been in business for 42 years. The samoosas here are crisp, light and with just the right amount of heat. Khurshids Samoosas in Landsdowne will also keep you coming back for more.
Not to be confused with the koeksister, the koesister is a delicious Cape Malay creation infused with the delicate notes of cardamom, cinnamon and dried ginger. This little ball of flavour is made with a light and fluffy yeasted dough that is fried in oil and then dunked in syrup before covered in a dusting of coconut.
WHERE: Discover the freshest koesisters at one of the many stalls on Rose Street or Wale Street in the Bo-Kaap. You will also find them at Mariam’s Kitchen (101 St Georges Mall), The Golden Dish, The Bo-Kaap Kombuis, South Coast Café, Biesmiellah and many other local hangouts.
Snoekbraai (Barbequed Snoek)
Everyone knows South Africans love to cook on the open fire, if there is anything we are known for it is a good old braai (BBQ). So what is a typical Capetonian braai? A snoek braai of course! Snoek is a flavourful species of mackerel that is plentiful in the lower midwaters of the cold surrounding Cape ocean.
It is an ingredient that pops up in many local dishes such as smoorsnoek, snoek paté and battered fish and chips but the most traditional way to serve it is grilled over the coals and basted with a sweet-and-sour sauce made with a mixture of melted butter, apricot jam, lemon juice and chopped garlic.
Most traditionally it is served with a side of wurgpatat, directly translated as ‘stangle sweet potato’ (sounds delicious and not at all hazardous, right?). The name refers to the tendency of sweet potato to be dry and a bit hard to swallow without the right lubricants. Wurgpatat is baked skin on in the oven, or directly in the coals and then slathered with butter and moskonfyt (a syrup made with grape must).
This combination is so ingrained in Cape culture that there is even a yearly Snoek en Patatfees (snoek and sweet potato festival) at Goedgedacht, near Piketberg just off the West Coast, an area well-known for sweet potato farming.
Our family enjoys braaied snoek with roosterkoek (see more about this morish bread below) and korrel konfyt (grape jam) and a bit of greens on the side (if we absolutely must!).
WHERE: Unless you are going to make it to the Snoek en Patatfees you will have to DIY this one. Your first choice should be buying it fresh off the fishing trailors in any of the working harbours such as Kalk Bay, Hout Bay or Granger Bay. You can also find it at Texies near the Grand Parade, and in season also at many of the local supermarkets (but that should be your last port of call). Or you can make your way up the West Coast to Lientjies Klip near Langbaan to the veldkombuis (kitchen in the field) of The Strandloper Restaurant where they do it all for you and you can enjoy many local seafood favourites including braaied snoek. Here you can take a breath of fresh West Coast sea air, dig your toes in the sand and get ready to eat your heart out.
This half-tart-half-biscuit has a loaded backstory interlinked with local history and is testament to broken promises and a bright sense of humor. This little hand tart was invented when JBM Hertzog (RSA prime minister from 1924 – 1939) was running for prime minister. His campaign hinged on two undertakings: give women the vote and give the Cape Malay people the same rights as white people.
Excited about this great news the Malay community invented this little tart – a shortcrust casing filled with apricot jam and topped with coconut. They christened it a Hertzoggie in honour of General Hertzog. In a downturn Hertzog fulfilled only one promise – voting rights for women but never ensured equality of the Cape Malay people. The Malay community was upset so they took that very same Hertzoggie and gave it a new name: Twee-gevreetjie (little two-face).
WHERE: Most bakeries and deli’s.
Roosterkoek (grilled bread – pronounced ‘roo-stir-cook’ – come-on, get right in there rolling those r’s)
Every South African probably have a story of how their grandmother taught them the art of making this delightful bread which is cooked on the open fire. I know I certainly do. Standing at the heart of this tradition is the indigenous Khoikhoin cuisine of open fire cooking, potjies and ash baking.
In fact another version of roosterkoek is ‘askoek’ (ash cake) which is, yes you guessed it, not cooked over the coals but actually in it! Other versions of cooking bread over fire include ‘potbrood’ which is cooked in a flat bottomed pot and ‘stokbrood’ (stick bread) which is bread twilled around a stick before cooking over the fire.
Every amazing roosterkoek, of course, starts with great bread dough. Over the years the realisation set in that you could cut preparation time by buying ready-prepared dough in an inflated plastic bag from the local bakery (Mom, how could you!!) Growing up I have memories (nightmares) of this ball of dough sitting in the fridge and risen beyond any scale of your imagination, a fridge take-over in the making.
