Southern Africa is unique in its cultural heritage and traditions. The African traditional food is influenced by a variety of cultures from Dutch to Malaysian. I have visited a few countries in Africa and got a chance to try some amazing traditional African food dishes. Throughout this blog I want to particularly focus on food in South African countries such as Botswana, Zimbabwe and of course South Africa.
I have been lucky enough to be unofficially declared the only Australian to learn how to surf in Morocco. That may be obvious since not many Australians wait until Morocco to learn to surf, right? I have also travelled around Egypt with TravelTalk and seen the indescribable beauty of its historical heritage. Still have no idea how they built the miraculous pyramids, though.
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The traditional food of Africa – African meals
I completed an amazing safari from Cape Town, South Africa to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe crossing 4 countries in total. It was through this trip, I learnt and experienced a lot in regards to Southern Africa traditions and cultures. One of the things that influenced me the most, though, was the South African foods I tried.
Find out more about taking a safari travel adventure.
If you have seen my IG @backpackandfork you would be well aware by now I love to eat, it is one of my highlights of travelling and I’m fortunate enough to be able to enjoy most local dishes in areas I travel without getting sick. This is a godsend in places like Bali, Thailand and many African countries, trust me.
If you haven’t yet checked out @backpackandfork take the time now to connect with me and let me know your favourite meal you have enjoyed while travelling.
Let’s now dive into the African foods and traditional local dishes you will encounter during your time travelling in Southern African countries.
What to expect from the South African food cuisine?
Before we dive into the meals you should be looking to try while travelling in Africa, let’s look at what you should expect to find from African dishes and its cuisine. One thing is for sure, no matter what you expect, I’m sure you will find some surprises.
African food is nothing like anything you have tasted before. The offer is unique in so many ways, from exotic zebra meat to crunchy mopane worms. Get ready to jump out of your comfort zone and discovering ways of eating that you never imagined existed.
Basic ingredients you will continually come across while travelling in Africa include mainly meat, grains, fresh fruits and veggies. Popular African dishes include a lot of meat but I found some very tasty alternative meals for vegetarians too.
Their meat is very unique since they use wild animals, also. Traditional African food is for those who love to explore and are not afraid to try new things.
Popular African Foods to eat while travelling Southern Africa
Let’s dive into the African main dishes I found the most interesting on my safari trip in Africa. These are a sample of the foods I highly recommend trying while enjoying a vacation in Africa. If you know of any others please let me know in the comments section below.
African Food Names
- Pap Meal
- Mopane Worms
- Crocodile pie
- Zebra African Dishes
- Oryx, Kudu And Springbok
- Warthog – traditional food of Africa
- Bunny Chow – African vegetarian dish option
- Koeksister – Another vegetarian option
Pap means porridge in African food language. This very simple, yet somehow interesting meal is one of the most popular South African foods on the menu and finding a place to eat this when in South Africa won’t be very hard. No matter if they come from a family of Zulu, Afrikaners or anything in between, most South Africans eat this on a regular occasion. It is a legendary national dish and it is eaten in a specific way – with your hands! Locals can demonstrate exactly how it is done but it’s a fun experience.
This traditional African food option is made up of ground down maize that is then turned into a porridge/polenta type texture. It is a sticky substance that is usually found on your plate with either a mixed vegetable dish or a meat and vegetable combination. You can try it with an original African sausage known as Boerewors or just Wors which is made of at least 90% meat – beef, pork and speak.
You use your hands to combine elements on your plate into mouthful size pieces. It can get messy but it’s an interactive and fun way to enjoy this African dish. Maybe aim to change the perspective of our everyday regular eating habits then it will be more enjoyable. The Pap itself lacks a great deal of flavour but when mixed with the side dishes on your plate it is an enjoyable dish. Enjoy the discovery!
Good to know: This dish is easy to find in a vegan option.
You are reading correct, yes, worms. Actually, more accurately, they are caterpillars which are extremely nutritious. Just to give you an idea of the food benefits of Mopane worms, they are rich in iron, potassium, sodium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, manganese and copper. These little guys are prepared in a particular way, where they are first boiled in salted water and then left to completely dry out naturally in the sun.
I ate them fried with a certain type of tomato sauce, they were crunchy and interesting to taste. The more you chew, the more “flavoursome” it becomes. However, they lack some juiciness in my opinion.
I ate them at the Moyo restaurant where I ate the Crocodile Pie, which is next on the list of traditional African meals.
