Just like its landscapes and people, South Africa’s cuisine is wonderfully diverse, not to mention great value. With 11 official languages and a melting pot of cultures, the Rainbow Nation brings us traditional braais, modern French cuisine, world-class wines, bunny chow and Nando’s. Get your taste buds tingling with our guide to the best food and drink in South Africa.
Cape Town’s Cape Malay and new age cuisine
To explore Cape Town’s cuisine, start at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront and head along Kloof, Long & Bree Streets, where restaurants serve everything from Cape Malay curries and seafood to braai (barbecued meat). One of the city’s most popular restaurants is Nobu at One&Only, a lavish hotel on the waterfront. Other luxury experiences include a gourmet heli-flight from the Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa and Michelin-starred dining at the refurbished Old Biscuit Mill complex in Woodstock.
Every Saturday the Old Biscuit Mill also hosts the Neighbourgoods Market, which features over 100 speciality street food stalls with local farmers, bakers and grocers showcasing their top-quality goods. You’ll find everything from biltong (strips of salted, dried meat) to artisanal cakes. Seek out a spot on one of the long tables, enjoy the live music, soak up the atmosphere and tuck into everything from Wagyu burgers and mushroom kebabs to Belgian waffles, washed down with craft beer or a glass of organic Cape wine.
For a side of history with your food, take a walking tour with a local, who’ll lead you to the colourful Bo-Kaap neighbourhood. Formerly known as the Malay Quarter, this is the place to go for an insight into Cape Malay cuisine such as bobotie, a dish made with spiced, ground meat and raisins topped with a baked egg. Meet the famous chef Faeeza, who’ll teach you about Cape Malay cuisine in her Bo-Kaap tea garden.
The Cape Winelands: fine wines and gourmet dining
The Cape Winelands lie less than an hour from Cape Town and are loved for their rolling vineyards and French colonial-style towns. Taste everything from classic chenin blancs to full-bodied pinotages as you tour a range of boutique cellar doors and internationally-acclaimed wine estates. If you’re on a self-drive holiday, it’s best to leave the car at your hotel and explore on a cycling trip or aboard the hop-on-hop-off Franschhoek wine tram.
Wine tasting is centred around the towns of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. Small, picturesque Franschhoek (French corner) is South Africa’s gourmet capital. It’s known for producing hand-turned sparkling wines using a pioneering technique called Cap Classique and every December, this heritage is celebrated during the Cap Classique and Champagne Festival. In recent years, Franschhoek has developed beyond its grapes and has seen the emergence of a fine-dining sector, featured at estates like Mont Rochelle, owned by Virgin boss Richard Branson.
Meanwhile, historic Stellenbosch is home to over 150 wine farms, with some of South Africa’s most established estates set alongside up-and-coming experimental wineries. Many of the wine farms here have hotels nestled in the vineyards. The luxurious Lanzerac Hotel & Spa sits on a 300-year-old working wine estate and is one of the Winelands’ most distinguished examples of Cape Dutch architecture. Take a walk through Stellenbosch’s artisanal food and drink scene with a local for tastings at family-run eateries.
Off-the-beaten track eastern Cape wineries
For a more off-the-beaten track experience, head up the eastern Cape to lesser-visited wine regions like Robertson along famed Route 62. Hemel en Aarde Valley (Heaven and Earth) lies near idyllic Grootbos, a protected nature reserve with a strong focus on sustainability that extends to food, much of which is sourced from the reserve’s Growing the Future project, paired with wines from the Overberg region.
Whichever wine region you visit, take advantage of favourable exchange rates to gorge on fine dining and quality wines. If wine isn’t your tipple of choice, Castle lager is South Africa’s best-selling beer, while Amarula is a cream liqueur made from the fruit of the African marula tree. Teetotallers can opt for Rooibos (red bush tea), grown from a small shrub in the Western Cape’s fynbos.
The Garden Route’s fruits de mer
With a coastline stretching over 1,500 miles, seafood is a huge part of South Africa’s food scene, with crayfish, prawns and fish featuring heavily on restaurant menus. There’s nowhere better to sample fresh seafood than the town of Knysna, which sits on the lush Garden Route and was home to the country’s first commercial oyster company, founded in 1949.
If you love seafood, consider visiting in early July to celebrate the annual Knysna Oyster Festival and take a special oyster cruise. You’ll sail Knysna lagoon with an oyster expert, tasting wild rock varieties accompanied by sauvignon blanc. Learn the difference between Pacific and wild oysters while taking in views of the lagoon and Knysna Heads.
KwaZulu-Natal’s traditional dishes
While pap (ground maize) is South Africa’s staple meal, bunny chow (a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with curry) is one of its most traditional dishes and a must-try when visiting KwaZulu-Natal. Bunny chow’s roots can be traced back to the 1930s, when Indian labourers working on sugar cane plantations near Durban invented it as a handy way to transport their lunch. An authentic bunny uses a ‘Government loaf’ – an inexpensive white, flat-topped variety – so it’s easy to remove the lid and fill it to the brim with spicy veggie or meat curry.
Experience more of KwaZulu-Natal’s Indian cuisine while staying at the Oyster Box in Durban. Shop for spices at Victoria Street Spice Market with a guide, where you’ll receive a dabba, a dish for collecting spices. Taste street snacks like mielies (sweet corn) grilled and tossed in masala butter, samosas and chili bites. Back at the hotel, the chef will talk you through each spice and recommend dishes to use them in back home.
You might think that the presence of Nando’s in South Africa is due to the usual chain restaurant sprawl, but that’s not the case here. Peri-peri found its way to South Africa via Portuguese settlers in Mozambique who added lemon and garlic to the fiery African Bird’s Eye Chilli, and the fast food favourite was born in Johannesburg in 1987. So, next time you’re in your local Nando’s, look out for the South African art on the walls along with Spier’s sauvingnon blanc on the winelist.
Your journey will start with one of our UK team – someone like Laura, who's travelled extensively in South Africa. They’ll shape your ideas into the trip of a lifetime. But they won't do it alone. They'll draw on the expertise of our contacts on the ground, connecting you to the people who'll make your holiday one you'll always remember - ex banker who can show you the hottest foodie spots in Cape Town, the award-winning young sommelier who can introduce you to Stellenbosch's finest wines and the walking safari ranger who can guide you to the best game.
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