As the daughter of two South African immigrants, I’ve had the pleasure of going back to the motherland once a year, ever year, since I exited the womb. I’ve lived, loved, and eaten my way through both continents, and found my favorite noms along the way. While I’m proud to be an American, the land where I have 24/7 access to Ben & Jerry’s (shoutout to Safeway one time), there have been a few culinary instances where my native home has taken the cake. Here are ten of these situations listed in hopes to tempt you and your tastebuds over to the Republic of South Africa.
1. Hot Dogs vs. Boerewors Rolls
Growing up on this staple ruined me from enjoying the processed American version for life, basically. No respectable braai (Afrikaans terminology for a barbecue) would be seen without these sausages on the grill. The mouth-watering blend of pork, beef, sugar, and spices, elevates the concept of a sausage in a bun. Snug in a buttery roll and adorned with grilled veggies (or not), a boerewors roll is bliss in your hand.
2. Doughnuts vs. Koeksisters
If you thought the average doughnut was addicting, you’re lucky these sweet treats have yet to make their American debut. From the Dutch word koekje, which translates to “cookie”, koeksisters are braided pieces of dough that are deep-friend, then submerged in a cold sugar syrup. The process yields a dense, sticky, and sweet treat that resembles the taste of honey. Is there anything that would go better with a cup of coffee?
3. Beef Jerky vs. Droewors
One bite of this high-protein snack, and you just might not ever go back to its Americanized cousin. From classic meats like beef to the more exotic flavor of ostrich, the meaty bites deliver a savory bite for any palette. Free from the heavy seasonings and intense dehydration beef jerky goes through, biltong is the go-to for a hearty chew.
4. Cake vs. Malva pudding
While cake delivers a wonderful boost of sugar, it can often be dry beyond the point of even frosting helping it out. Queue, Malva pudding. While definitely following the American structure of an extremely moist cake (think Tres Leches cake), the hot cream sauce and decadent sticky-toffee base provides a perfect warm bite. While I’ve experienced a few bland cakes, I’ve never met a Malva pudding I didn’t love.
5. Chili and Cornbread vs. Chakalaka & Pap
Along with being ridiculously fun to say, Chakalaka is a staple of South African cuisine. A simplistic stew of tomatoes, onions, and peppers with a spicy kick, a bed of ground mealie pap (corn) is the perfect palette cooler. While there is something to be said about the chili and cornbread paring during the cold months, the fresher taste of Chakalaka and pap has won it a place in my heart.
6. Lasagna vs. Bobotie
While lasagna is technically Italian, it’s no secret it’s domain as a household staple for Americans everywhere. However, you will convert your Wednesday Lasagna nights to Babotie nights with one bite of this South African staple. From the mixture of curried meat, dried fruit, and Béchamel sauce (similar to the Greek’s moussaka), there’s no way you’ll go back to its Italian cousin.
7. Pie vs. Milk Tart
This treat doesn’t even need the top layer of pastry dough to steal the show. With a thick pudding filling, sweet crisp crust, and dusting of cinnamon, milk tart is the anthem of my childhood in a slice. Where American fruit pies require significantly more prep and cook time, milk tart is easily made with a handful of ingredients. As a college student, I appreciate the simplicity, and as someone with tastebuds, I appreciate everything else.
8. Sub Sandwiches vs. Bunny Chow
No bunnies were harmed in the making of these mouth-watering sandwiches. Bunny chow is essentially a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with curry. I appreciate the creativity of this method, along with the soft bread that soaks up all the spectacular sauce. Why have a basic layered sandwich when you can literally eat curry out of a loaf of bread? These are questions that haunt me.
9. Biscuits vs. Vetkoek
Flakey, buttery, melts-in-your-mouth; there’s so many reasons to love biscuits. With gravy, with honey, or just straight up, biscuits are a crowd pleaser. This is why the South African population is ingenious; they took this stellar concept and made it even better, they deep-fried it. Vetkoek comes from the Afrikaans name (that is literally “fat cake”) and is best enjoyed with honey or ground beef. Vetkoek is better than biscuits because it is deep-fried. I don’t really think I have to explain myself much more on this point.
10. Pudding vs. Peppermint Crisp Tart
I saved the best for last: peppermint crisp is crack. Similar to an icebox cake in the sense that it comes together during refrigeration, this is literally my all-time favorite creation of the South African people. And it’s only four ingredients, as if I could love this dessert even more. Whipped cream is folded into caramel sauce, then layered with biscuits and Nestle’s Peppermint Crisp bars. It’s rich, and sweet, and this is where I drop the mic and walk away.