South Africans love gathering around a good braai or potjie. There’s something deeply comforting and nostalgic about eating a dish which is linked to so many memories and which is so uniquely patriotic. As we all know, food brings people together in way that very few other things can – so we believe that when you travel, trying the dishes which are close to the locals’ hearts is a great way to really experience their culture and way of life, whether you’re gulping down a bowl of soup by the roadside in Asia or lingering lazily over a seafood feast in the Mediterranean. Here are some of our favourite national dishes, which play second fiddle only to best national dish of all - a proper SA braai!
Ragu alla Bolognese - Italy
Who doesn’t love a good bolognaise sauce? Simple but packed full of flavour, there’s a good reason that this classic Italian pasta dish has crossed countries and continents and is now eaten across the world in cosy living rooms or upmarket restaurants. It’s easy to adapt, hard to ruin, and makes the perfect winter dish with a glass of red wine and a table full of your nearest and dearest.
Ramen – Japan
There was a serious toss-up here, because we know that sushi is the first thing that springs to mind and we LOVE sushi! But ramen really is the food that keeps the Japanese ticking. Served late night, early morning, at home or from a hole-in-the-wall food spot, the Japanese sure know how to make a really good ramen. This noodle soup can be flavoured with a variety of things but soy and miso are top of the list. It’s normally a broth made from pork or beef, but our absolute favourite has to be the tonkotsu ramen made from pork bones. Rich, creamy, oily and the perfect late-night pick me up after a few drinks.
Falafel – Egypt/Turkey/Israel/Lebanon
Sure, the origins of falafel are a little murky, with many countries claiming it as their own. You can now find it in most Middle Eastern, Arabic or North African countries in some form and they are all equally delicious. The little spheres of chickpea goodness are a real treat eaten on their own as meze or crammed into a pita bread, and topped with your choice of tzatziki, hot sauce, pickled vegetables, salad ingredients or even hummus. It’s the best kind of lunch on the go and we’re not surprised that half of the world is fighting to claim the dish as having originated from their country (though, honestly, most experts are I agreement that it’s Egyptian).
Paella – Spain
Paella is the sum of all things delicious and Mediterranean. Fresh prawns, fish, smoked chorizo or chicken pieces, saffron and tomatoes all simmer in white rice to create a Spanish take on risotto. It’s filling, hearty and the right balance of fishy, meaty and still fresh. Somehow, you don’t feel weighed down after eating this although even if you did, the Spanish tradition of a post-lunch siesta would soon sort that out for you! Plus, the famous deep orange hue of a finished paella is totally Instagram-worthy.
Mole – Mexico
Tacos and nachos are all the rage, but authentic Mexican cuisine is a little different to the Tex-Mex style which has been popularised across the world. Mole has evolved to become a term for quite a wide variety of sauces but the main premise is that it contains some kind of nut, fruit and chilli. Many of them even use dark chocolate! It’s a long and slow process to make the sauce, but it’s delicious and as Mexican as you’ll ever find. Use it to fill tamales, swap out the tomato salsa sauce in enchiladas or simply cook some chicken or pork in the sauce, pour it over rice and dig in!
Fish and Chips – UK
The UK isn’t famed for its mouthwatering national cuisine but they do know how to deep fry a few things. True Brits will tell you that there’s nothing quite like good, old-fashioned fish ‘n’ chips. Best eaten on a bench, stabbing your chips out of a newspaper cone with a set of tiny wooden cutlery. Salt and vinegar is not optional, by the way – having chips without it is a sin.