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June 09, 2010

Get your food facts straight

Boerewors, a traditional South African sausage

Boerewors, a traditional South African sausage. Photo courtesy Paul Watson

Foreigners and locals beware: if you ask for a bunny chow, don’t expect a well-chewed rabbit, and, if you ask for a smiley, don’t fall over when you get a roasted sheep’s head instead of a smirk.

Visitors heading to South Africa for the FIFA World Cup™ (and quite a few locals too) need to get up to speed with what’s what on the food front, and to be able to distinguish their mopane from their nyama when hunger strikes.

Take the letter K: koeksusters are delicious (high-calorie, high fat, deep-fried) dough twists soaked in sugar syrup. They are not to be confused with vetkoek – which are deep-fried balls of bread, with sweet or savoury fillings. Kudu, on the other hand, are majestic antelope usually seen in game parks, yet every now and then they can also make an appearance on your dinner plate.

Potjiekos is a stew cooked in a three-legged pot and very different from ulusu, a stew mainly of animal stomachs. If it’s meat you want, shisa nyama’s the thing – choose your chunk and braai it yourself on an open fire (braai means barbeque, not burn).

Biltong and boerewors are not for vegetarians (the former being dried meat strips and the latter a spicy sausage) and are also not to be confused with sosaties, which are actually skewered bits of marinated and meat or chicken. Fancy taking a guess at what ‘walkie talkies’ are in South Africa? They’re ready-to-eat chicken feet and heads.

You could liven up your portion of most of the above with a good dollop of chakalaka (a spicy vegetable mix) or treaty yourself to a decent serving of pap (thick maize porridge) to fill any gaps.

On the liquid side of life, get a drink in a shebeen (a township drinking spot), try out umqombothi, a traditional milky beer with a sour taste, and then recover with a consoling cup of rooibos tea, a local caffeine-free tea full of healthy compounds. Dip a rusk (a hard, dry biscuit) into your rooibos for some real comfort food.

Pudding might include a melktert (a custardy tart with cinnamon) or a malva pudding (a sponge pudding with a toffee sauce).

Don’t think bobotie is a pudding – it’s not. This dish is a Cape Malay favourite, sporting mincemeat with raisins, covered in an unsweetened egg custard.

Bunny chows, by the way, are curry of some sort in a hollowed out half-loaf of bread – and mopane are protein-packed worms that have been dried or fried.

Happy eating (there’s always the local burger joint for the faint-hearted)!

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