Guys, this is really something! I had tried crocodile while living in Darwin, Australia previously and although it may sound a little bit too exotic of an animal to eat, be sure not to skip this one.
I personally tried this pie in the restaurant in Melrose Arch in Joburg called Moyo but you can find them all over the country. Besides the drums, the face paint and a complete authentic African vibe, the food is delicious and unique. They offer a whole variety of African traditional food but, the crocodile pie was one of the tastiest things I’ve ever tried. The crunchy texture of the pie and aromatic spices combined with the buttery flavour of the meat was too good.
I heard some people describing it as the best chicken they had ever tasted and I agree it was a heavenly experience. Give crocodile pie a chance, it is one of the must-try dishes in Southern Africa.
To put it plain and simple Biltong is meat that has been hung out and naturally dried for an extended period. This is a traditional way in which the indigenous tribes of South Africa, such as Khoisan, kept the food preserved for a longer period of time. In Africa, they make almost anything into Biltong, as I found out when I found Biltong tuna. FYI Biltong Tuna is not on my must-try foods in Southern Africa and with good reason.
The basic ingredients used to ensure the meat is cured before the drying process are simple products, vinegar, salt, sugar and sometimes coriander.
It is like an adult version of the best chewing gum ever as it keeps producing flavour after every bite you have. Another bonus and possibly the best thing about this Africa food is it’s actually good for you. Biltong is low in fat, high in protein and very rich with vitamin B12 which nurtures your blood and nervous system.
Zebra African Dishes
OK, I have felt the cringes and collective moans from you already. However before you judge me for eating this cute little thing, let me just tell you that it is not that uncommon to find people eating Zebra throughout Africa. It has actually recently become a trend in the paleo diet.
Also, it is an animal, and if we eat other animals, why should we separate them by their looks or appearance in the Disney movies. I also have checked, Zebras are not in any danger of becoming a threatened species. You will see them everywhere if you opt to do a safari in a National Park while in South Africa or any other African country.
Completing a safari in a game National Park is something I highly recommend and I have created a list of the best National Parks in Southern Africa to choose from.
After this small ethical rant, I will tell you something about the taste of this meat. It will usually come in the form of a steak, with a seasoning which allowed the tenderness and the real taste of the meat to stand out. In my opinion, it is best when cooked at a medium level and I ‘d recommend choosing this option.
Where else but in Africa can you try South African foods like zebra? Take advantage of it and step a little out of your comfort zone.
Oryx, Kudu And Springbok
Although these are obviously three different types of meat, I will talk about them all at once. If you are not a heavy meat eater and just want to try one while travelling in Africa then they all taste pretty similar. They are not easy to find in just any restaurant, so if you try one just of these varieties you will get a general idea of the flavour and texture combination.
In my opinion, they are a little bit gamier in taste compared to the other meats I tried in Africa. They reminded me a lot to deer meat which I’ve previously eaten in Australia. Not the best meat I have tried if I was, to be honest, but we are all different, aren’t we? Give it a go and let me know. Maybe this is the South African food that you will enjoy the most! Who knows?
Warthog – traditional food of Africa
This is a slice of really special meat. It is a wild pig. I was honestly and probably naturally expecting it will taste something similar to traditional pork meat but I was completely wrong. While Warthog has the juiciness and the tenderness of the pork, this is combined with an iron taste along with the earthy aftertaste and it is something I could never compare to anything else I’d tasted. I tried it in both sausage and steak from “Ben’s camp kitchen”, the chef during my safari to Victoria Falls.
This coarse meat traditionally will come with mashed potatoes or pap, which we mentioned earlier, and it is a whole meal. It’s one of the main meals that I enjoyed a lot. Give it a try, it is a unique African food that should be on your list.
I will warn you though that many of the travellers on the safari found the warthog too coarse and gamey for their liking, I think it was possibly the idea of eating the funny Lion’s King character, Pumbaa, that really worried them though.
Bunny Chow – African vegetarian dish option
This is a really strange Afrikan food at first, but if you give it a chance, it really is quite tasty. For me it was never going to be an issue, I love a good curry and finishing any saucy meal with some bread to clean the plate was something ingrained in me from my father many years ago, much to my mother’s disapproval.
Bunny Chow is basically a bread loaf harrowed out and made to form a bread bowl-like shape. This is then filled with an Indian style curry, I know Dad delicious. The flavour of the curry and the shape of the bread varies from destination to destination, but you get a general idea if you only eat one serving of Bunny Chow.
