South African cuisine has changed from indigenous dependence on wild game, cattle and gathering of foods from the wild, to farming, and cooking styles brought by colonists from Netherlands, Germany France and Britain, as well as immigrants from India. Traditional "Cape Dutch" cookery mixes European cooking with spices like nutmeg, allspice and hot peppers, brought to South Africa from India and Southeast Asia.
The cuisine of South Africa is a surprisingly splendid one. Although unique, it results from an intermingling of vastly different cultures and native cuisines. Throughout its history, the culinary arts of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Arab States have merged to create the sensational cuisine South Africa calls its own. To fully appreciate the multi-cultural aspect of South Africa's gastronomy, it is necessary to understand this country's historic evolution.
Up until the influx of white foreigners to South Africa over 500 hundred years ago, the Bushmen, who were hunters and gatherers, subsisted primarily on game, and food derived from local crops such as corn and millet. The Khoikhoi people raised cattle and sheep, which were also important diet staples.
In the mid-1400's, Bartholomeu Dias became the first European explorer to discover the southern tip of continental Africa. In so doing, he discovered a water route from his native country of Portugal to the Far East. This gateway between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans activated trading between Europe, India, and the Spice Islands, initially by Vasco da Gama in 1497, then later by the Dutch East India Company. Dutch trading ships used the land as a stopping point on frequent voyages to the Far East.
In 1652 the Dutch built a settlement at the Cape of Good Hope, a headland in the southwestern part of South Africa. Thus began the influx of Dutch culture into the native population. The Dutch farmers and cattle herders, known as Boers, introduced baked goods and other specialties from their native country of Holland to the South African diet. The descendants of these pioneers became known as Afrikaners, and they developed a language called Afrikaans by which many of the Dutch-derived recipes are named.
The Boers later brought slaves from Java, Sumatra, and Malaysia in the 1600's to work the South African land they acquired as they forced the remaining Khoikhoi tribes northward into Central Africa. With the slaves came curries, chutneys, sambals, and atjars—imported specialties of India, China, and Indonesia. These dishes also became an integral part of the metamorphosing cuisine of South Africa.
Because of the Cape's position between the east and the west, its temperate climate, and fertile land, the population of South African inhabitants grew quickly to include other European settlers such as French refugees who brought with them grape vines and their native French dishes. British and Germans also populated the area, adding other European influences to the development of South African cuisine. The British brought their native meat pies, and the Germans their pastries.
As the population of White South Africans increased, the once native African cuisine broadened to accommodate the foods and cooking techniques introduced from Western and Eastern cultures. New foods merged with native coconuts, chile peppers, pumpkin, tangerines, and tamarind, creating unique dishes with roots in vastly different cultures, to create what South African now calls its own. This newly "refined" cuisine of South Africa has become not only the best of both worlds, it has become the best of all worlds.
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This page modified January 2007
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