Once leavened, the dough is shaped into slightly flattened balls before the final rise and then cooked on a grid over the open coals, which adds a toasty deliciousness and crunchy crust around the fluffy soft inside. Freakin’ delicious! Frankly, the stuff that dreams are made of!
WHERE: Your quickest route to finding a roosterkoek is copping an invite to a local braai, or if you are lucky, there is a bazaar at the church. Failing which you might need to venture out a bit up the West Coast to R27 Roosterkoek on the R27 West Coast Road near Yzerfontein, or of The Strandloper Restaurant near Langebaan, or even (much) further afield to Rolandale Farmstall near Swellendam.
Korrelkonfyt (grape jam)
Inspired by the abundance of grapes from the surrounding scenic winelands korrelkonfyt it is a delicious jam typically made with sultana grapes, a sweet late-summer variety. It is a dream on hot buttered roosterkoek, or simply with a wedge of strong cheese. Another beloved local jam inspired by the grape is moskonfyt (grape must jam).
Grape must is the mixture of pressed grape juice, skins, seeds and pulp left to fermentate – step 101 of winemaking of course. This mixture is strained and the juice reduced down until it has the consistency of light syrup. Moskonfyt is enjoyed simply as a jam or in local dishes such as smoorsnoek (a Cape Malay smoked snoek dish) or drizzled over sweet potatoes.
The sweet-sour quality of this syrup is also inspiring young chefs and mixologist who are working it into creative drinks and other creations such as the Frozen van der Hum & Moskonfyt Bombe by Backsberg Restaurant.
WHERE: Most farm stalls in the Cape region sell homemade versions of korrelkonfyt or moskonfyt such as La Motte Farm Shop on La Motte Wine Estate near Franschoek.
Bokkoms, the dried mullet fish from the Cape Westcoast, also know as harders, are a bit of an acquired taste, polarizing as you might say. Salty and fishy with a powerful smell and the flavour of sun and sea in spades, this is the fish equivalent of biltong.
It is intensely nutritious and excellent at replacing various salts after physical excursion. Fishermen who catch harders use small boats and gill nets. The little fish is airdried in bundles, strung up with twine through the eye sockets.
They are also used to make roll-mops (rolled pickled fish), or if you are lucky enough to buy harders fresh they are a real treat on the braai. To sample the delights of bokkoms in all its glory add it to fish soups, or use it in dishes in the same way as you would use anchovies – you might just fall in love with this pugnent little fish.
WHERE: Some fisheries in Cape Town stock this dried little swimmer, but for a real authentic taste of bokkoms you have to travel up the West Coast to the coastal town of Velddrift, a town synonymous with this fishy dried delicacy. Bokkom Laan is the heart of the industry. They say this is where 90% of bokkom production in the Cape comes from. The lane, on the banks of the Berg River, is peppered with small buildings with neatly scripted signs, Beste Bokkoms! (best bokkoms), on the doors. Further up the lane you can sometimes eat fresh harders at Die Vishuis, served lightly floured and then panfried with lemon and dill. Whilst you are in town, you may as well pop in at the Cerebos Salt Factory, there’s a free tour every Thursday.
Melktert translates to milk tart and is a favourite treat, probably as ingrained in Cape Town’s food culture as snoek and samosas. Every home industry, school cake sale, church fête, or funeral will always have milk tart somewhere in the mix.
The recipe originates from the Dutch settlers who rooted in the Cape to create a halfway stop for hungry travellers on the spice route. So, no surprise then that some of those spices sneaked into this iconic tart.
Family recipes go back yonks but basically, this tart consists of a crust filled with a creamy filling of eggs, flour, milk, sugar and cinnamon. The original version has a crust of buttery flaky pastry with the cinnamon-infused custard baked in the crust.
More recent versions are a bit more like a fridge tart with a shortcrust pastry filled with the custard and sprinkled with cinnamon, then set in the fridge. Both versions have merit, but the original is less sweet and has more complexity of flavour with a pleasant contrast of sweet, savoury and spicy and can be served both warmed or at room temperature. The clear winner in my opinion.
