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Ethnic Cuisine: South Africa

by Lou Seibert Pappas

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"Rainbow Cuisine" defines the food style in South Africa. It's a term that reflects the cultural depth, creative spectrum, and spiritual unity of a diverse people. With 40 million inhabitants speaking 11 different languages, the country offers a fascinating potpourri of fresh, delectable, eclectic fare.

The food depicts a blend of many cultural societies -- European, Asian, and African -- with a tantalizing table that has evolved over centuries. It showcases the varied, European food traditions of the Italian, Portuguese, Greek, English, French, and Dutch. It presents the fruity sweet, and sweet-sour tastes of the Malay, a people from the East Indies who came to the Cape as slaves by the Dutch colonials. It includes the spicy curries from India and China. And it encompasses the indigenous fare of the African tribes. Alongside, the superb wines complement the special dishes.

For the tourist, it offers exciting dining opportunities with such a vast variety of tastes and restaurants at hand.

It is also fascinating to discover strong parallels to fresh, California style dining in such sophisticated dishes as vegetable carpaccios, fish tartars, smoked salmon salads, venison and berry-sauced entrees, hot gratineed tropical fruit desserts, and flavorful creme brulees.

The creative chefs enjoy great freedom in presenting a unique food style that reflects their ethnic background. Many are European trained and on a par with the Continent's best talent.

At their fingertips is a land blessed with abundant seafood; plentiful, wild game; extraordinary wines; and a bountiful harvest of orchard and sub-tropical fruits and vegetables.

The country grows virtually everything it needs. The Western Cape has an abundance of fruits, grains, and grapes. The Eastern Transvaal supplies tea and subtropical fruits -- lush mangoes, bananas, and papayas. Natal produces sugarcane and avocado. Excellent lamb comes from the Karoo along with low-cholesterol game meats such as venison, ostrich, and impala, come from wild herds or from farming. Seafood is regional, ultra-fresh, and plentiful -- crayfish, prawns, tuna, mussels, oysters, mackerel, and snock are caught in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Rock lobsters populate the bays near Cape Town, although poaching is decreasing the surplus.

Most Western Cape restaurants of note feature French or international dishes prepared from local ingredients. Yet, the diverse, European food traditions have bestowed a vast range of cooking styles and they borrow spices and seasonings from other lands.

Among the Malay, a renowned dish is bobotie, a custard-topped minced meat pie seasoned with onion, curry, and fruit chutney. Other dishes include pickled fish; sosaties, curry-marinated pork or lamb kebabs; and bredie, a meat or fish stew with vegetables and chilies.

The Indians introduced their curries. The Afrikaaners have their succulent potjies, or stews of maize with tomato and onion sauce or rice, and braais of grilled seafood and meat. The Dutch contributed their fried cruller, or koek sister, and milk pies. These classic ethnic dishes are often intertwined in a continental-style menu.

The French Huguenots, who fled from France in the 17th century with grapevines, were key to launching South Africa's wine industry. Now the heart of the vineyards is around Paarl in lush beautiful country. Stellar wines are awaiting discovery at about one-third the prices of comparable California wines. Pinotage is a strictly South African hybrid varietal with a luscious full bouquet. A Hermitage crossed with Pinot Noir, it was developed in the thirties to provide the elegance of Pinot Noir in a vine that can take heat.

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introduction  |  restaurants  |  recipes

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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