A Tasty Heritage: How Food Shapes South African Culture
Written by Tara Moranduzzo
Hello, food lovers and culture enthusiasts!
At Craft Collective, your trusted food and beverage consultants, we delight in exploring the intricate weave of culture and cuisine. South Africa is particularly proud of our food culture, so far as it’s not unfair to say that food is in fact a major aspect of our Culture, it is indeed an essential thread that shapes it.
A Melting Pot of Flavors
South Africa’s culinary scene is as diverse as its people. Influenced by native African tribes, European settlers, Asian immigrants, and more, it is a melting pot of flavours that tells the rich, multifaceted story of our country’s history. Food is deeply embedded in South African traditions. Each dish has a unique story, offering insights into different aspects of the country’s culture and history. Many of the day to day flavours we associate with being a ‘real South African’ actually have more functional origins than we realize:
1. Braai: The tradition of Braai (Afrikaans for “grill” or “barbecue”) is not merely about cooking meat over fire. It’s a social event that brings communities together, underpinning the importance of unity and fellowship in South African culture. It is a throwback to the traditions of the San and Khoi people, the earliest known inhabitants of South Africa, who practiced this method of cooking. Many believe this is where the Braai has its roots. As different groups arrived and settled in South Africa, this shared tradition of communal open-fire cooking became an integral part of the culture
2. Biltong: This dried, cured meat snack reflects the South African spirit of ingenuity and resourcefulness. The preservation technique used in making Biltong was born out of necessity. Long before the advent of refrigeration, preserving meat was a critical survival skill. It is believed that the indigenous people of South Africa, like the Khoikhoi, were the first to use a method of curing meat, although it was a bit different from today’s Biltong.When the Dutch farmers arrived in South Africa in the 17th century, they brought with them a similar tradition of making dried meat, known as “droëwors. Known for their farming, they needed a way to preserve meat during their long trek inland, known as the Great Trek, in the 1830s and 40s. They developed a method of curing meat using salt, vinegar, and spices like pepper and coriander, then hanging the meat to dry. This preserved meat was perfect for their needs, as it was lightweight, non-perishable, and packed with nutrients – the prototype for what we know today as Biltong.
3. Bobotie and Bunny Chow: These dishes, influenced by Malaysian and Indian cuisines respectively, showcase South Africa’s multiculturalism and the culinary impact of historical trade routes. Bobotie, a baked dish featuring spiced, minced meat topped with a savoury custard, encapsulates South Africa’s multicultural history. The recipe reflects influences from both the east and the west, representing the meeting of cultures that occurred in South Africa. The first recorded recipe of Bobotie dates back to a Dutch cookbook from 1609, although it was a far cry from the Bobotie we know today. The transformation of this dish began in the 17th century when Dutch traders brought back spices like curry powder from the east. The origin of Bunny Chow, a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with curry, speaks of innovation and adaptation in the face of adversity. Bunny Chow traces its roots back to the Indian immigrant community in Durban, South Africa. Indian labourers, brought to South Africa to work in sugar plantations in the 19th century, needed a way to carry their lunch to the fields. They found a solution in bunny chow. The dish was also an ingenious response to the discriminatory laws of apartheid that prohibited certain groups from eating in restaurants
Celebrations and Food
Food plays a crucial role in South African celebrations, from holidays like Heritage Day, where Braai takes center stage, to weddings where traditional dishes like Samp (crushed maize) and Beans, or Potjiekos (slow-cooked meat and vegetable stew) are served. Each festive meal is an opportunity to celebrate and pass on cultural heritage.
Food and the Land
South Africa’s diverse landscapes, from its fertile winelands to its vast coastlines, play a significant role in shaping its culinary culture. Wine-making is an important part of the Western Cape’s identity, while coastal regions like KwaZulu-Natal take pride in their fresh seafood.
Street Food Culture
The vibrant street food culture in South Africa further reflects the country’s spirit. From “Boerewors Roll” (sausage roll) stands at local markets to “Gatsby” (a large, filling sandwich) stalls in Cape Town, street food offers an accessible taste of South Africa’s culinary diversity.
The Future of South African Food Culture
As South Africa continues to evolve, so does its food culture. Modern South African chefs and food businesses are finding innovative ways to honour traditional flavours while infusing them with contemporary techniques and global influences. At Craft Collective, we’re excited to be a part of this culinary journey, celebrating the flavours and stories of South African cuisine. We believe that understanding our food is key to understanding our culture.
Stay tuned for more delicious insights from the fascinating world of food and beverage!
#SouthAfricanCuisine #CraftCollective #CulturalHeritage