WHERE: Jonkershuis always have their delicious, silky milktart with a shortcrust pastry on the dessert menu. Traditional baked milktarts with a flaky pastry crust are best found at a home industry bakeshop, school cake sale, or church fête where granny’s baked goods shine.
Fish and Chips
Serendipitously hugged by two oceans plus the long British colonial rule has resulted in an enthusiastic love of fish and chips in Cape Town. You will find the full spectrum of this crowd-pleaser – from hole-in-a-wall eateries and food trucks to high-end versions at top restaurants.
Many of the trusted original fish and chips shops are situated near the working harbours and to this day remain great choices to find the perfect seaside meal. The best way to enjoy fish and chips in Cape Town is to head to the nearest beach with toes in the sand, or feet dangling in the ocean over the pier.
WHERE: If you want to enjoy your fish and chips with the salty sea breeze on your lips, head over to the likes of Kalky’s in Kalk Bay and Snoekies in Hout Bay for deep-fried hake or snoek with chips. Fish on the Rocks is another iconic fish and chips shop situated just meters from the harbour in Hout Bay. Fish Hoek Fisheries almost always has a queue outside and Lucky Fish & Chips in Cape Town is now conveniently in three locations across town. Mano’s Restaurant in Greenpoint might not have a rep for seafood but the quality of their unassuming fare is consistently good and their beer-battered fish and chips, as good as it gets. If you want to take it up a notch Willoughby & Co at the V&A Waterfront is for sure one of the best spots for great seafood in Cape Town. Known for their incredibly fresh sushi, mussel pot, and prawn curry you will also find a mean beer-battered fish and chips on the menu.
Don’t be alarmed, no actual bunnies are involved in preparing this dish! It was first conceived in Durban but the love of this dish has made its way down the South African east coast to the Mother City. So, what is it exactly, I hear you ask?
This is South Africa’s answer to the traditional Asian tiffin tin. A packaged lunch, except no tins involved, this fragrant curry is travelling in a hollowed-out loaf of ‘government’ white bread, no less! Not a pretty sight I know, but filling, hearty and delicious.
WHERE: In Hout Bay you will find a pretty decent Bunny Chow at Taj Mahal Restaurant, whilst in the city center Eastern Food Bazaar makes some great value options. Other budget-friendly versions can be found at Sunrise Chip ‘n Ranch in the Southern Suburbs, or the popular takeout spot Yeh Dosti in Milnerton. The inner-city Indian restaurant Vandiar’s Indian Cuisine will have you sampling a traditional Durban curry with their lamb bunny chow and is definitely worth a visit. If you are after slightly more refined versions, you can opt for The Haas Collective (it’s in the name, ‘Haas’ is rabbit in Afrikaans!), or Sandoo in Seapoint where chef Seelan Sundoo creates some serious magic with his South Indian style curries.
Gatsby (aka sandwich on steroids)
According to legend this budget-friendly, super delicious, jam-packed bun was invented by Rashaad Pandy, somewhere in the Cape Flats in 1979 when he combined what he had on hand and packaged it all together in a roll to feed hungry workers. It was a hit.
Today you find variations of this original hunger buster in many take-away spots in Cape Town, with heated debate raging amongst locals on which version is best. The original mega sandwich included polony, atchar and ‘slapchips’ (local slang for fries) but these days you will find wildly different combinations from seafood, to steak, to goulash, to lamb curry – but always, always with chips.
If you want to tackle this beast, follow these few simple rules:
- Work up an appetite (clubbing, or some heavy lifting)
- Be prepared to share
- Watch out for stealthy chip thieves
- Don’t wear sleeves (it’s going to get messy)
- Have a Cabana Juice on hand, heck, you may as well make it a 2 liter.
WHERE: There is no shortage of gatsby-creators in the Mother City but don’t expect a fine-dining vibe. It is all about getting out there in the street where the magic happens and tucking in big time! Remember you can’t say that you have visited Cape Town if you’ve never tried a gatsby! You can chow your way through the following list (if you dare!) in search of your ultimate favourite: Super Fisheries (63 Old Klipfontien Rd) and The Golden Dish (both Athlone), Pacific Roadhouse (Vanguard Drive, Mitchells Plain), Pinto’s Takeaway (Montague Drive, Montague Gardens), Mariam’s Kitchen (31 Heerengracht in the Foreshore and 101 St George’s Mall) and finally Aneesa’s Takeaways and Cosy Corner (both Wynberg). Oh, and if you are vegan there are no excuses – Lekker Vegan has your back on this one.
