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Food and Wine: African Cuisine

Food and Wine: African Cuisine

Often referred to as ‘Cape Dutch’, the traditional cuisine of South Africa is characterised by the use of spices such as nutmeg, all-spice and hot peppers. This style of cooking – spicy and fruity, but seldom hot – is as much influenced by the cooking styles of the Malay slaves brought to work the Cape fields, as it is to the cooking traditions imported by the Afrikaner, French and British colonial settlers.

In addition, recipes from neighbouring colonies such as Portuguese Mozambique and of the indigenous Khoisan, Xhosa and Sotho-speaking people have given South Africa an exciting cuisine that ranges from boboties (mince-based casseroles), skewered-meat sosaties (kebabs) and tomato-based bredie with blatjang (meat stew with chutney) to tandoori crocodile, fried caterpillars and marinated ostrich.

Blessed with a sunny and pleasant climate that provides ideal conditions for growing grapes, South Africa has more than 100,000 hectares of vineyards and produces some of the worlds finest wines. The Cape winelands in particular offer superb sauvignon blanc and semillon wines as well as being regarded as one of the most scenic winelands in the world.

Highlights

South African cuisine relies heavily on meat and mielies, although seafood including oysters, crayfish and linefish are also popular. Key ingredients include maize, used to make ground-maize porridge (pap) and peanuts, used to enhance dishes such as morogo, a stew made with spinach. Unlike the Cape's mild Malay curries - great with seafood - the curries of KwaZulu-Natal, usually reserved for beef, lamb, chicken or vegetarian dishes, are much hotter. Rice, crispy poppadoms, roti bread, coconut and sliced banana are a staple of curry restaurants throughout this province. Here are some traditional South Afican dishes to try:

Soups

Cape seafood soup - Fish cubes, prawns and crayfish boiled with onion, celery, carrot, bay leaf and lemon thyme, garnished with parsley and served with fresh bread.

Groentesop - Vegetable soup.

Meat dishes

Waterblommetjie bredie - A stew made with mutton and creamy white water flowers, flavoured with sorrel.

Bobotie - A curried mince dish made from lamb, beef or mutton baked with an egg-based topping.

Sosaties - Grilled marinated mutton on a skewer.

Cape Malay curries - Served with sambals and atjars.

Boerewors - Farmers' sausage made usually of beef, pork, coriander and other spices.

Hoenderpastei - Chicken pie.

Biltong - Raw fillets of dried meat, ranging from beef to game and ostrich.

Vetkoek - Deep-fried dough balls, typically stuffed with meat or served with jam.

Samosa - An Indian savoury stuffed and fried.

Potjiekos - A casserole cooked for hours in an iron pot, usually outside.

Bredies - Meat, tomato and vegetable casseroles.

Poetoepap - A type of polenta made with white maize, eaten with meat.

Vegetable dishes

Umngqusho - A classic African dish of finely ground dried maize kernels and black-eyed peas.

Bread

Potbrood - Savoury bread baked over coals in cast-iron pots.

Green Mealie Bread - Corn bread.

Dessert

Koeksisters - Pastries, deep fried and heavily sweetened.

Klappertert - Coconut pie with apricot jam served with whipped cream.

Soetkoekies - Wine cookies made with chopped almonds and spices.

Wine

South Africas' best wines are produced on the Cape, where climactic and topographic conditions are similar to those of France and Italy. This region has a wine culture going back 350 years, and while still largely a white wine producing area, it's the classical red varieties that now produce the best quality wines, winning numerous awards.

Stellenbosch and Paarl are the main wine regions of the Cape, offering rich reds, crisp whites, true Portugese-style ports and Sauterne-like sweet wines.

Constantia is the historic hub of Cape wine and boasts some of the most famous estate names in South Africa such as Groot and Klein Constantia, and Buitenverwachting. Try a Buitenverwachting Buiten Blanc Constantia, a blend of chenin blanc, riesling and sauvignon blanc - just right for lunch. Or enjoy the ripe berry and tobacco leaf scents and flavours of a Private Bin cabernet sauvignon from the Nederburg vineyard, one of South Africa's best-known wineries.

Other scenic wine-growing areas to visit include Durbanville, in the hills north-east of Cape Town and Franschhoek, a pretty town founded by the French Huguenots in 1688.

Tipping

Normally 10 to 15 per cent if service is not included.

Best time to go

Any time. South Africa's climate is generally sunny and pleasant. Cape Town has a summer average of 22°C with a high of 26°C. While cooler, winter from June to September is ideal for hiking and watching wildlife.

Did you know?

South African dried fruit is as famous as its dried meat. Preserves, known as konfyt, feature small morsels of watermelon rind, quince or other hard fruit, soaked in lime water, then cooked in sugar syrup and spices, presented in syrup and eaten on their own. Green fig is one of the best-known and most delicious, steeped in a syrup seasoned with cinnamon and dried ginger.

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