This is a really good and easy to find in a vegetarian option as well for those that want to try popular African foods while avoiding the need to taste a meat dish. This meal was born in Durban among the immigrant Indian working class and now it is a national South African dish. You can even find it in many street food markets in larger cities around the world nowadays but the most traditional and best are still found in South Africa, so don’t miss out on this while in the country.
This is a clear favourite South African food dish amongst the locals which in turn clearly makes it a traditional dish you must try as a tourist. This meal, like a few previously mentioned, also has Asian origins attached to the recipe.
Bobotie is minced meat combined with spices, herbs and dried fruit covered with a combination of eggs and milk. It is then baked in the oven until golden and served with rice or a simple side dish. The meat found in Bobotie is generally either lamb or beef but this can be substituted with a range of different options including pork. It is very tasty and I would describe it as a Southern African version of goulash.
Koeksister – Another vegetarian option
You will love these if you have a sweet tooth. This traditional African pastry is fried dough covered in iced syrup. It tastes honey-like and it is vegan. Very sweet, yet very unique African dish.
Vegans and Vegetarians
Since traditional meals are mostly based on meat, it can be a struggle to convert them into vegan and vegetarian foods. Southern Africa cuisine is not as much veggie-friendly as some other traditional cuisines found around the African continent. What you can do is try and eat at traditional Indian, North African, Italian and other similar restaurants. Remember that the sweet food item I mentioned last, Koeksister, is both vegan and vegetarian friendly. Likewise, Bunny Chow is another vegetarian meal option.
You can also visit one of the many food markets around larger cities. Cape Town, Durban and Joburg will offer amazing experiences when it comes to street food. You will find the coolest and latest meals that are finger-licking and well presented.
Drinks to try in Africa
To make your experience complete, you should have a sip of some of the best national drinks Southern Africa has to offer. Check out the list of the ones I enjoyed the most.
South Africa Wines
South African wines are something you should not miss. I went on a Stellenbosch Wine Tour during my visit to Cape Town and I was absolutely in love with every wine that I tried, I promise I’m not an alcoholic. Some of the most recognized wines in Southern Africa are called Pinotage and Chenin Blanc.
Umqombothi is another alcoholic drink from Southern Africa. It is made from maize, maize malt, sorghum malt, and water as well as a wild native yeast which produces the alcohol content. It’s then left to ferment overnight before being served in what I can only describe as washed (I hope) old paint tins. Word of warning this stuff is thick, interesting and strong so just a few sips are generally all they allow you to enjoy, which is probably for the best of all involved.
It is a hard drink to find naturally and I was lucky enough to try it while completing a Township tour from Cape Town.
Made from the fermented fruit of the Marula tree combined with cream, this drink tastes like heaven. It is sweet, fruity and creamy. This liquor can cheer you up while you feel like you are having a liquid dessert. Maybe you have seen the funny videos of African animals getting drunk on this fruit? If not I attached one I found extremely funny below. Just try to moderate your consumption so you don’t end up the next YouTube sensation like these animals.
Rooibos tea is a drink you will find everywhere in South Africa as this is where it naturally grows. It is extremely healthy along with being super tasty and Africans often drink it as a substitute for coffee.
I found an amazing cappuccino made of rooibos in Sandton in Johannesburg, South Africa. It is creamy, yet light and unique. I highly recommend it!
That rounds out the list of food in South African countries I think anyone travelling in the area should try. If you think I have missed any must try African foods please add them in the comments section below. Next is a quick list of things to do in Cape Town and other destinations in Southern Africa.
Things to do and see in Southern Africa while travelling
When visiting Southern Africa be prepared to get lost in the beauty of its untouched wild nature and amazed with its modern and artsy cities. It is a place of contrasts, vibrant colours, interesting meals and unique people that are always ready to dance, sing or proudly share a story about their tradition.
Some of the places you shouldn’t miss in Southern Africa:
Cape Town is a unique city that offers a blend of traditional and modern experiences to its visitors. The Mother City of South Africa is exciting to explore, packed with artsy streets and markets and offers views of heavenly nature. Check out the top things to do when in Cape Town as well as the best day trips to do from the city centre. You can also use my Cape Town travel guide to assist in planning your upcoming trip.
Cape Town Blogs of Interest:
Johannesburg is a story of its own. A city that is home to so many different cultures and ideas. The creative energy of this city will get you in the right flow and inspire you. Food market, street artists, wonderful natural sights and so much more. Don’t miss out on this African gem.
