A Taste of South Africa

The Republic of South Africa in the southernmost region of Africa is the 25th largest country in the world, with a coastline that stretches more than 1,500 miles along two oceans. The climatic zones vary from the extreme desert in the farthest northwest to the lush subtropical climate in the east along the Mozambique border and the Indian Ocean. The extreme southwest has a climate remarkably similar to that of the Mediterranean with wet winters and hot, dry summers, and is the area where much of the wine in South Africa is produced. Indeed, South Africa is the eighth largest wine producer in the world.

About 80 percent of the population is of black African ancestry, divided among a variety of ethnic groups speaking different Bantu languages, nine of which have official status. South Africa also contains the largest communities of European, Asian, and racially mixed ancestry in Africa.

The range of climate and growing conditions coupled with the vast mix of peoples who originated from, colonized, or immigrated to South Africa, has profoundly influenced the nation’s multicultural culinary identity.

The cuisine of South Africa was the focus of the third segment in the five-part Africa! lecture and tasting series presented at Kendall College in Chicago on August 22 for the benefit of students enrolled in the School of Culinary Arts. Led by Chef Wilbert Jones, president of Healthy Concepts, a food-product-development company, the series began in April with a focus on Senegal and will end in November with a flavor tour of Ghana. Jones is also host and producer of the upcoming cable-television series, A Taste of Africa: Culture and Cuisine from Casablanca to Cape Town.

South Africa is a net exporter of agricultural products, particularly sugar, grapes, citrus, nectarines, wine, and deciduous fruit. The largest locally produced crop is maize (corn), with an estimated nine million tons produced every year. Livestock are popular on South African farms, and dairy is a significant industry.

One of the best-known exports from South Africa, said Jones, isn’t a foodstuff at all, but Nando’s, an Afro-Portuguese-themed restaurant with more than 1,000 units in 34 countries. In the last three years, five Nando’s restaurants have opened in the United States—four in Washington, D.C., and one in Silver Spring, Maryland. Nando’s is particularly known for its flame-grilled chicken that has been marinated in peri-peri, a Swahili term for the high-antioxidant bird’s-eye chile. Peri-peri sauces can be found in most South African homes.

Many nations have influenced South African fare, including the Netherlands, France, Germany, Great Britain, Portugal, Greece, India, Indonesia, and Madagascar, as well as the neighboring countries of Zimbabwe and Mozambique. More than 400 years ago, Dutch settlers brought their recipes and cooking techniques, many of which are still used today and among the most popular forms of cooking. Malay cuisine, known as Creole melting-pot cooking, is a mélange of influences from the Dutch, indigenous Khoisan people, and slaves from eastern Africa and the Indonesian islands.

Signature dishes in South Africa include sosaties (kebabs), boboties (curried minced dishes), bredies (meat, tomato and vegetable casseroles), bilton (seasoned dried meat similar to jerky), bunny chow (curry-stuffed vegetables stuffed in hollowed-out loaf bread), sambals (chunky fresh relishes usually served with curries), samosas (savory stuffed fried Indian pastry), waterblommetjie (a stew of meat and water flowers, or Cape pond weeds), and malva pudding (a sweet, spongy apricot pudding of Dutch origin).

To cap his lecture at Kendall College, Jones let students taste bobotie, the national dish of South Africa. Jones’s version consisted of curried minced ground lamb with chopped onion, grated apple, raisins, and blanched almonds baked with a custard topping. Students also tasted yellow rice spiked with saffron and raisins, and Jones deconstructed both dishes so that students could gain a better understanding of their preparations.

The next segment in the Africa! series will focus on the cuisine of Morocco on October 24. For more information on the Africa! series at Kendall College, visit www.kendall.edu.