South African Cuisine

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South Africa - Cooking

Overview of South African Cuisine History

South Africans are called the Rainbow Nation for good reasons. The ethnic diversity and multitude of differences in culture (there are eight distinctive official languages), and tradition variety, have put a mark on the diversity of foods and dishes this cuisine has. By the third century, the Bantu people on the eastern casts of South Africa were farmers, growing corn, sweet potatoes, millet and cassava. Then a lot of foreign influences came over the native culinary traditions, and Portuguese, France Huguenots, Dutch and English put a staple on the South African cuisine. French were the ones cultivating vineyards, making South Africa world wide known for the delicious wines. Malay workers influenced this cuisine by adding spices, curry dishes and condiments.

Many dishes cooked and prepared these days in the South African cuisine have common ingredients and roots to those prepared in ancient times, such as Pap, a maize-made dish, or the Boerewors, a type of sausages left by German immigrants. Also, Chakalaka, a Malay/Indian salad is still prepared in these days in the same way it was prepared in the past times. The country has coastline borders making it ideal for abundance of fish and seafood dishes to be available. On the other hand, the temperate climate plus adequate rainfalls makes it a great environment for agriculture and domestic animals to be grown.

Cuisines of South Africa

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Map of South Africa- Click to enlarge

The South African cuisine is very much based on starch food and meat dishes, and has spawned the distinctively South African social gathering, called Braai (BBQ), a tradition held all over the country, no matter the region. However, the diversity in dishes varies from one subculture to another, and you can see differences in preparation methods from one family to another, not only regional differences.

The Eastern parts of the country enjoy spicy stews as the most frequently served dishes, and a lot of seafood meals are also prepared in interesting unique ways.

The southern parts of the country are worldwide known for the vineyards, such as the ones around valleys of Stellenbosch, Franschoek, Paarl and Barrydale, vineyards left as legacy by the French immigrants. South Africa has become a major wine producer, and these regions also prepare tangerine liquor, called Van Der Hum. Seafood has a major role in dishes prepared in the southern areas of the country, Knysna region being famous for oysters and culinary preparation of them.

Some particular culinary methods are found in the northern parts of the country, where termites, locusts and mopane worms (caterpillars living on mopane trees) are prepared in a lot of dishes such as grilles, stews or fried meals. They are considered by local Pedi, Tsnga and Venda people, to be a delicacy in there regions.

Preparation Methods for South African Cooking

South African cuisine has interesting methods for preparing typical dishes, from simply cooked fresh Crayfish, to variations in baking meat pies, preparing spicy Malay curries and cooking hearty stews. An important thing to know about preparation methods is how to preserve the Biltong (a thick meat dried Sausage) for a longer period. Bicarbonate of sodium is used in the composition to prevent molding, and saltpeter is used to give the Sausage a reddish color. Species added may vary from one producer to another, and families are used to preparing it at home as well as buying it from local stores. Stews are a big important part of the South African’s diet, so preparing them the right way implies you to know the exact condiments used for the seasoning of the dish, which has to be cooked in very little liquid, and stirring must be avoided. Tomato mutton stews will take longer to prepare, and ingredients like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, chili and ginger must be added.

Special Equipment for South African Cooking

Equipment used in the South African cuisine includes a lot of wooden dishes and spatulas used for serving meals, or even preparing dishes. Clay pots are important in this cuisine, and deep serving dishes are required for the traditional South African soups and for the special fish stews. Big clay pots can be placed over open fires, since a lot of the specific meals are prepared outdoors. You need to consider cover lids and insulated food carriers to keep the temperature of the food constant, if you plan on serving the dishes at their optimized temperature. Most fresh foods are prepared over coals and most suburban housed have a braai area, which represents a barbeque place. Here, the Potije is used for food preparation. Potije is a large cauldron like an iron pot with a lid, made of iron and placed on a three legs stand, provided also with a handle made of chains. From the name of the pot comes the name of a popular South African dish, the Potijekos.

South African Food Traditions and Festivals

One of the most important food traditions in South Africa is the selling of the green mealies, roasted and eaten on the cob. They are sold on street-sides in braziers put together on the pavement, and are offered usually by women. The food sold in braziers includes dried and broken maize kernels, samp and beans, or umngqusho (a South African traditional snack). Food traditions often relate to the social gathering known as Braai, where Pojitekos are being prepared in a big family get-together.

Africa generally is considered to be the festival continent. South Africa has a lot of colorful and vibrant festivals related to culture, traditions and harvest crops. There is an Addo Elephant festival, and a Hermanus Whale Festival when racing, contest and dance festivals take place, accompanied by food fests prepared in traditional methods of local cuisines. The prickly pear festival held in February is a day of celebrating traditional food such as potjiekos, ginger beer, pancakes, home-made jam and pudding, and a spit and fish braai.

People in South African Food

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In South African cuisine, a bit apart from other countries, food is usually homemade, prepared by families for their members only. With frequent occasions, food is prepared outside over open fires and cooked in clay or iron recipients, such as potije. However, South African chefs have a great sense of flavor, and they know the secrets to a delicious recipe. The many recipes and even more methods of preparing special traditional South African meals are basically due to the feeling that a chef adds to the cooking process. Combining available ingredients depends on the chef’s personal method, and can result in South African dishes that will become even more original and delicious than the already spectacular ones. The South African chefs take pride in their cooking skills and methods, and one of their many secrets lies in the variety of ways they mix special condiments like sorghum, teff, Barley, and cassava flour. History behind cooking methods and influences has been kept secret from the large majority of people from other cultures.