Cape Brandy tart (tipsy tert!)
South Africans love their brandy. Fact. Not the swanky sip-after-dinner, aged cognac kind of tipple (although sometimes….). Mostly it is about the regular kind such as Klipdrift (fondly known as Klippies) that you don’t have to guilt-trip over mixing in with things like coke (gasp!), or use to lace puddings and sauces.
Not that there is anything wrong with RSA brandies, in fact, there are gold medals galore bestrown on Oude Meester, KWV, and yes, even Klipdrift. My grandmother was not much of a drinker but she had a bottle of KWV tucked away on her top shelf and swore by a tot, or three, for ailments ranging from stomach ache to coughing. It must have worked because she lived to the ripe old age of 100.
The other occasion that brought out the brandy was when she made her famous Cape Brandy Tart, or in her words, Tipsy Tert. It is right there in the name, a beautiful baked nutty-date pudding swimming in a butter-brandy sauce with enough KWV to (almost) sink a ship. This sticky delight is an old-school Cape bastion of deliciousness.
WHERE: Venture out to the winelands student town of Stellenbosch to Oudewerf where classics such as Cape Brandy Tart, melktert and Malva pudding abound. Jonkershuis also have Tipsy Tart in their repertoire but check in with them before you venture out as menus are updated from time to time.
Braaivleis (BBQ over the open fire)
Oh, the braai! South Africa’s love of scorching a bit of meat over glowing coals is a miraculous thing that surpasses all cultural boundaries and a golden thread that unites the rainbow nation, giving credit to a bit of common ground.
South Africa has 11 official languages and braai is a recognized word in every single one. There’s even a Public Holiday (Heritage Day, or Braaidag) dedicated to this pastime, which stands testament to just how deep this passion runs!
Weird as it sounds declaring a National Holiday around a form of cooking, it is not as odd as it may seem once you get a grip on local culture. Many South Africans already braaied on September 24th anyway (and most other weekends throughout the year).
If you come to Cape Town to eat, it goes without saying, you must braai. To understand what a braai is, you have to comprehend that it is both cuisine and a pastime. You can throw a braai and braai ‘n chop. It is at once a way of cooking and also a social gathering.
To braai is to gather with friends and grill meat, often over wood, sometimes over charcoal, in a drombraai (made from a half-drum), Weber, or simply on a grid over thornbush. It is about connecting socially around the open flames, sipping beer, and reminiscing life.
Lamb is popular, in the Cape specifically Karoo lamb, or kerriesosaties – skewers of lamb and onions marinated in a Cape Malay curry and interlaced with dried apricots (yum!). So is fish of course, with delicious local varieties such as snoek and geelstert (yellowtail). Another favourite is chicken piri-piri – a remnant of Portuguese colonialism integrated into South African culture. There are steaks of all cuts and lots of boerewors – a famous local spicy sausage (more about this below).
Then, there are side dishes reliant on abundant corn, and last but not least, the ingenious variation of the grilled cheese, braaibroodjie. Oh and not too forget, a braai in the Cape goes hand in hand with a succession of wines to wash it all down, as leaving guests thirsty is a cardinal sin if you want to throw a hell-of-a-braai.
WHERE: To truly experience the nation’s braai habit you must go behind the houses, into the backyards of the people who live there (hint – you will need an invitation). Don’t worry though, there are more ways to experience an authentic braai.
You can join the Wineflies on a full day off the beaten track wine route that culminates in an authentic South African braai
In the center of Cape Town, there is the admittedly trendy spot The Village Idiot with a menu focused on sharing local braai culture. Another option perfect for the young at heart is Amadoda Braai and Restaurant in Strand Street Woodstock
In Gugulethu, one of Cape Town’s vast townships, Mzoli’s Place (Ny 115, Guguletu, Cape Town) offers tourists and locals a kind of daily braai ‘festival’, with loud music, dancing to Kwaito and other local music, big grills and copious amounts of beer. Running on a self-service policy of Shisa nyama (a Zulu slang expression for ‘buy and braai’), the meat is individually selected from Mzoli’s on-site butchery, dipped in a heavenly secret marinade, and then sizzled to perfection on an open fire grill.
