Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dining in South Africa

When you arrive in South Africa, the warmth and friendliness of the people will overwhelm you. They love accents (yes, all accents) and are proud to recommend the best steak house or fish restaurant to tourists. South Africans are very welcoming. Don't be surprised if you're invited to their homes for a "braai" (barbecue) after a short introduction.

See photo of Mandela at UNISA event.
Expect a wide variety of ethnic foods. The Dutch, French, Malay, Indonesian and East Indian groups within South Africa have all had a strong influence on the local cuisine. The numerous Black groups share a staple diet of "pap" (stiff cornmeal porridge) with a delicious, spicy sauce made from tomatoes, onions and meat. Steak is common and is among the tastiest and most tender in the world with enormous portions. Chicken and fish dishes are well-prepared, reasonably priced and popular in restaurants. It can be a vegetarian's nightmare. Although 4-6 vegetables are served at each meal, there'll be a problem finding tofu and beans.
What's unique?
- Home industry foods are at most shopping malls. A favorite coffee or tea accompaniment is a wide variety of dunkable dry cookies (rusks), made from buttermilk to whole wheat and may contain nuts or raisins.
- Bagels don't exist.
- Water is not served automatically with your meal. If you ask for water, you're considered tightfisted. You should ask for a "cold" drink (soft drink) or alcoholic beverage, then you can ask for water.
- Large quantities of meat at evening meals, sometimes all meals. All-you-can-eat buffets are popular.
- A half dozen vegetable dishes or salads accompany the meals. Cooked vegetables may be prepared with butter and sugar.
- Meals are considered "extremely good value," due to the decreased value of their currency.
- Shellfish is grilled in very little fat and comes in various sizes, from large to small: crayfish, langoustines (extra large prawns), prawns (king, queen, tiger) and shrimps.
- Coffee is served at the end of the meal, if requested. Definitely not at the start of the meal.
- Antelope, crocodile, elephant and Mopani worms, part of the African diet, is seldom served to tourists.
Spicing things up
Residents from many cultural groups bring their own flavors and spices to the country, unfortunately they are usually served in chicken fat, cream-based or butter sauces. Although adding taste, these sauces largely negate any benefits that could be derived from the use of antioxidant containing herbs and spices.
Talk the food language
Read carefully otherwise if you ask for a biscuit, you'll get a cookie.
Menu items
Smooth, white corn grits
Fried dough
Dried salted meat, like beef jerky
Bruy (like guy)
Shishkebab, meat on a skewer
Thick spicy sausage, usually barbecued
Bob bootie
Curried meat loaf
Cold meat

Cold cuts
Mince meat

Ground beef
Toasted cheese

Grilled cheese
Fish found in the Cape
Milk tart

Custard tart with nutmeg and cinnamon
Braided deep-fried crullers dipped in syrup

