South Africa has a very diverse rainfall, allowing many fruits, vegetables and crops to grow throughout the country, all year round. Crops are just one of South Africa’s most important production of food, not only to South Africans, but also the rest of Africa. Of South Africa’s total cultivated area (approximately 10 million hectors), around 36% is planted with maize and 21% has small grains. Oil seeds, sorghum, maize and small grains covers around two thirds of the total arable land.
The most important grain crop for South Africa and the rest of Africa is maize. Maize is a dietary staple for humans, a source of livestock feed and is also used in the production of other foods. Maize is the largest locally produced field crop and is a great source of carbohydrates to both humans and animals. South Africans produce around 8 million metric tons of mealies per year (depending on the rainfall), consumes around 7.5 million metric tons and exports the surplus to countries like Lesotho and Swaziland. More than 600 million metric tons of maize is produced per year world-wide (varies every year).
Maelies are cold-intolerant and therefor need to be planted during the spring season. Its root system is generally shallow, so the plant depends on soil moisture. Maelies are planted during the month of November in South Africa and harvested around March. Because maize is most sensitive to drought, you never know how the crop will do until you see how much it rains. The rains in the summer rainfall area only start around December, so it is difficult to predict if it will rain. Maize is planted before this time, so you have to hope and pray it rains. More than 50% of water in South Africa is used for agricultural purposes.
Grain is the second most important crop and produced in the winter rainfall areas of Western Cape and summer rainfall areas of the North West, Northern Province and the Free State. Free State is currently the highest producer of grain but there are annual fluctuations. Western Cape is the most stable production area due to the more dependable rainfall. It is usually grown during the frost-free season.
Sorghum is another very important grain for South Africa and is cultivated in the drier parts of the summer rainfall areas of Free State as well as in the North-West with yields often exceeding 200 000 tons. Sorghum is slender with leafy stems and grows up to 3 meters high on a variety of soils in areas with around 600 mm of rain per year. It is drought and heat tolerant and cultivated primarily for hay. An average temperature of around 25°C produces maximum grain yields in a given year.
Sorghum is native to Southern Africa and has been used since prehistoric times for food as well as brewing purposes. This is also used in packaging materials for sensitive equipment and is made into excellent wall boards for house building.
Lucerne seed is also very important and is mainly produced in Oudtshoorn, De Rust and Douglas. Oudtshoorn alone is responsible for around 90% of the lucerne seed produced in South Africa today. Around 100 to 120 lucerne bales per hectare can be produced every three weeks, as long as enough water is available. Make sure lucerne is planted during the rainfall season.South Africa produces a large variety of crops, fruit and vegetables and is able to provide in their people’s needs, with enough remaining to export high quality produce to the international market.
The food from South Africa is as diverse as the people that live there, influenced by many countries and cultures over the centuries. They have been able to combine all the great ingredients introduced to the country and making it their one, UNIQUE. Nothing tastes as great as South African food! Maybe I am just bias, but why not try it and judge for yourself.
One big influence on the choice of food must be the two bordering oceans, the Atlantic and Indian. Seafood plays a very important role in any diet and can be enjoyed in a great variety of ways. Shell fish, rock lobster, crayfish, salt cod, kingklip and snoek (a pickled fish) are only a few of the great dishes enjoyed very often. They can be served with onions, lemon butter, chili peppers or a great curry. The crayfish are best served braised with onions and chilies and snoek must be barbecued.
If you are looking for variety, you won’t be disappointed!South African cuisine caters for all and no matter what you prefer, you will find something on the menu to suit your taste. The food is both elegant and glows with simplicity. If you are looking for a main course and you are not a seafood lover, don’t worry. Look at the following choices and see what you like the look of.
On the top of the menu is the great Afrikaner “hoenderpastei“, or chicken pie, inspired by the British pastries, but totally different and unique. This is a pastry pot, filled with chicken, sauce, bacon, green pepper and other “secret” ingredients with a pastry top, baked until light brown and crispy in a medium hot oven.
If you are looking for lamb or beef, try the great bobotie from the Boere. This is a great dish, inspired by spices from the Malay slaves with onions, raisins and topped with a custard, comprising of egg and milk. This is usually served with yellow rice, banana, blatjang and coconut. Make sure to include a great vegetable side dish.
Maybe the warm sunshine is too inviting and you are looking to spend your days outside! If you are, you should definitely try a potjiekos, also a Boer dish. Throwing all the ingredients in a cast iron pot, letting the vegetables cook in the meat’s sauces for many, many hours. You can bake a “potbrood” (a lovely bread) at the same time, by placing the dough in another cast iron pot over the coals.
If the potjiekos is not for you, then why not try a braai (barbecue). Put some “boerewors” (a great seasoned sausage made from beef), steak, sosaties (marinated meat on skewers) and braaidroodjies (toasted sandwiches) on the fire outside in your backyard. This is the way to live! Serve with potato salad and away you go.
