Biltong is South Africa’s version of beef jerky. Whether we are on the road, watching a Rugby or cricket match, hosting or attending a braai, or just relaxing at home, biltong is a staple snack that most if not all households enjoy. Unlike American jerky that is ground, formed into strips, and dehydrated, biltong is made with high quality beef, seasoned well with spices, and hung to dry naturally in temperature controlled cases. Biltong is lean, a great source of protein, and doesn’t contain any added sugars which truly separates it from its American counterpart.
Droëwors, which looks like an American Slim Jim, is another staple snack in South Africa. It is made of high quality ground meat, usually beef and lamb or beef and pork, that is spiced, formed into a thin sausage, and hung to dry. It is also very lean, a high source of protein, and a delicious snack that can be eaten anytime and anywhere.
A grilled cheese sandwich on steroids – jaffles are round toasted sandwiches filled with a delicious, but messy filling such as mince or pulled chicken. The best part about them though is that the jaffle maker that they are made in seals the edges of the sandwich so that none of the yummy filling will escape. The jaffle maker itself was designed to be used either over open flames or on a gas stove and last forever. We’ve had ours for longer than I’ve been alive! Jaffles, like vetkoek, is very versatile and can contain almost anything you’d like and can be eaten with either a savory or sweet filling. They are enjoyed on all occasions, especially during sporting events or while traveling. Our family traditionally eat jaffles with a savory filling made with mince (ground beef) and a sauce containing ketchup, chutney, and a variety of spices. Regardless of what you fill them with, jaffles are a crowd pleaser.
These are by far one of my favorite parts of the South African food scene. Koeksisters (pronounced cook sisters) are pieces of braided dough that are fried and immediately dunked into an ice-cold syrup containing hints of ginger and orange. This process allows the warm dough to soak up the sticky, sweet syrup while still maintaining its slightly crisp exterior. Koeksisters are served either chilled or at room temperature, depending on the host, and are usually enjoyed with afternoon tea. For those with a sweet tooth like myself, it is difficult to eat just one and can be enjoyed at any time of the day.
- Sausage Rolls
The name speaks for itself – a sausage rolls are round log-looking pieces of puff pastry that are filled with a fragrant and mouth-watering filling made of ground beef, or a mixture of ground beef and pork. They can be served either hot or cold and in bite-sized pieces for appetizers or full-length for a quick lunch. South Africans find any excuse to eat sausage rolls and can be found just about everywhere, whether it’s your local Spar (a grocery store like a Kroger), the petrol station on the corner, or at the local bakery. They are often enjoyed at school rugby games, at church bazaars, or as appetizers at braais or parties.
The South African Hidden Valley bar – these oatmeal bars are incredibly yummy, healthy, and filled with nutty goodness. They are perfect for an on-the-go breakfast or anytime snack. They are also very easy to make and taste much better than any store-bought oatmeal or granola bar.
Vetkoek, pronounce ‘fet cook’ is a piece of round, fried dough that is filled with a savory and immensely flavorful mixture of curry mince. Crispy on the outside, but soft and pillow-y on the inside, these decadent beauties are perfect on any occasion and travel extremely well. The best part of vetkoek is that the delicious filling doesn’t seep out of the sides or make the bread soggy, which is the problem with American sloppy joes, the closest comparison. They are very versatile as well and can be filled with nearly anything. Other than the mince, South Africans love to fill them with either apricot jam and grated cheddar cheese or grated cheddar cheese and golden syrup, which is a cross between honey and maple syrup.
- Meat Pies
The name here also speaks for itself – meat pies, which are similar to an empanada, are either baked or fried pastry dough containing a variety of fillings. The most common pies are filled with a fragrant curry mince (ground beef), succulent chicken curry, or rich steak and kidney. These pies are served warm and make quite a mess due to the vast amount of filling and the crusty, flaky and butter crust. Meat pies are definitely a staple food in South Africa and satisfy nearly any craving.
- Beskuit (Ouma’s Rusks)
There is nothing better than a fresh piece of beskuit or a rusk in the morning with a cup of coffee or with an afternoon cup of tea. Beskuit, pronounced buh-skate, is similar to a biscotti and comes in a large variety of flavors, the most common being buttermilk and muesli. For those who are not big on eating breakfast, beskuit is perfect because it provides just enough energy and wholegrains to get you through the morning. While it’s best to dunk into a warm beverage, beskuit can be eaten plain as well, but there is nothing better than allowing the beskuit to soak up warm coffee or tea. YUM.
- Slap Chips
Just like in the UK, Europe, and Australia, South Africans refer to French fries as chips. Slap chips (slap pronounced like cup) are the king of all chips and can only be found in corner cafes that normally sell fish & chips and Russians (which are a type of sausage that is similar to, but better than a hot dog). Slap chips are served wrapped in paper and doused in vinegar and salt. The best way to eat them is to rip open a corner of the paper package and eat them while they are still piping hot. The word ‘slap’ means limp or soggy and that is exactly what these chips are. They are soft and pillow-y on the inside with a slight crisp on the outside. While they aren’t the healthiest of snacks, they are comforting, satisfying, and exceptionally delicious during any time of day, especially when the weather is cold.