Inspired by my gran’s making of roti, my beloved aunts and local cooking fundi, Annette Human, cooking and baking has become my comfort and my forte. Love the classics of kitchen cuisine. Let me walk you through some of our famous South African foods and beverages.
1. Bunny Chow : Proudly South African Indian here, so no surprise that I would lean towards curries, that too, one immersed in soft white bread. A popular meal sit-down or take out meal, our South African bunny chow is a fast food item consisting of a tantalising curry ladled into a hollowed out portion of soft, freshly baked bread. The most common curries are lamb, chicken or beans. That could differ according to your location, palate or mood as curry houses are accommodating with individual selections. Ideally, it is served with a medley of carrot, onion, chilli and cucumber salad, a sambal relish or pickles/vinegar chillies on the side. For maximum enjoyment and the sheer experience of tucking into a bunny chow, it is, best to give the modern cutlery a skip and tuck in with fingers.
The origin of the bunny chow is widely disputed, although its creation has been dated back to the 1940’s. It’s been said that migrant workers from India who were brought to South Africa to work the sugar cane plantations Kwazulu-Natal (Port Natal) required a way of carrying their lunches to the field. This hollowed out loaf of bread was a convenient way to transport their vegetarian curries. Some advocate that the bunny chow was created in Durban, home to a large community of people of Indian origin, more especially by the Banias (an Indian caste) who ran a restaurant-cum-café called Kapitan’s on the corner of Durban’s Victoria and Albert streets in Durban. Back in the days of Apartheid, Indians were not allowed in certain areas and shops. Workers had to be served somehow, often through back windows or the back door and making bunnies in the absence of rotis, was a convenient way to serve a meal A quarter mutton bunny will cost you at least R50.00, chicken R45.00, and broad beans or mixed veg R25.00. Expect to pay more for a prawn bunny. Bunnies can be found at reputable curry houses or mine, in my kitchen.
2. Boiled mealies in their leaves : A popular story in our family, this was craved by a pregnant aunty who craved this mealie. It was sourced from the local vendor who had boiled these mealies on the side of a road in a drum! I can vouch for that taste, simple yet superb. These are lusted after in summer and winter!
2. Braaied mielies in their leaves : A true Durbanite will reveal that this is best sourced from the roadside, again from the local vendor. Braaied in their leaves over a gentle fire, sold for R5 each, it is to South Africa what panipuri is to a resident of India. Ideal to be shared around a fire with close family and friends.
3. Koeksisters : A traditional Cape Malay dish, koeksisters has adapted by many SA cultures. The sweet dough is plaited, deep-fried, laden with a sweet, spiced syrup and then covered in lightly toasted coconut, much like India’s gulab jamun.
4. Moerkoffie : I saw this on a local cooking programme where rough ground coffee beans were placed in a enamelled or cast iron teapot and left to simmer over a tripod styled open fire, for hours to draw out the coffee’s distinct flavour. Best enjoyed farm style, pitch black with loads of sugar.
5. Masala Pineapple :
Head on over to our Blue Lagoon in Durban for this simple delight. Pineapples sliced or cubed, spiced in masala (curry powder) and served on a wooden skewer. Heavenly cool in summer at R10 a tray, a favourite all year round, now even sold at all flea markets.
6. Biltong : What would our rugby and boys nights out be without biltong?! There are many variations to this snack that is created from salted, spiced meat. The majority of the locals prefer the fat and cholesterol free versions although there is a lot to be said for those cuts with a layer of fatty dried meat. Our Mr Mozzies is famous for its biltong as are butcheries and superettes. I take delight in smuggling them into the cinema.
7. Droëwors : Like the biltong, this sausage meat is wind-dried or cured and compared to a cured Spanish chorizo. Found in most grocery outlets and butcheries, it is a winner for our South African sporting events.
8. Katkop : Literally speaking, “katkop” means ‘cat’s head’. It is but deep fried ‘slap-chips’ packed as a filler in between bread, a middle of the month meal, where monies are allocated but cannot be touched. Then there is the end of the month meal (or when you have more month than money left!), buttered bread with potato crisps.
9. Offals/Afvals : This used to be a delicacy in our homes. Lamb feet (trotters) and sheep stomach lining are classified as waste for some. Not so, in most households, as it is a delicacy. Both are meant to be cleaned thoroughly and in the case of trotters, fine hair burned, boiled with spices and cooked as a curry or in the case of the stomach linings, fried dry in herbs and spices. or with a gravy as preferred.
10. Chesa Inyama/Braaied Meat : Braaied meat or chicken sourced form a roadside vendor or if you are in Cape Town, Mzolis. Popular Chef Siba gets all her meat to go from Mzolis, ideal for a Sunday lunch with friends, or just an everyday meal. Simply choose your cuts of meat, with seasonings and sauces of your choice and it will be braaied whilst you wait. Braaied meat is to South Africa what barbeques are to Americans.
11. Umqombothi : Umqombothi, is basically a low alcohol beer brew made from maize, malt, sorghum malt, yeast and water, it is rich in Vitamin B. Opaque in colour, with a sour aroma, cheaper than commercial lager beers and brewed from barley and flavoured with hops flowers, it is served best in a tin.
12. Amasi : Amasi is simply fermented milk. Nannies gave it to their charges to build up strength. Served cold with or without sugar, it is refreshing.
13. Sheephead : Some people bake the sheep’s head in an oven, quite disconcerting if you ask me! The head is burned with hot irons, all the fine hair removed, washed and cooked as a curry, until meat falls off the bone. Indian households consider it a treat and families gather to share in the meal.
14. Walky Talkies : The dreaded chicken feet (walkies) and chicken (talkies), I see you cringe, is a dish deep fried crisply in batter. Otherwise cooked with the rest of the Cornish chicken, feet, not heads (in our family) are anticipated eagerly.
15. Mopane worms : For the adventurous palate, (not mine!), mopane worms are seasoned and deep friend and simply eaten. Otherwise, served on salads as one would bacon or croutons. It IS an acquired taste.
16. Potjiekos : Food cooked slowly over a tripod in a cast iron pot using either wood or coals. An experience food fundi once told me that he brings a wheelbarrow into the garage, loads it with coal and over that smouldering coal, he immerses the potjie of lamb stews Serves a dual purpose of cooking food and warming up the house.
17. Boiled nuts : These take me back to my days as a little girl. My granny owned land and on that land, she planted a variety of vegetables. She specialised in growing peanuts which my Dad and I were rather partial too and pinched without her permission. “Raw” peanuts must be rehydrated (usually in a bowl full of water overnight). before boiling in a large pot of very heavily salted water. The results are soft, salty tasty peanuts in the shell.
These tantalising treats are out of Africa. It IS as we say, “local is lekker” meaning that home-grown, home owned is best. Brave enough to try any? Which one would you choose?! Please share your opinions with us.