You can also learn to master the art of the braai with a masterclass by chef Tjaart where you’re guaranteed to make some local friends (think about that invite into a backyard for a braai you’re after – just saying!). This Weber braai experience takes place in the gorgeous surroundings of the Lagoon Beach Hotel – a four-star setting overlooking the ocean, with Table Mountain as a backdrop. Here, guests get to experience a hands-on cooking experience, create a gourmet extravaganza on the Weber, and enjoy a delicious, informal braai feast with like-minded foodies – all in the space of one evening. Sjoe!
Braaibroodjies (the South African national grilled cheese)
You won’t find a more authentic braai dish than this. Braaibroodjie translates to ‘barbecue bread’, an English word that does nothing to capture it in all its open fire, melted cheese, toasted glory.
Most locals will have their own ‘perfect’ version of this beloved toastie but as a general rule, a braaibroodjie in the Cape is slices stacked with cheddar, tomato, onions, and chutney before toasting it over glowing coals. The chutney is key: Mrs. Balls. This iconic local brand is made from dried fruits and vinegar, but any sweet and sour chutney will do (or will it?).
WHERE: Middlevlei Braai experiencPods Shortcodee
Boerewors, or ‘farmer sausage’ is a bit like Cape Town itself: chock-full of heritage and very delicious. A fondness of sausagemaking left over from French and Portugues seafarers is part and parcel of the heritage of the boerewors. Made with beef (usually mixed with pork, or lamb) and seasoned with typical spices from the spice route that was shipped via the Cape, such as coriander, cumin, and nutmeg.
Juicy boerewors is a staple at braais and a typical accompaniment to traditional pap en sous (maize porridge and chunky tomato sauce). And no rugby match is complete without a boerewors roll, or boerie, as it is fondly known: a piece of boerewors stuffed into a soft hotdog roll with fried onion and lashings of sauce.
WHERE: Good quality options can be purchased from Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants, The Butcherman, Gardens Continental Butchery and Deli, Blackforest Butchery, and Joey’s Vleisprodukte, or order from the Doorbell Deli online, they bring the best Karoo wors, meat, and cheese to your door.
Pap en sous (porridge and sauce)
Corn is a staple food in South Africa and makes a starring appearance in many local dishes. Made with coarse ground maize cooked in water, pap is a favourite for all South Africans. It is either cooked to a smooth, loose consistency, or more dry, known as krummelpap (crumbly porridge).
Pap is served as a breakfast food with milk, or as a savoury dish, with a side of chunky tomato-and-onion sauce or chakalaka, a popular spicy chunky fruity salsa. Or, even a meaty stew.
WHERE: This is best made in home kitchens but if you are out on the prowl places like the Gold Restaurant and The Village Idiot will ensure that you have a taste of how the locals like to eat pap.
The rainy winter weather of the Cape and a penchant for not wasting any part of the animal have inspired the love of slow cooking with stews made with local ingredients such as lamb and waterblommetjies (an edible flower found in dams and marshes), Tamatiebredie (lamb and tomato stew) infused with spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, or Denning Vleis a traditional Cape Malay dish, a sweet-and-sour slow-cooked stew flavoured with spices and tamarind.
WHERE: It’s on the menu, amongst many other traditional items, at Bo-Kaap Kombuis in Cape Town.
Easily one of the most recognized South African desserts, this baked pudding is all about the sauce. An old-school white sponge made with ingredients such as apricot jam and bicarb is drenched in a hot mixture of sugar, cream, and butter as soon as it comes out of the oven. The end result is rich and moist, best accompanied by vanilla ice cream, custard, or cream (if you’re brave).
If you’d like to learn to make your own classic South African deserts, you can check out our favourite recipes here.
WHERE: Jonkershuis Restaurant on the historic Groot Constantia Wine Farm makes a super delicious Malva. You will also find this classic at the Hussar Grill Mouille Point if you don’t want to travel out of the city bowl.
Koeksisters are made by frying plaited dough and then submerging it into ice-cold spiced syrup, creating a golden hard exterior with a soft syrup-laden interior. The earliest version of the recipe is believed to come from the Dutch colonists and was inspired by an old Dutch doughnut recipe.
WHERE: We all know that the best koeksister comes from the kerkbasaar (church fête), or a padstal (farmstall), but if those are not within your reach, here are some stellar substitutes – just please don’t buy koeksisters at the supermarket.
You have to venture a bit out of the Cape Town city center to get hold of Arno Arpin’s koeksisters but he has been producing them homemade for several years and is widely regarded as amongst the best in the city.
