Where to find South African food in Cape Town
With influences from around the world, South African cuisine is an interesting and rich combination of foreign spices with local flavours that only the aunties, braaiers and spice masters of South Africa have perfected. Cape Town’s obsession with food and frequent rewards as a foodie hotspot means you best come to the Mother City hungry.
This is by no means a definitive list, but a good place to start. Here are some of South Africa’s favourite foods and where to find them:
Koesisters, koeksisters and vetkoek
All three of these delicious South African treats are made with fried dough, but they are three quite different things. Koesisters and koeksisters are both doused in deliciously sticky syrup, but the koesister’s calling card is desiccated coconut, while the koeksister is twisted in a knot like a plait. Both are sticky and sweet, but where the koeksister is usually a golden colour inside, the Cape Malay’s koesister is spiced with ginger, cinnamon, naartjie peel, and aniseed.
Vetkoek, on the other hand, is a soft and doughy fried bun that can be eaten as a sweet treat with jam or as a savoury dish with curry mince.
Where to find it:
Koesisters: Bibis Kitchen in Wynberg, Wembley’s Roadhouse in Athlone, Bo-Kaap Kombuis in the Bo-Kaap, Miriam’s Kitchen in the CBD
Koeksister: Many supermarkets will have them, Deeghuys in Belville
Vetkoek: Vetkoek Paleis Brackenfell, Vetkoek Shack in Blaauwberg
This much-loved South African favourite is a perfect combination of curried mince baked with an egg-based crust. It’s the South African answer to Shepard’s Pie and is delicious with yellow curry rice and Chutney. For a true SA flavour, think Mrs Ball’s chutney that started as a home industry in 1918 and at one stage was being made in the backyard of Mrs Ball’s Fish Hoek home in Cape Town. It is now an International brand – but it belongs to us.
Please take a deep breath, despite the name there is no rabbit in this yummy dish made famous in Durban, but made deliciously in Cape Town. First, you take a fresh, soft, white loaf of bread, then you hollow out the inside and fill the gap with a steamy and tasty curry. Then you serve it with the extra piece of bread and devour it with your hands. If it’s not messy, you’re not doing it right.
Where to find it: Eastern Food Bazaar in the CBD, Sunrise chip ‘n ranch in Mowbray
Braai meat / Shisa nyama
You could call us South braaifrica because our “braai” defines us and you need only spend one Sunday with a local to see why we love a good Shisa nyama so much. We like to get together around the fire and smell the meat cooking on the grill. From chops and chicken to boerewors and braaibroodjies, it’s a feast and we haven’t even mentioned the sides yet! It’s never just about the food though (which usually takes a few hours), it’s about the sense of community and getting together to bond and catch up.
Where you can experience it: Mzoli’s Meat in Gugulethu, kwaMaphindi in Nyanga, Tiger’s Place in Langa or a neighbour’s back garden
Melkterk / Milk tart
The Afrikaans answer to cheesecake – without the cheese – is a creamy, cinnamony sweet symphony that usually has a light crust. A nationwide search for the best Milk Tart in the land by the Afrikaans magazine Sarie in 2009 resulted in tannie Helie Williams from Bellville earning the top honours. Her Milk Tart is a work of art and a good example of the ideal tart with a thin pastry base, creamy filling and baked to perfection for a few minutes (there is also a fridge variety which is just as delicious).
What the Bunny Chow is to Durban, the Gatsby is to Cape Town. It’s the epitome of “Capetowness” – more than you bargained for, a lot of good things together, memorable and you’ll always want to come back for more. The Masala Steak Gatsby is a favourite and will serve as our example of what a Gatsby is: First you take a huge loaf of bread (let’s call it an African baguette) pack it with tender and juicy meat and spiced chips, douse it with barbeque sauce and add lettuce. One Gatsby can feed at least four hungry people, so it’s made for sharing.
Pap or mieliepap is an African staple of cooked maize meal that accompanies stews, curries or braai meat with a good serving of sauce. It comes mostly in two varieties: Thick and solid Putu pap or light and crumbly krummelpap.
Fish and chips
Thanks to the British, our former colonisers, fish-full coastline and harbours, fish and chips is a Cape Town staple. Crisply fried hake with slaptjips (soft fries) drenched in vinegar is a must at local favourites like Kalkies in Kalk Bay or the Salty Seadog in Simon’s Town.
Where to find it: Read our article on the best fish and chips in Cape Town
Cape Malay Curry
Cape Malay curries (or “kerries”) take your senses on vacation to Malaysia while your heart remains in Cape Town. Colourful spices give these curries their distinctive taste and they make excellent comfort food served on yellow rice with a mix of sambals, atjars and sliced banana. While beef, lamb and chicken are the easiest to find, the fish curry is the one you’ll want on the West Coast.
South Africans are seriously proud of rooibos, and so we should be! As part of the fynbos family, it’s indigenous with health benefits that make it almost better for you than pure H2O. It contains antioxidants, is naturally caffeine- and sugar-free and it tastes delicious without any additives (although some do like a little honey, milk or sugar with their cuppa). We love it so much we use it in baking, add it to our gin and ice cream and even make red cappuccinos and lattes with it! The rest of the world is catching on with our main exports going to Germany, The Netherlands, Japan, the UK and the US.
You can order a pot of rooibos tea at most restaurants.
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