Durban is a coastal city on the Indian ocean. It is unique for its wild nature and many attractions it has to offer. From UShaka Marine World that offers a view at some of the most amazing sea creatures to the Durban Botanic Gardens where you can discover all the shades green.
This impressive waterfall is a part of UNESCO World Heritage. The Zambezi River flowing through the forest gives you a chance to experience the beauty of our planet like you never have before. And also you have some pretty cool adrenaline activities to choose from. Read all about travelling to Victoria Falls and plan for your trip with my Victoria Falls travel guide.
Victoria Falls Blogs
The Beaches found here are some of the most beautiful found anywhere in the world. This country offers a never-ending coastline by the Indian ocean that resembles a dream.
Namibia is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes, unique history and indigenous cultures. With its abundance of wildlife, it will be an experience like no other. The epic African safari I mentioned before travels to all of the major destinations any visitor should visit in Namibia. Check the safari out
Go, get out of your comfort zone and try some of the most interesting meals you have ever tried.
There you have it, a list of some of the must-try foods in Southern Africa I tasted while on Safari. I would encourage you to try all the local foods offered whenever you are travelling the world as a sign of respect and if you have come across any strange dish please share your experiences by commenting in the section below.
Another strange eating experience of mine recently was having a local horse burger with my brother in Sicily much to my fathers and brother’s wife’s disgust.
But that is a story for another time.
If you are looking to head to Africa and travel this awesome continent for yourself then have an amazing time, it is still one of my favourite areas I have been too. I have plenty of helpful content on which safaris to complete, what National Parks to visit, hikes to complete and much more.
If you are heading to Cape Town I encourage you to see the group of blogs I have in this region and likewise for the collection of blogs I have in Victoria Falls. You can also check out all the African blogs I have by heading to the African destination page and negotiating your way through various regions.
Cape Town Blog Series – All the information you will need to plan and enjoy a trip to Cape Town. A full guide of the city, activities to do in and around the area, safety advice, where to stay in Cape Town suggestions, recommended restaurants to eat at, hikes and safaris to do plus much more.
Victoria Falls Blog series – All the information required to plan and enjoy a trip to Victoria Falls. Find things to do in Victoria Falls, the best value accommodation option in Victoria Falls, restaurant advice, visa information and much more
Best Africa Safaris to do – find a selection of quality safari options that include South Africa and Zimbabwe
All other Africa Travel blogs – Information on these and other destinations such as Botswana, Namibia, Morocco and Egypt.
Travel budget tips
Either booking a new travel holiday right from the start or while on such a holiday can be expensive. Things like flights, accommodation, meals, transport and tours can add up fast and put a strain on what should be a fun time. These budget travel tips will assist with booking a holiday at the best price or staying on budget while travelling.
- Learn hacks to book accommodation at the best price
- Find the cheapest flights every time with these tips
- A list of the cheapest destinations to travel to in the world
- Wanting to go to Europe without breaking your budget? Here are the cheapest locations to choose from.
- 50 plus travel tips to keep your trip on a budget
- The cheapest and most flexible way to travel around Europe without flying
- Book online and get CASHBACK for your travel expenses with this secret resource
Organise Your Trip: Travel Advice and Tricks I Personally Use
Book Your Flight
Heading to either Skyscanner or Momondo are my methods of choice for this. They are my favourite as they search for flights from different companies all over the world. You can filter the results to suit your needs and ensure you land the best price every-time.
Book Your Accommodation
This is an important part of any holiday you’re going on. Read all the reviews and get the right accommodation via TripAdvisor. They even show you the best prices available at the time for that room from suppliers like Booking.com.For booking a hostel your best bet is to start with HostelWorld or possible even use CouchSurfing if you’re on a real budget.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel Insurance is a must these days so you have a piece of mind you’re covered for anything that could go wrong while on your trip. I now never go on a trip away without travel insurance. I’ve been using World Nomads for the past few years.
My favourite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- World Nomads (little more expensive but covers everything)
- SafetyWing (cheaper option to just cover you for health issues)
Looking for the best companies to save money with?
As I have been travelling frequently over the last few years I’ve learnt some great tools to use for saving money when travelling. I have a travel resource page that lists all the trusted companies I personally use and rely on. I think you will find them good as well.
The Best Place To Book Your Tours
If you are someone you likes to have the best tours in one place and read reviews from other travellers about their personal experiences of each different tour then the best platform to use is GetYourGuide.
They offer the best tours, have money-back offers in case your trip is cancelled and ensure the price of each tour is the lowest possible.
Other posts that might interest you:
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