You will find the Arpin Koeksister food truck next to the N1 City supermarket but best to phone ahead of time (+27215921819) as it is an informal stall. Ouma Rooi Bakery was crowned the Huletts Koeksister Champion of 2014 declaring her koeksisters the best in the country, check her website to find the nearest outlet that sells her goodies.
At the Company’s Garden, they serve a gourmet koeksister with fig preserve that is veering away a bit from the traditional but given the luscious historic location, it is worth a try.
Biltong and droëwors
Expect to see biltong and droëwors wherever you go in Cape Town. These super popular snacks of dried meat were originally created by the Dutch settlers as a way to preserve meat.
The name biltong comes from the Dutch word bil for rump or hindquarters, and tong (tongue) describes the shape of the strips it is cut into. The meat is cured in a brine of vinegar and a bit of sugar before spiced with coriander, salt, pepper and then dried.
Beef biltong is usually consumed a little wetter, whilst game meat such as kudu and springbok as well as volstruis, are left to dry out completely. Biltong is also grated to a fine powder (fynbiltong) which makes a favourite topping for sandwiches and scones (don’t be shy with the butter). Droëwors (dried sausage) is simply boerewors stuffed into a thinner casing, then airdried. It can be consumed semi-dried, or completely dry, snapping like a stick when bent. No rugby match, snack platter, picnic, or lunch box are complete without these umami-rich savoury snacks, that’s for sure.
WHERE: Everywhere. No, really! Good quality options can be purchased from Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants and J&M Biltong shops. For something different, try the halloumi steak topped with green olive relish, Cape Gooseberries, and crisp shaved biltong at Babel Restaurant, on Babylonstoren Wine Farm.
Lamsboud (Roast leg of lamb)
Leg of lamb, stuffed with garlic and rubbed with spices, then roasted slowly until it falls off the bone, is what many special occasion celebrations such as Sunday lunch, birthdays, or even Christmas are all about.
In the Cape, Karoo lamb is the champagne of sheep. These sheep have roamed freely in the scrubland of the Karoo. When you travel to the Karoo the first thing you’ll notice is the smell of the intense, herbaceous bushes that grow there. Wild mint, wild rosemary and other plants with Afrikaans nicknames such as skaapbossie and silverkaroo – this unique vegetation is what the sheep eat and gives it that distinct, delicious flavour.
Lamsboud is traditionally served with golden roast potatoes and vegetables, plus typically at least one sweet side dish, such as soetpatat (sweet potato caramelized in butter and brown sugar), dried stone fruit stewed with cinnamon, or pampoenkoekies (pumpkin fritters).
WHERE: Head out to the countryside for some good old honest traditional cooking. Up the West Coast, you can stop in at Hildas Restaurant on Groote Post Wine farm, near Botrivier. You can also feast on lamsboud at the restaurant on Gabriëlskloof wine farm, and out Stellenbosch way you will be surprised and delighted by the ultra-tasty food of The Table at De Meye (check menu option beforehand, but even if roast lamb is not currently on the menu, this spot is a must-do on your culinary hitlist).
Pampoenkoekies (pumpkin fritters)
This is South African comfort food on steroids and usually served as a side for meat. Pureed pumpkin is mixed into a batter, fried, and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, or bathed in a caramel sauce. Yes, please!
WHERE: You will find the best version of many local classics, including pampoenkoekies, at Eike by Bertus Basson in Stellenbosch.
A tradition passed on from the Dutch settlers, pancake baking on a rainy winter day is very much ingrained in childhood memories of many a Capetonian. Sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, and maybe a few drops of lemon juice if you feel grown up, these delicate treats are more crêpe than American pancake.
WHERE: Any church fête, school fair, or landbouskou (agricultural show). Betty Blue Bistro in Hermanus has you covered with the most delicious pannekoek version. You will find from the traditional (cinnamon sugar), to the quirky (Peppermint Crisp Tart and pannekoek rolled up in one anyone?), to the classic (caramelised apple crumble pancake).
Peppermint Crisp Tart
Admittedly, not a recipe for the gourmet journals but South Africans go mad for this retro icon. Close to a national treasure this lusciously creamy no-bake fridge tart takes only minutes to whip up (read assemble) and is a real crowd-pleaser.