Frikkadelle, basically small beef patties, are greatly seasoned and taste magnificent, being served with salads and vegetables. If you are looking for very warm and comfort food, try a bredie. The most popular is a tomato or water lily bredie or stew. This is an all in one stew comprising of vegetables and mutton, with the juices from both, flavouring each other.
Bunny chow (curry stuffed in a hollow out loaf of bread) and curries have become very popular because of the Indian influence and you can buy sweet, mild or hot curries, mostly serve with atjar (pickles) and blatjang. Blatjang is chutney, and served with EVERYTHING. All you have to do is cook local fruits with garlic, chilly peppers and onions to mention just a few ingredients.
Local vegetables and fruit play a very important role in the daily diet. Tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, mealies, green beans, sweet potatoes, spinach and pumpkin are the most loved by everyone. Sweet potato and pampoenkoekies (little pumpkin cookies, or fritters) are greatly loved dishes, served with cinnamon sugar or a sweet syrup. After your great main course, you have to enjoy desserts, snacks and drinks, but that will be discussed in the next article.
To be a guest in a South African home is a great experience. They pride themselves on hospitality, making sure you are well fed, making you feel at home at all times and creating an everlasting experience you will never, ever forget.
The highlight of South African living is the breakfast, desserts, snacks and drinks. Easy to please anyone. Breakfast varies between “mieliepap” and “beskuit”. “Mieliepap” is the same consistency as polenta and served with a teaspoon of sugar, butter and milk. A great creamy and healthy breakfast to see you through the morning hours. “Beskuit” is rusks, dough baked in the oven, broken apart and then places back in the oven to dry out. The perfect breakfast, specially for those living on farms, is home made rusks, dunked into your morning coffee. If you are more of a tea lover, try the great local herbal tea called “rooibos”
During the morning you can chew on some “biltong” which is salty dried meat or “droëwors”, which is dried sausage. You can not watch any rugby or cricket match without this salty snack. By now it is time for more coffee served with banana, ginger of mealie bread, smeared with butter. Mealie bread is a sweet bread, baked with sweet corn. You will probably wonder why we have such an obsession with mealies? Well, mealies basically are Africa’s staple food. We use it to make breakfast, bread, crisps (or chips) and many more.
After you finish this, it is time for your main meal of the day. And then the BEST course arrives, the dessert. Most puddings are baked pies served with custard and ice cream or a special sauce. Malva pudding is one of the old time favourites, a great, sweet tasting spongy apricot dessert with a lovely sweet sauce. Cottage pudding is a type of cake pudding served with a special white wine sauce.
If you prefer a colder dessert, this is the place to be. Enjoy a fresh fruit salad with ice cream, made from local seasonal fruit. The most famous fruits are grapes, apples, naartjies (a type of tangerine), peaches, apricots, mangoes, melons and many more. There is nothing more refreshing than a fresh fruit salad. If you like ice cream, there are special treats in store for you as well. Try the watermelon or papaya flavoured ice cream in a cone or on its own.
As a special treat, why not try a Dom Pedro? This is ice cream with a little drop of milk and a shot of your favourite whiskey of liqueur. Try Amarula liqueur, made from the potent marula fruit or van der Hum liqueur, made from fresh naartjies. This is a treat you should not pass on.
Later the afternoon you can enjoy some “koeksisters”, a very sweet delicacy. Afrikaans “koeksisters” are twisted pastries, deep fried and then sweetened with a very sweet sauce. Another favourite of mine is “ystervarkies”, a sponge cake, dunked in a home made chocolate sauce, rolled in coconut! Doesn’t that just sound magnificent?
If you prefer something less sweet, try the “melktert” (milk tart). This is a milk-based tart, absolutely gorgeous if you eat it warm, just as it is made. If you want something savoury, try the “souttert” (savoury tart) consisting mostly of vienna sausages, cheese, onions, herbs and egg.
For the evening you can enjoy one the best known foods, “vetkoek”. This is a treat. You can enjoy “vetkoek” in three ways. Dunk it in your tea, butter with syrup and cheese or stuffed with curry mince. No matter which one you choose, you will not be disappointed. If you are looking for something smaller, try the“plaatkoekies” (almost like crumpets) served with marmite or syrup or maybe try some pancakes with cinnamon sugar?
During the day you will never go thirsty. If you like warm drinks, there are the many varieties of strong coffees, regular tea, “rooibos” tea, hot chocolate and my favourite, milo. This is a great drink filled with vitamins and minerals, made with warm or cold milk. If you prefer cold drinks, try the various ice teas and fruit juices. Guava, orange, grinadella, fruit cocktail, grape, peach, pear, apple, apricot and mango are only a few choices you have in fruit juices. Guava and mango must be two of the most loved choices.
If you are looking for a bottle of wine to accompany you meals, there are hundreds of local Cape wines to choose from. You will be spoilt for choice. Make sure you try as much as you can and enjoy the hospitality while you are visiting the rainbow country, South Africa.
These are only a few of the great traditional South African recipes you can try. You will need a long time to try them all. Enjoy!