Tea biscuit, probably made with plenty of fat

Cold drink

Soft drink/pop

Hot tea
Monkey gland sauce

Fruity, barbecue sauce for steak

French fries or crisps
Tomato sauce

Pizza sauce

Tomato sauce


Eating around the clock
Coffee or tea may be served after or between meals.
Typical local meals consist of:
Breakfast: 7 - 8 AM
- Some or all of the following: bacon, sausage, eggs, toast, butter, margarine, orange juice, jam (preserves), cereal with milk and sugar, porridge with cream and honey, coffee, hot tea. Ask if the orange juice is freshly squeezed on the premises - much tastier than the concentrate.
Lunch: 1 - 2 PM or later
- Toasted sandwiches - cheese, cold cuts, tomato, bread or rolls
- Chicken or tuna salads
- Pies (a pie is savory, like chicken pot pie)
Snacks: afternoon and late evening
- Fruit, yogurt (not much variety, search for low fat) and café latte
- Pastries
- Chips and chocolate - with an irresistible taste
Dinner at restaurants: 7 - 11 PM
- Steak with sauces - peppercorn or monkey gland (barbeque)
- Battered fish such as local sole or kingklip
- Roast chicken
All above served with baked potato, chips (fries) or rice, rolls and butter, vegetables.
- Milk tart (custard pie)
- Ice cream and Bar One (a popular chocolate bar) chocolate sauce
- Passion fruit (grenadilla) sorbets
Restaurant kitchens close at 11 PM but you can stay later and have dessert and coffee. Clubs go on through the night in the big cities. Some fast food stores are open 24 hours.
Pace of meals
Meals take 45 minutes during office lunches to two hours for business and social meals.
Room Service
Only the expensive hotels offer this service, some for 24 hours.
South Africans enjoy alcohol and are known for their wonderful wines, sherries, ports and brandies. Drinks flow after work, at social functions, dinners and at barbecues. There's no incentive to limit alcohol as there's no point system for drivers, only fines. Bottle (liquor) stores are closed on Sundays for beer and liquors.
Popular brands
Beer: Castle, Lion Lager, Black Lable and light beers
Wine: Boschendal, Meerlust, Riesling, Nederburg and many others
Liquor: Captain Morgan rum, KWV rum, brandy, port and sherry
Liqueur: Cape Velvet, Amarula Cream
Ciders: sweet, alcoholic, fruit drink in a can: Hunter's Gold, Crown
Eating Well
Follow guidelines in the Appendices
One day's example:
Special diets
Whole grain bread, peanut butter, mango
Baked potato, beans, corn, avocado salad
Vegetarian curry, lentils, brown rice, bread, vegetables
Banana, pawpaw (papaya)
Weight management
1 cup high fiber cereal, skim milk, ½ banana
Chicken salad, yogurt dressing, 1 slice bread, 1 tsp. margarine
3 oz. steak, ½ baked potato, steamed vegetables
½ cup fruit salad, 1 pear, skim milk café latte
Heart disease
1 cup oatmeal porridge, skim milk, ½ cup melon
3 oz. chicken, salad, oil & vinegar dressing, 1 yogurt
1 cup pea soup, 3 oz. grilled sole, ½ cup rice, 2 cups steamed vegetables
2 slices pineapple, 3 crackers (Provitas), low fat cheese
7 AM:
2 slices whole wheat bread, ¼ cup cottage cheese, tomato, 1 orange
12 NOON:
One whole wheat roll, margarine, 3 oz. tuna, green salad with a low fat dressing, 12 grapes
6 PM:
3 oz. roast lamb, ½ cup "pap" with 2 Tbsp. Sauce, spinach salad, ¼ cup baked beans
9 PM:
175 ml yogurt and 2 kiwis
High fiber cereal, skim milk, strawberries
Whole wheat bread, 1 egg, margarine, chickpeas, green salad, fruit salad
Vegetable soup, lobster, brown rice, 3 vegetables
Grapefruit, yogurt
Limit your tea and coffee intake to four (8-oz.) cups per day.
Limit alcohol to one serving per day for women, and two servings per day for men, e.g. 2 beers, 2 glasses sherry or 2 oz. brandy.
Are the foods safe to eat?
Food is safe to eat anywhere.
Can you drink the water?
Tap water is safe to drink and has a delicious, fresh taste. Bottled water is becoming fashionable. Don't drink water from the streams without asking first.
Dining etiquette
- People respect their elders and each other. Graciousness is appreciated. Loud voices and obnoxious behavior are not acceptable in restaurants.
- Food is eaten European style - with a knife in the right hand and a fork in the left hand. If you eat American style (cut the food with knife and fork, eat with fork in the right hand), it's considered amusing, but not bad mannered.
- Don't: Eat with your mouth open, talk with your mouth full or pick your teeth at the table without covering your mouth with the palm of your hand.
- Usually the man or the host asks for the bill and pays. If women go out together they split the bill (go Dutch).
- Tip 10% of the food bill.
Staying Fit
Where to work out?
This is a sunny, sports crazy country, most activities happen outdoors.
- Tennis and squash: ask which clubs and resorts have day visitors and rent equipment.
- Swim: most hotels and many homes have swimming pools so pack your bathing suit (bathing costumes). Pools are not always heated. After the initial dunking, your body adapts to the water.
- The ocean is a wonderful and exhilarating place to swim. Swim within the shark nets.
- Surfing is popular with great waves at many ocean cities, including Jeffreys Bay, renowned for some of the best surfing waves in the world.
- Scuba diving: popular - equipment is available at coastal resorts such as Sudwana Bay.
- Jog: ask the locals where it's safe to jog. Don't jog at night or alone.
- Health clubs: called gyms, are popular and accept daily visitors.
- Walk: Sightseeing such as the famous Pretoria zoo is so large you can walk the whole day.
- Dancing: Dance actively at clubs. This is your opportunity to swing even if you feel uncoordinated, no one will be judging you.
Keep on asking locals, they'll find many ways to keep you active.
When to work out?
After checking in at the hotel, find the gym and pool facilities and check the open hours. Schedule the time you can work out and be active. Business clients may suggest you work out with them. Keep out of the strong sun between 10 AM and 2 PM, use protective creams and wear sun hats!
Is it safe?
With the high rate of crime and muggings, it's not safe to walk in many areas, even in the middle of the day. Most people are armed and paranoid, and rightly so. Ask the locals before you walk or jog anywhere.
Suitable clothing
Dress is similar to the American standards and fashion, although a little more conservative.
Differences between regions and cities
- Johannesburg - an international business center. There are a variety of restaurants from many different countries plus great steak houses and pizza. Portuguese-spiced fish and chicken shouldn't be missed. Grilled chicken is as popular as fast food, served with fries and salads. Do not walk in the city center, ask where it's safe in the suburbs.
- Cape Town - known for wonderful quality restaurants, particularly Dutch and Malay cuisine. Seafood such as crayfish (rock lobsters), prawns, mussels, oysters, snoek and mackerel are outstanding. Wonderful wine tours will take you into the wine country nearby. Taste local wines and try poached trout, pulled minutes before from the streams. A great place to walk and explore.
- Durban - Indian food, especially mutton curry, is popular. Don't order it "hot", it's fiery hot! Start with "medium." Try bunny chow - ¼ loaf white bread, stuffed with meat sauce - a good tasting street food. Being on the coast, there's plenty of good seafood. Inquire where it's safe to walk.
- Bloemfontein - Dutch fare, "bobotie", "pap", vegetables prepared with butter and sugar, desserts such as milk tart and "koeksusters". Most areas are safe for walking.
- Game Reserves - Try the local game dishes such as ostrich, wildebeest, crocodile, springbok and guinea fowl. Phone the Parks Board or ask the officials where it's safe to walk - this time the danger is the animals.
- In the countryside - the parks are controlled by the Park Boards and have wonderful hiking trails.
Bringing Healthy Habits Home
- Eat six servings of vegetables and fruits a day.
- Enjoy outdoor activity.
Leave The Negatives Behind
- Huge meat portions, especially "biltong" - you can get hooked on it.
- Large quantities of foods.
- Rich sauces.
- Be careful of the chocolates - they're addictive.
- Smoking habits - smoking is popular although no-smoking laws are slowly being enforced. For a non-smoking table, you may need to go to the more expensive restaurants.
- Avoid bars, they're packed with smokers, you'll have difficulty seeing through the cloud of smoke. South African bars will make you appreciate American smoking laws.