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. 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. The spiciness of the chakalaka goes well with the blander pap, and the borewors adds a great umami element to the dish.
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.
Cape Malay fish curry with yellow rice and banana
Cape Malay fish curry comes from the Bo-Kaap area of Cape Town, formerly known as the Malay quarter. The fragrant curry has relaxed rules about its ingredients, with everyone seeming to have their own special recipe. The central theme is always fish, however, a white firm fish being the preferred variety. I flavoured mine with a mix of onion, garlic, chilli, fennel, cumin, ground coriander, garam masala, turmeric, cinnamon, cloves, carrots, hot masala, tomatoes, tamarind, curry leaves and coriander leaves. The curry often has some sort of fruit ingredient added or served on the side, such as fresh or dried apricots or bananas, or some sort of fruit jam. I served mine with fresh banana slices and rice. I loved the depth of flavour of this curry, with notes of sweetness and the delicacy of the fish.
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.