South Africa has a rich multi-cultural heritage you can taste in its authentic dishes. When traveling through South Africa, try a few traditional delicacies.

A table full of food.
Authentic Dishes to try in South Africa
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South Africa has several authentic dishes. Yet, it does not have a single national dish. This is understandable, given its multi-cultural society. Each authentic, traditional dish represents the history of its culture.

By now, South African biltong has made its way to other parts of the world, including the UK and the USA. Biltong is air-dried, cured meat, marinated in vinegar, and a variety of spices. Low in fat, it is gaining popularity as a diet snack. Imported by South African ex-pats who missed food from home, biltong has grown in terms of consumption by non-South Africans.

When visiting South Africa, you will find restaurants offering various cuisines: Portuguese, Greek, Thai, Indian, traditional African, etc. Yes, there are McDonald’s, KFC, and Burger King chains for travelers who want something familiar, but it would be amiss not to try a few authentic South African foods when visiting the country. The dishes mentioned below are uniquely South African and have significant cultural meaning.

Vetkoek or Amagwinya

Vetkoek or amagwinya is an authentic dish to try in South Africa
Authentic Dish to try – vetkoek or amagwinya filled with mince and potatoes
Photo courtesy of Joey Botha

Amagwinya is the Zulu name, and vetkoek is the Afrikaans name for the same traditional food. They make this local favorite either with yeast or baking powder. It is deep-fried bread, normally shaped into balls. Fried until golden brown, it remains light inside. It is similar in appearance to a round doughnut.

They serve amagwinya or vetkoek, savory or sweet. Savory fillings include minced meat, an array of vegetables, or cheese. You can use it as a roll for soup. You can also eat it sweet, with fillings of jam or chocolate. Anything goes as a filling, or you can even eat it plain.

You can find amagwinya in fast food shops across the country. Many roadside vendors sell this by the hundreds daily. It’s popular as a meal or a snack. They often sell this local food next to construction sites, taxi-ranks, and bus ranks. It is a quick on-the-go meal.

This food was not on my childhood menu. Introduced to it as an adult, I’ve tried a version with jam and cheese. It doesn’t disappoint. It is light and filling at the same time. When made right, you forget that it’s deep-fried!

Bunny Chow

Authentic dish to try in South Africa is the bunny chow.
Authentic Dish to try—mutton bunny chow
Photo courtesy of Karinha Ramnund

Spoiler alert: The dish does not contain bunnies! The name of the food is a derivative of a colloquial slang. Bunny chow originated within the Indian community in Durban, South Africa, in the early 20th century.

Indian merchants, known collectively as “Baniyas,” created this food indigenous to South Africa. They sold this to Indian indentured laborers who worked in the sugarcane fields in Kwa-Zulu Natal. This food sustained the workers who worked long and hard in the fields.

Bunny chows have three components: the filling, white bread, and a small salad. They split a loaf of white bread into halves or quarters, hollow it out in the middle, and fill the bread with curry (mutton, beef, or vegetarian). They serve it with a small salad comprised of grated carrots, radishes, and onions.

Bunny chows can be flavored with several spices, curries that are mild or hot. There are two constants with a bunny chow: plenty of gravy and white bread. They then wrap the bunny chow in wax paper or brown paper. You can find a bunny chow in various Indian restaurants and takeaways.

This food is gaining popularity in other parts of the world, especially England. Supposedly, we can now find it on the menu of a South African restaurant in San Francisco!

Bobotie

Authentic dish to try in South Africa is bobotie.
Authentic Dish to try — bobotie with spiced mutton
Photo courtesy of Charmaine Zoe

Bobotie, a dish largely originated by Cape Town’s Cape Malay community, is popular in many parts of South Africa. This food has both Malaysian and Indonesian influences. Minced meat, raisins, bread, milk, and eggs are bobotie’s primary ingredients.

They flavor minced meat with various spices and a few finely chopped vegetables, such as onion and celery. Depending on one’s preferences, they may also include lentils. They add raisins or sultanas to offset the spice. They top the dish with an egg and milk mixture, which forms a custard once baked in the oven. Turmeric rice is usually a side dish to bobotie.

Bobotie is a popular dish. It is made by many South Africans, all of whom add their own twists. You can find bobotie on many South African menus, and it’s also a popular frozen meal in supermarkets.


South African cuisine has many influences, but some dishes are uniquely South African. Over the last few years, various authentic recipes from South Africa have become popular the world over. If you visit South Africa, try some of its traditional dishes. It’s an interesting insight into its culture, history, and people.