The cuisine of Southern Africa (including Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland) has a highly multicultural history, with influences from the original indigenous people, as well as numerous waves of immigration from The Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Britain, as well as Indo-Asia. Beef is particularly prized in this part of the world and meat usually forms the centre of most meals. Dried food such as biltong (jerky, often made with antelope meat), droëwors (dried sausage) and rusks is also common to Southern Africa, which was born out of necessity for pioneers and travellers.
Borewors, pap and chakalaka
Borewors is a long spiral sausage from South Africa, usually made with beef and another meat such as pork or lamb, and spiced with ingredients like coriander seed, nutmeg, black pepper, cloves and allspice. The word for barbecued in South Africa is “braaied”, which is a common and important concept in South African cuisine, as many social occasions are centred on the outdoor grill. Indeed there is even a Braai day annually on the 24th September, which celebrates multiculturalism, acceptance and unity among all cultures and religions, by sharing a meal around a barbecue. Wikipedia reliably informs me that there is a Guinness World Record for the longest borewors, which measured 1,557.15 metres, which makes mine seem rather paltry in comparison. Pap is a white corn meal mash/porridge that is a staple food in much of Southern Africa. It is sometimes eaten as a breakfast food, but also commonly served with borewors. Chakalaka typically accompanies pap; it’s a spicy vegetable and bean relish with a base of tomatoes. These mixtures of legumes, spices and vegetables are among my favourite dishes, not least because it allows the thrifty cook to get rid of all of the ageing vegetables in the fridge, and also because it’s a delicious way to consume a lot of said vegetables in a single sitting. The spiciness of the chakalaka goes splendidly with the blander pap and altogether comprises a fantastic new take on the concept of “bangers and mash”.
Bobotie is a South African dish of mince spiced with onion, curry powder, apple, carrot, raisins, ginger and garlic, topped with a mixture of egg, milk and turmeric and then baked and topped with bay leaves. I have to admit, I wasn’t quite sure about this dish when I first heard of it, but it turned out to be delicious. Who knew savoury custard was the perfect accompaniment to curry-flavoured meat? Apparently bobotie is quite an ancient recipe indeed, a variant purportedly appearing in an ancient Roman cook book “Apicius” in the 4th century AD. The name “bobotie” is considerably younger, first being referenced in a Dutch cook book in the 1600s, although the etymology of the name remains mysterious. It may originate from the Malayan word “boemboe”, which refers to curry spices, or alternatively the Indonesian word “bobotok” which is an entirely different meal.
Bunny chow is sometimes considered the national dish of South Africa, consisting of a curry made with vegetables or meat (such as chicken or lamb) served inside a hollowed out loaf of bread. I have noticed an ongoing trend in Wikipedia articles for dishes of the world, where the choice of “representative picture” seems to operate under the criteria of the ugliest presentation possible, almost as if the authors have taken on the personal challenge of making all food look completely unappetising. This pattern is particularly apparent for bunny chow, which looks as if it has already been at least partially digested in the article’s top picture. Happily, bunny chow need not look quite so distasteful, and I opted for a rounder loaf of bread for my presentation rather than the common squarish loaf of supermarket bread, filled with a chicken, potato and bean curry flavoured with onion, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, star anise, fennel, chilli, tomatoes and curry leaves. The dish originated in Durban, which hosts a large population of Indian South Africans, and sprang into existence in the early 1900s when Indian migrant workers fused their home curry recipes with the prevalent loaves of bread for sale as a convenient way to carry lunch to work. The popularity of this dish has also been ascribed to the laws against people of Indian descent carrying cutlery like knives in public during apartheid, and so handheld meals that required little or no cutlery were especially convenient. “Chow” is simply a slang for “food” in South African English, however the “bunny” component of the name has less clear origins, with some attributing it to an amalgamation of “bun” (as in bread) and “achar” (Indian pickles). Should you find yourself in South Africa craving a bunny chow, you would take yourself to a takeaway outlet and ask for one, specifying the size (quarter, half, full) and filling (beans, mutton, chicken) of your choice – e.g. “I’d like a quarter mutton please”. Should you like to immerse yourself even more deeply in the bunny chow culture you ought to visit Durban during September when the annual “Bunny Chow Barometer” is held, where courageous chefs vie for the esteemed title of top bunny maker. I’m certainly not ready to enter such tough competition, but I loved my version of this comforting combination of chunky and saucy curry sopped up with lots of crust white bread.
Oxtail potjiekos with cabbage and apple salad
Potjiekos means “small pot food”, and is literally cooked outdoors on an open fire in a round cast iron pot. Potjiekos is stew, made with any meat desired and vegetables, although the original was purportedly made with wild game such as venison, and thickened with the addition of venison bones. The inventors of this original recipe were the Voortrekkers, which means pioneers, who were migrants to the east from the frontiers of the Cape Colony in South Africa. Importantly, the ingredients comprising the potjiekos are placed into the pot and then left on a very low heat for many hours without being stirred. This distinguishes it from other types of stews that are stirred while cooking, apparently because without stirring, the flavours of the different ingredients don’t blend into one homogenous mixture and are still able to be tasted separately. However, I strongly suspect the tradition was brought about by a reluctance to get up to the pot after a long day pioneering. I made my potjiekos with sliced oxtail, bacon, tomato, beef stock, pepper, onions, carrots, leeks, potatoes, garlic and mushrooms, all flavoured with generous quantities of red wine. I served it with a cabbage and apple salad, which was a nice fresh crunchy contrast to the rich potjiekos.