Traditional South African food to celebrate Heritage month

Happy Heritage month, fellow South Africans. With Heritage Day coming up, we’ve selected our favourite traditional South African food to highlight this Heritage month. Whether you’re born and bred, currently living here or passing through, there’s no denying, the wild beauty of Africa gets under your skin.

Besides the breathtaking landscape, the real heart of South Africa lies in its people. Our nation is alive with diversity, built on the many cultures of its residents. The blend of all these cultures has given South Africa a wonderfully unique palate. Indeed, there’s no cuisine like it anywhere else in the world. Our nation boasts a range of signature dishes, a joyous amalgamation of authentic flavours. With so many to choose between, it’s impossible to pick one stand-out dish to represent our country so we’ve highlighted our favourite traditional South African food below.

Traditional South African Food


This first dish is a must-try for all visitors. A Cape Malay speciality often considered South Africa’s national dish – Bobotie. With both Dutch and Indonesian influence, this traditional South African food is a true classic. At first glance, one might mistake Bobotie for cottage pie, but don’t be fooled. The fluffy topping you see is, in fact, a baked eggy custard. Below this savoury topping, the dish comprises minced lamb or beef, delicately spiced with a sweet curry blend including turmeric, coriander and cinnamon. Traditional recipes also contain dried fruits such as raisins and sultanas, grown in the heart of Cape wine country.

Samp and beans

Samp and beans – a true local favourite. Served plain or as a side, this traditional South African food was one of Nelson Mandela’s favourites. It consists of slow-cooked samp (crushed corn kernels) and sugar beans mixed with spices. People of all nationalities across the country enjoy this well-known staple. The Xhosa call it umngqusho (oom-nqoo-shoh), while the Zulu refer to the meal as isitambu. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s a versatile recipe for all occasions.

Bunny Chow

Local is lekker. This Indian dish originates in our hometown of Durban – a definite favourite across the board. Have you guessed it? That’s right. The famous bunny chow. This dish attributes its authenticity to the unique way it’s served – in a half loaf of bread. A concept created by the Indian community who worked the sugar plantations as a means of transporting their lunch. Half a loaf of hollowed out bread filled with a spicy meat-based curry. The best way to enjoy this popular fast food is by tucking in with your hands.


It’s impossible to live your life as a South African without discovering the joys of a light and creamy melktert (or milk tart as it’s known in English). This Afrikaans tea time treat is a delicate dessert with a pastry base and custard-like baked filling. Sprinkled with a generous dusting of cinnamon, this after dinner delight is silky smooth – melt in the mouth!  


No list of traditional South African foods is complete without the koeksister. Originating in the Western Cape, this sugary treat is a fried pastry similar to a doughnut, but better. Crunchy and golden on the outside, with a soft doughy centre, these braided sweets are deep fried and then soaked in syrup. The Cape Malay version is rolled in coconut and is spicier in flavour.

Our country’s rich heritage is full of delicious dishes guaranteed to delight your taste buds. These five dishes are only a few of the local favourites enjoyed by the nation. We wouldn’t dare share a recipe for any of these dishes, as every family has their own special secret. Why not ask your family who makes your favourite the best? This heritage day, celebrate our rainbow nation with traditional South African food.