When I began my study abroad experience in South Africa, which is arguably one of the food capitals of the world, it was easy to get caught up in the English language—thinking every word I spoke had the exact same meaning as what we say in America.

It turns out many words have entirely different meanings in SA and it can be both embarrassing and disappointing to receive food that didn't meet my 'American expectations.' In order to prevent this from happening to you, here are six food items that are different in South Africa than they are in America.

1. Tomato Sauce

vegetable, sauce
Jennifer Cao

Walk into a burger joint and order a "side of ketchup" and South African servers will look at you like you're wacky. Ketchup has little to no meaning. Instead, you should order 'tomato sauce.' No, tomato sauce is not equivalent to marinara sauce or red sauce. It can really be any kind of tomato-based condiment.

While South African tomato sauce plays the same role as American ketchup, it usually tastes slightly sweeter and less smooth which adds a whole new layer of flavors to your meal.

2. Iced Coffee

In the serious South African heat, it is easy to crave a refreshing iced coffee. But take your image of a cold brew on ice and throw it away. Iced coffee in South Africa is typically espresso blended with ice, milk and sweetener. This slightly heavier drink is more similar to a Frappuccino (which is pretty nice, since there is only one Starbucks in all of South Africa).

If you really want an American iced coffee, be sure to order an 'Americano on Ice' or you could just stick to iced lattes. 

3. Bacon

Don't fret: America's favorite greasy side dish is still a thing in South Africa. Though, many times when you order bacon, it is actually a thing called 'streaky bacon,' a more fatty and meaty dish that comes from pork belly rather than pork butt. If you're a bacon snob, make sure to ask what kind of bacon is on the menu before you order because they do not always specify. 

4. Custard

A photo posted by @the.flying.foodie on

In America, custard is pudding's strange cousin. It is usually served as a dessert base, topped with berries or even caramelized to make creme brûlée. We also eat it frozen for an extra creamy and rich twist on ice cream.

Alternatively, South African custard is typically used as a dessert topping. It is less sweet and more thin and pretty much the perfect way to finish off a treat.

#SpoonTip: When in SA, be sure to have some malva pudding topped with custard. This dessert takes moistness to a whole other level.

5. Creme Soda

So let me share a brief personal anecdote about this "Creme Soda" business. The first time I went to a movie theatre in Cape Town, I was planning on getting a slushy with my popcorn. But suddenly, I see 'Creme Soda' on the menu.

I was ecstatic because the sweet drink is a rare and gourmet find in the states. Though, when the cashier hands me my big paper cup of soda, I don't see the golden brown color that I was expecting. I see bright, swamp green. A color that could only be manufactured through hundreds of thousands of chemicals. I still gave it a taste

The first millisecond tastes like the Creme Soda I know and love. But after that, the drink becomes a science project in my mouth. American Creme Soda is not South African Creme Soda. Enough said.

6. Chips

french fries, cheese
Amelia Schwartz

Like many other European countries, chips are something other than Tostitos, Doritos, or Lays. They are fatter french fries and they are amazing. Have chips with Hake or Calamari for South African Fish and Chips or a side of chips with a juicy Ostrich Burger and you will have whole new understanding of South African cuisine.

Traveling abroad delivers an experience unlike any other. You get to try new activities, go on new adventures, and most importantly, eat new foods. But sometimes we are so used to our American lingo that what we get is not what we order. Hopefully this list has prepared you for the amazing food that awaits your South African holiday.