The best way to get to know a place is to experience the local cuisine and chat to residents over a delicious meal unique to the area. If you’re a food lover, South Africa’s townships offer a wide range of culinary diversity, each bringing the spices and flavours of different cultures to the table.
For a foodie adventure, here are six must-try dishes in townships:
Cape Malay food
An important part of Capetonian culture, Cape Malay food is a spicy, aromatic and full-bodied fusion of flavours from the Malaysian, Indonesian and East African slaves brought to the Cape in the 17th and 18th centuries.
It’s also a cultural aspect shared by the community. If you ever book a stay in the ‘Cape Flat’ area, you’re likely to spot a queue of people lining up in front of someone’s garage or kitchen, or by a mama at a corner. Capetonians have a Sunday tradition of buying fresh koeksusters from households who sell.
Samoosas, the gatsby, roti based food , koeksusters and different curries are some of the top things to eat in the townships in the Cape Flats area.
The gatsby – a hefty sandwich made from a long bread roll filled with chips, grilled meat, sausage, eggs, tomato, lettuce, cheese, and sauce – is a classic for Capetonians. It allegedly originated in Athlone, where you can sample some of the best gatsbies at local eateries like Super Fisheries, Wembley Roadhouse and Golden Plate. It’s a shared meal as it’s huge – often cut into two to four pieces – and it’s been known to be served on the bonnet of someone’s car.
Head of Marketing and Communications at online booking platform Jurni platform, Tshepo Matlou says, “South Africans love making, eating, and sharing food. There are so many tastes and flavours in the different parts of our country, and only by travelling to a region and making the effort to seek out where to try local food, will you be able to indulge in an authentic dish loved by the people who live there.”
One of the culinary discoveries to take off in townships in recent years is the freakshake. If you have a sweet tooth, a jugful of ice cream, cake, wafer, cookies and other dainty treats may tickle your fancy. And while different townships add their own touches to freakshakes, Skeem Corner in the semi-township of Tickyline in Tzaneen, Limpopo serves some of the most creative ice cream treats around. Their freakshakes are like a culinary festival in your hands!
Tzaneen has a lot to offer tourists, including the Hans Merensky Game Reserve, Glencoe Baobab, Agatha Crocodile Ranch and hiking trails among other things. It also has the popular Sanloo Manor, which provides accommodation in an architectural setting that may have you thinking you are in the Cape Winelands.
The Kota experience
Come hungry if you want to try a kota. This popular dish made out of a quarter loaf of bread and variety of meat fillings, fruit and vegetables, relishes – including the ever-trusted achaar, condiments, eggs, mopani worms. It’s known by different names, depending on which part of the country you come from. If you’re from the north, you may know it as ‘sphathlo’; if you are from around the Vaal triangle, ‘skhambane’, whereas people from Durban call it ‘bunny chow.
Matlou says, “I’ve been to many townships before and I’m yet to visit one that doesn’t regard ‘kota’ as its fast food of choice. People always gravitate towards what is creative, but practical.” If you haven’t tried kota before, don’t miss the fifth edition of the annual township dish contest, The Blue Ribbon Soweto Kota Festival, which will be held in Soweto on 3-4 September.
Ox liver with a kick
Beef offal is commonly served in townships around Mzansi. Offal is made from the stomach, intestines, liver or kidneys – but seldom do you come across a dish that uses these ingredients and literally makes a meal of a mixture of the flavours. Just opposite the Protea Gardens Mall in Soweto is a start-up restaurant known as Spanda-by-Day, which serves pre fried ox-liver, with bell peppers among other things, and a special in-house sweet and tangy sauce that sets the eatery apart from others in the township.
The chicken dust experience
Every notable township has its own braai culture, but a tasty style is ‘chicken dust’ – spicy open flame-grilled chicken, with the main attraction the play on spice and relishes in the dish. If you’re ever in Moruleng in Rustenburg, North West – Kasi Chicken Dust just opposite Moruleng Mall serves up food that is top drawer.
While most townships offer the overall braai experience, many customers are swayed by the lifestyle element, or ‘groove’, – as many ‘chisa nyamas’ double as clubs or tarvens. Clear cut examples of this are Value Meat Real Braai in Ackerville, Emalahleni, and the famous Max’s Lifestyle in Umlazi, Durban, where the food is accompanied by a hive of activity, particularly at night when the fashionistas and revelers come out to play.
The trusty favourites
Many people still love tried and tested traditional dishes. For example, Gama La Magama African Cuisine is a restaurant that sells traditional isiXhosa dishes in Mdantsane, near East London, serving trusted meals like sheep trotters, sheep head, steam bread and traditional salads.
With travel now fully open in South Africa, take advantage and explore townships and improve your knowledge of Mzansi. A local travel bookings site site like Jurni will help you find accommodation during your stay there – now all that’s left to do is pack up your appetite and start exploring!