5 Traditional South African Foods you have to try.

In South Africa, you’ll find dishes influenced by the indigenous population, along with the Dutch, French, Indians and Malaysians and as such it offers a vibrant cuisine that’s sure to excite the palate. But there are certain foods that no amount of influence can replace. Here are 5 of the most popular traditional South African foods you have to try when you visit South Africa.

1. Magwinya (Deep-fried doughnuts)

Walking in the CBD you’ll see Mama’s with cardboards, pots and a bucket of dough making Magwinya. With that a long queue of people waiting to start their day at work with magwinya and tea.

Magwinya, a national favorite from Botswana and South Africa, is a type of deep fried doughnut. This unique South African fried bread is thought to have Dutch origins and is similar to vetkoek, a fat cake. The main difference between magwinya and vetkoek is that the former is often sweeter, lighter, and moister. Vetkoek also tend to be cut open and stuffed with cheese, mince, or jam and served with side items like fish.

Magwinya is referred to as township food in South Africa. In Botswana, the best fat cakes are bought from street vendors who make them fresh and sell them with fried chips. Although it’s not exactly the healthiest snack, it is very popular. A classic magwinya recipe involves six simple ingredients: flour, sugar, yeast, salt, oil, and water.

Also popular in Afrikaner cooking, vetkoek is basically a fried doughbread. The word means “fat cake” and is similar to the Dutch oliebollen. It can be accompanied by sweet or savoury toppings like minced curry and chutney.

2. Dombolo (Steam bread) and Beef Stew

Steamed bread is a kind of bread, typically made from wheat, that is prepared by steaming instead of baking. Steamed bread is produced and consumed all around the world but in South Africa it is known as the traditional comfort food of all time when eaten with Mom’s heart Beef Stew.

This combination is an ultimate traditional meal you have to try in South Africa. If you’ve had this combination anywhere else, believe us when we say you haven’t had the best yet. Restaurants have tried adding this meal in their Menu, although it is tasty but nothing compares to a home cooked Dombolo and Beef stew from a Gogo (Grandmotehr) or Mama who has taken years to perfect it.

3. Gemmer (Homemade Ginger beer) and DiKuku/Amakhekhe (Scones)

Be it a wedding, christmas party, a funeral, you name it. As long as the people have gathered and there’s a tent outside, there is Dikuku (Scones) and Gemmer.

This has become an all time festive favourite in South African Households. Many have taken their grandmothers recipe’s and turned it into a business. When we searched Google, we soon found that it is not a true South African beverage and that it originated in England in the 1700’s.
We dare not argue with the clever people at Google, but for us, it is associated with every celebration in South Africa.

Ginger beer is a drink originating from England, where sugar, ginger, water, and sometimes lemon were fermented and brewed with a starter culture called the ginger beer plant, resulting in a brew with about 11 percent alcohol. This also explains how the word “beer” is part of the name

Learn how to make your own Gemmer/Ginger beer here.

4. Pap and Vleis

Every South African, and it is not a hyperbole when we say that every single one of us, knows exactly what ‘pap en vleis’ is. ‘Pap en vleis’ is a truly South African dish, one that is deeply imbedded in our history.

According to South Africa Tours and Travel (2009), throughout South African history, from the time of the native ‘Khoi’ and ‘San’ people, through to the ‘Great Trek’ and ‘Anglo/Boer War’, ‘pap en vleis’ was a staple and customary dish. This was primarily in part to the fact that settlers at the time were constantly on the move, along with their nomadic and native counterparts.

Subsequently, very few provisions, all none perishables, were taken when moving from one location to the next. One of these primary imperishable’s was ‘pap’, also known as ‘maize meal’. The ‘vleis’ (meat) on the other hand, was often sourced directly from cattle or native game. Innovatively, gathered meat, a perishable, was made imperishable by being cured, dried and cut into slices to be enjoyed at a later time. Today, this is known as ‘Biltong’; the life blood of a true South African!

Pap, Gravy and Boerewors

Pap and Vleis is also often enjoyed with another Proudly South African Food called ‘Chakalaka’, which combines vegetables such as peppers, onions, carrots, and tomatoes into a usually-spicy relish. Often served at braais to accompany side dishes like pap (similar to polenta but smoother), it also goes wonderfully with boerewors.

5. Umngqusho

Umngqusho is made from white maize and sugar beans, a staple food for the Xhosa people. The dish has several variants – made with stamp mielies, with sugar beans, butter, onions, potatoes, chillies and lemons and then made to simmer.

Best served with a heart beef stew or Chicken stew but also eaten on its own. This is another great comfort food eaten best in the cold winter.


There are a number of foods we didn’t mention here such as Bobotjie, Sphatlo (Kota), Bunny Chow, Koeksisters, Milktart and so many other proudly South African dishes you have to try. If you think we missed a vital meal in our list of the 5 traditional meals you must try, comment below with a meal you think is a MUST TRY!!!

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