“Rainbow Cuisine”: Food in South Africa

by isvolunteers on Friday, 12 April 2013

Students enjoying a traditional Xhosa meal at Mama Tofo on the Township to Village project on the Wild Coast © used with permission by Chad Allen, ISV Thailand Country Coordinator

“Rainbow Cuisine” defines the food style in South Africa. It is a term that reflects the cultural depth, creative spectrum, and spiritual unity of a diverse people. With 50 million inhabitants speaking 11 different languages, the country offers a fascinating potpourri of fresh, delectable, eclectic fare.

Food is generally quick and simple in Southern Africa.  Many Southern Africans tend to eat continental breakfast (cereal and toast), with light lunches and very social dinners.

Get ready for a meat-heavy diet; vegetarians should be prepared that a normal diet in South Africa is very heavily orientated around meat products.  For vegetables, a staple is maize (corn). The country grows virtually everything it needs. The Western Cape is renowned for its wines and cheeses and Cape Town has a selection of restaurants that can cater to just about everyone, from ethnic cuisine to fast food chain restaurants such as the South African created Nando’s Chicken.  Seafood and meat are major features of Western Cape cuisine and there are usually one or two local dishes on the menu at any restaurant. There are several places where you can try something out of the ordinary and partake in Springbok or Ostrich among other delicacies, or for the brave you could try “smilies” (bbq sheep’s head) or smoked mopane worms.

Swaziland enjoys cuisine very similar to South Africa, however in Mozambique (see ISV’s May to September program) things spice up a bit more with the Arab and Portuguese influence on the menu.  You can try everything from spicy chicken and rice through to fresh tropical fruits and fresh seafood.

Students on the WTSA Masebe conservation project enjoying their lunch (sandwiches) on a rock overlooking the reserve © used with permission by Shona Hore, ISV South Africa Country Coordinator

The Indians introduced their curries. The Afrikaaners have their succulent potjies (meat based stews), or the African tribal staple of pap (porridge of maize with tomato and onion sauce), and braais of grilled seafood and meat. The Dutch contributed their fried cruller, koek sister, and milk pies. These classic ethnic dishes are often intertwined in a continental-style menu.

Meals on your Volunteer Project:  While three meals per day will be provided on your Project, you may be asked to help in the preparation of these meals.  Sandwiches make up the majority of lunches while you are on project.  This is simply because it is the easiest food to prepare and transport for lunch when you are working hard out in the field.  While sandwiches every day for lunch may feel repetitive they are convenient, delicious and will give you lots of energy to keep you going throughout the day.

Meals on your Adventure Tour: About half of the meals on your Adventure Tour will be provided in restaurants. This will give you the opportunity to eat meals on your own, including some exciting street food options.

A “Braai” is a South African BBQ. These students are cooking dinner for a hungry crew at the WTSA Masebe conservation project © used with permission by Shona Hore, ISV South Africa Country Coordinator

Street food: In South Africa, Boerewors sausage and other braai food are available in the street. In townships, ethnic foods are available. In Mozambique, there is a huge Portuguese influence and you can find street vendors selling Pregos (steak sandwich) and cashews by the bag are sold on the road side. Another popular food is bunny chow. It is a scooped out loaf with curry or atchar inside and with the scooped out bread placed on top. A legend states that Indian golf caddies invented it during apartheid, as they were not allowed to use cutleryBiltong, the South African version of jerky, is a popular food to snack on in South Africa and can be found everywhere from the corner store to gas stations.

Responsible Travel: How does food fit in with responsible travel practices? A) Eat ‘local’ and B) Try and aim for one less serving of meat per week. The UN estimates that meat production accounts for up to one fifth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. When choosing which meats to eat in South Africa, choose seafood and game meat like Kudu or Impala over other meats. Pigs and cattle have much larger ecological footprints and emit huge amounts of methane (a very potent greenhouse gas).

Drinking Water:  You can choose to drink bottled water in Southern Africa but remember the environmental impact of doing so as there are no recycling depots set up here. The tap water is fine to drink in most major areas of Southern Africa, but if in doubt just ask your Project or Tour Leader and they will let you know if it is safe.

To learn more about ISV’s program in South Africa visit our website: www.isvolunteers.org

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