Billowy whipped cream is laced with caramel and then buried between alternate layers of coconut-y Tennis Biscuits and grated peppermint crisp bar. After a few hours in the fridge the biscuits soften up, the cream set and you can tuck in.
First prize is to get one of your South African friends to make this tart for you but if you are still building your RSA social circle you are in luck – this recipe is so hard to botch, even some South African supermarkets have acceptable versions!
WHERE: At The Wild Fig in Mowbray you will find a menu filled with classic comforts, even Peppermint Crisp Tart. The Cape Company Gardens Restaurant also has this tart in the mix but if you want to avoid a sit-down Pick n Pay, Woolworths, or Spar supermarkets will satisfy your craving.
Vetkoek / Amagwinya
Balls of bread dough fried to crispy golden perfection on the outside and fluffy as a pillow on the inside. That is vetkoek. Translated to ‘fat cake’ it is not quite clear whether the fat part refers to the voluptuous shape, or whether it is a referral to the fact that it is cooked in fat, but for sure it is the distant cousin of the Dutch oliebollen.
Living up to its name, it is a meal upon itself filled with curried mince and chutney, or a really satisfying snack on the go filled with apricot jam and grated cheddar.
WHERE: Vuyo’s Vetkoekhuis in 16 Station Road, Mowbray
A milkshake for adults – what’s not to like! Even though this delicious liquid dessert laced with whiskey, Kahlua or Amarula is retro-style personified, it is as popular as ever. You might not see it on every menu but hey, try ordering it and most bars or restaurants will whip one up in no time. Whatever your feelings are on this nostalgic boozy shake, there is no denying that it is inherently South African.
WHERE: Almost any bar or restaurant, but if you need specifics you can’t go wrong with these options. Head over to the Hussar Grill Mouille Point and you should be sweet.
Mogodu/ulusu (curried tripe)
Beautifully flavoured with a masala spice mix, cinnamon, cloves and bay leaves, this beloved tripe stew from the Southern tip of Africa is slow cooked for hours on end until soft. Traditionally served with tinga stiff porridge made from fermented mabele/sorghum.
WHERE: Marco’s African Place offers indigenous African cuisine including tripe prepared the traditional way and live music.
Walkie talkies (deep fried chicken heads and feet)
Ingeniously named this meal has nothing to do with the two-way radio it is christened after. It is chicken head and feet, cleaned to remove the hair and nails and then deep fried and served with a tasty sauce and often also mieliepap.
WHERE: Any food vendor in a South African township, or at the Street Food Festival that usually takes place in Woodstock during September each year.
Now get out there and taste your way through our list to discover your favourite! But remember most important of all, try pairing these dishes with real experiences in authentic surroundings: boerewors rolls at the rugby, fish and chips on the pier in the harbour, samoosas on a walkabout around the Bo-Kaap… and real shisa nyama in the heart of Gugulethu. In these moments, that is where the real flavour of Cape Town can be captured.
Want to delve deeper into the tastes and flavours of the Cape Region? There are many great local recipe books that will have you cooking like a local in no time. Watch out for next week’s post that will review the best of the best recipe books to set you on your way!
Every cuisine lives in the hearts (and stomachs) of its people, so if you are a Capetonian (or South African) who is as passionate about food as we are, please share with us your family favourites and traditions and what you believe is just too quintessential and delicious to leave off this list!
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PHOTO CREDITS: Bokkoms Flickr Uncornered Market | Boerewors Food Lover’s Market | Peppermint Crisp Tart and lamsboud Pick n Pay | Bunny Chow Crookes & Jackson | Milk tart, from The South African Milk Tart Collection, by Callie Maritz and Mari-Louis Guy (Human & Rousseau) | Vetkoek African Bites by Imma | Gatsby Lekker Vegan close-up Tamlyn Martin | Bobotie, Woman holding vetkoek, Koesisters The Great South African Cookbook Styling by Jules Mercer and photography by Toby Murphy | Fish and chips Lucky Fish & Chips | Snoekbraai Justin by Katla / Sarie Magazine also lamsboud | Roosterkoek with appelkoos konfyt Huisgenoot | Malvapudding and Pap en Sous Rhodes Quality |Biltong Biltong Blog | Boerwors in swart pan Taste | Pampoenkoekies from Hartskombuis: Boerekos van die ABO | Samoosas Cook Halaal | Pannekoek, Grape Must, Grape Jam form Cape Winelands Cuisine Cookbook, La Motte