Capetonians love to eat and their multi-cultural roots means that the local cuisine is a melting pot of flavors and styles, from Cape Dutch to French to Indian, to name just a few. Fish and chips and braais (barbecues) aside, be sure to try these five local Cape Town dishes.
The Gatsby is a true Cape Town classic that goes back to the 1970s before people started obsessing over their cholesterol levels. Wholly simple but satisfying, it’s a large, submarine-style sandwich. Better than a Subway sub, it’s not only crammed with a variety of meats, cheeses and sauces but also topped with a generous handful of French fries and sometimes a fried egg. You won’t find this dish in fancy restaurants but rather at hole-in-the-wall shops on the streets for a few rands. While the meat is nothing fancy either (they usually use masala steak, polony (baloney) or processed Vienna sausage) trust us when we tell you that the sandwich is damn delicious. The challenge is whether you can eat an entire Gatsby to yourself.
Before you ask, no bunnies were harmed in the making of this dish, nor is it made from rabbit food. In fact there is nothing remotely rabbit about it. Bunny Chow is a classic South African dish that was first created by the country’s Indian community. It consists of a small loaf of white bread that’s hollowed out and filled with curry. The curry usually contains beef, pork or chicken (but you can find vegetarian versions around these days too). While some restaurants have created gourmet versions of this no-frills dish, we recommend trying it at your local takeaway joint. It’s a lot for one person to tackle alone so it’s a good dish to share. And the best bit about it is that when you’ve finished the curry, you can eat the bowl!
Pronounced buh-boor-tea, this is a traditional Afrikaans dish, believed to have been introduced by either the Indonesian or Malayan slaves in the 17th century. It’s a type of pie, perfect for a cold winter’s night, featuring a bottom layer of minced beef and a top layer of milky egg custard that’s baked until it turns that gorgeous golden brown color. The addition of spices, herbs and dried fruit make it a fragrant dish that mixes sweet, spicy and sour flavors in a surprisingly delicious way. It’s often served in restaurants with yellow rice, banana slices, and chutney.
Biltong and Droëwors
These aren’t technically dishes but they’re so addictive that you can eat them by the plateful. After all, who doesn’t love a dried meat snack when hunger strikes? Biltong is South Africa’s answer to beef jerky. It’s usually made from beef or game (springbok, kudu, buffalo and ostrich are common) and comes sliced or in sticks, but what sets it apart from beef jerky as we know it, is the special blend of spices which gives it a distinct flavor that’s more salty than sweet. Similarly, Droëwors is a dried spiced sausage, which is equally addictive at snack time. You’ll find both stocked in most supermarkets as well as on sale in bars and pubs as a great snack to go with your beer.
The name of this Afrikaans dish gets us every time and the ingredients make it sound even less appetizing (lamb stewed with potatoes and the flower of the Cape pondweed). The waterblommetjie or ‘little water flowers’ as is the direct translation fill the Cape’s ponds and dams in both winter and spring and have a subtle yet tasty flavor. The stew is cooked for hours so that the meat is melt-in-your-mouth tender. Try it. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
A community of Dutch-colonized East-Indian immigrants who came to the Cape many moons ago first created this typical dessert. While there are different variations of the Malva pudding today, it usually takes the form of a sweet, spongy cake made with apricot jam and served hot with a custard sauce or ice cream. Ginger, dates, or brandy are all common additions. While we’re on the topic of sweet treats, the koeksisters pastries are also a hit with sweet lovers. These sugary strips of dough that are plaited together, dunked in syrup and then deep-fried will give you the ultimate sugar high.
Got any other favorite Cape Town dishes that you’d like to recommend? Tell us about them in the comments section below.