Iconic South African Meals

We have such a vibrant country. Our people live and work together as one, but between us, all are different cultures, religions, and views. We all have unique histories dating back centuries. Our histories, cultures, and personalities come together to create some of the most delicious and proudly South African meals.

Some meals are South African twists on old favourites, and some are brand new and thought up by the local people who make up this beautiful country.

Some food is more out there than the rest, and some meals are just downright comfort food, reminding you of the way your grandmother used to cook.

Related read – 10 Best Traditional Bites To Taste In South Africa

Iconic South African Meals

If you want to go on a South African culinary experience, be prepared for spice, for comfort and for some of the most delicious food you have ever tasted.

Our fresh ingredients and subtle mix of flavours come together to create mouthwatering dishes that will leave you coming back for seconds.

The great thing about South African cooking is that we always cater for family, friends, and guests to have seconds – our home is your home and we want you to be as comfortable (and full) as possible!

Here are some of the most iconic and well known proudly South African dishes


Iconic South African Meals

Every South African loves biltong, and many people live off it during rugby season. Biltong is dried, cured and spiced meat. It is similar to the American jerky but isn’t as sweet. Biltong is usually made from beef, but there are alternatives like venison biltong, chicken biltong, and even the delicious bacon biltong.

For vegetarians, you are even able to buy some seaweed biltong! Biltong is often served as a snack during social gatherings or sports events.



Another proudly South African meal. Boerewors translates from Afrikaans as farmers’ sausage. It is a sausage made from beef mince and should have a quantity of at least 90% meat to be called boerewors.

It has very distinct spices such as coriander, cloves, and nutmeg. South Africans love making their boerewors if they can and often put a personal touch in with the spices and flavours. If you go to a South African braai, you can bet there will be some boerewors cooking up.



Bobotie is a dish that has a heavy Cape Malay influence. It consists of spiced minced and an egg-based topping. Traditional bobotie has sultanas and raisins mixed in which give it a sweeter taste.

The main spices in bobotie are curry spices, turmeric and sometimes you might find almonds in there are well. It is a very popular dinner dish, especially in cape families.



Now, koeksisters are just downright delicious. They are deep-fried dough twists rolled and dosed in a healthy coating of sugary syrup. They are golden and crunchy on the outside and heavenly soft on the inside. Their texture is similar to that of a doughnut.

The Cape Malay version of the traditional koeksister involves it being rolled in desiccated coconut after being fried. Koeksisters are the perfect treat at tea time – or pretty much any time of day!

Malva Pudding

malva pudding

You haven’t tasted proper pudding if you haven’t tasted malva pudding. Malva pudding has Cape Dutch origins and is a spongey pudding that contains apricot jam and caramel sauce.

Once it is cooked in the oven, a cream-based sauce is poured over the top which makes the cake saucy and sticky and just delicious. Most South Africans serve their malva pudding hot with vanilla ice cream or hot custard.



Okay, so we really like our desserts – it’s no crime! Milk tart is a dish that is loved by ALL South Africans. Affectionately known as melktert, it is a dessert that is pie-like but has a creamy filling that is made with milk, sugar, flour, and eggs. It is sweet and soft with a sweet pastry crust holding it all together.

It can be found in most grocery stores and every family swears they have the best melktert recipe.



Probably one of the easiest South African meals to make, but one of the tastiest. Potjiekos or pot food is made in a cast iron round pot over a fire.

Potjiekos is a mix of meat and vegetables with a stew-like sauce. There are many new modern variations of traditional potjiekos, but it remains one of the easiest and simplest ways to cook for a large group of people.

The pot the potjiekos are cooked in is simply called a potjie pot, and now you can even cook your potjiekos over a skittle gas braai.



Vetkoek is predominant in the Afrikaans culture. It translates as fat cake. It is a deep-fried dough bread and it can be accompanied by either sweet or savoury toppings. Jam or mince are both great on a freshly fried vekoek.



Chakalaka is a relish that South Africans have perfected and it is made with vegetables like peppers, onions, tomatoes, carrots and so on. It is usually spicy and is served with meat at a braai or on a boerewors roll.

Chakalaka can be stored in the fridge for quite some time and used to sauce up some dry meals. You can even buy canned chakalaka with variations like added viennas (sausages), peas and extra hot. Reducing chakalaka with sugar makes for an incredible braai-side pasta dish!

See also – South African Desserts You Can Relish On Festivals

South African Food At Its Best

The best way to enjoy South African food is to eat it out of the houses of the locals. The restaurant and fast food chains offer good meals but you will find that there is something so special about a traditional, home-cooked South African meal.

A juicy vetkoek topped with some leftover bobotie, or a koeksister fresh and syrupy after a long braai, these foods will create such cherished memories. They remind us of our childhoods, of our family cooking on a Sunday night and of learning to cook on our own.

The flavours are fresh, the spices are fragrant and the food is full of taste, tradition, and love.

About the author

Rebecca Brown