Home of vast game reserves, a capital city ringed by misty mountains, and dozens of white sand beaches, South Africa might be more famous for its scenery than its food and wine, but that’s starting to change. With world class restaurants and hundreds of centuries-old wine farms, it’s worth visiting South Africa for the feasting potential alone. Whether you want to imbibe in style in the magnificent Cape Winelands, or chow down on some gloriously messy local grub, you’ll find an experience to quench and satisfy every possible hunger and thirst.
No foodie tour of S.A would be complete without a visit to the Winelands, the finest wine producing area in the country with hundreds of vineyards, expert sommeliers and ridiculously beautiful Dutch-style manors. Those seeking utter luxury can head to celebrity favourite La Residence in Franschhoek. Wander amongst the vines, olive groves and plum orchards, before scheduling a wine tasting where you can be guided by the local recommendations or create your own tasting menu. Embrace the history of the area on the Franschhoek Wine Tram, a double-decker 1920s-style tram which rolls along 115 year-old tracks, and makes stops at all the best estates in the verdant Franschhoek Valley.
When it comes to eating, Somerset West, just 40 minutes east of Cape Town, takes the cake, or the gooseberry and rooibos tart. The restaurants at the region’s estates consistently rank among the best in the country, and of course you’ll have an impeccable selection of wines to choose from too. Try daring and delicious concoctions like the camembert creme brûlée at The Restaurant at Waterkloof, or dine on oysters and wild Atlantic prawns amongst the picturesque horse paddocks at Cavalli.
Eat like a local
Feel like sampling something a bit more grass-roots? Prepare to get sticky fingers as you devour classic South African street foods like bunny chow and gatsbys. In Durban, bunny chow is the guilty pleasure of choice – half a loaf of bread hollowed out and filled to overflowing with a whole range of mouth-watering curries. You can get a simple bunny on the street, and higher end restaurants are starting to create their own take on the Durban delicacy. Whatever you do, don’t use a knife and fork.
Cheap, widely available, and chock-full of delicious calories, the gatsby is the South African answer to the Subway sandwich. It’s a footlong bread roll crammed with hot chips, plenty of sauce, and meat of your choice. Super Fisheries in Athlone has been serving up gatsbys for 43 years, head there to sample calamari or dirt-cheap polony and atchar (boloney – what we call luncheon sausage – and South Asian style pickled vegetables) gatsbys, and get a bit of a history lesson on the Cape Flats favourite.
If you’re after something a bit more wholesome, try Umngqusho, a South African staple and one of former president Nelson Mandela’s favourites. This mix of corn kernels and beans can be made a variety of ways (but is most often eaten with tripe) and is eaten practically daily by South Africa’s Xhosa people. It’s filling, cost-effective, and it’ll soak up the grease from all those gatsbys.
Love wine so much you’d bathe in it? In South Africa, you can. It might sound new age, but the origins of vinotherapy go back as far as the Roman times. Today, vineyards all over the world are using the anti-aging properties of grape skins, seeds and stems to their advantage, creating a range of luxurious spa treatments from massages to scrubs. At the Santé Wellness Retreat in the Winelands city of Paarl, the signature vinotherapy treatment involves a three hour Shiraz grape scrub, Chardonnay wrap, massage, and a Cabernet hydro-bath. Vinotherapy is said to speed up skin healing and boost collagen. If you’re sceptical about the aesthetic benefits, the sheer relaxation factor (and a complimentary glass to match each treatment) should set your mind at ease.
Embrace the braai
You simply haven’t been to South Africa until you’ve sampled a braai. Braai is South African barbecue, with the key difference being that it’s not a braai unless it’s cooked on an open wood fire. Braai joints are often vibrant, informal and plenty of fun, with communal style tables where cutlery is optional. Choose your own cuts from the butcher next door to Mzoli’s in Gugulethu, or ask for a local recommendation at Soweto’s super popular Chaf-Pozi. Keen to try it yourself? Braaing is allowed at many of South Africa’s best beaches, so gather a few tips from locals about the best wood to use, and head to the coast. For the ultimate African experience, opt for a braai safari through world renowned Kruger National Park, home of the Big Five, and a mean beef boerewors.
Explore on foot
From walking tours to a wander through the farmers markets, there’s no better way to get a sense of how the locals eat than exploring a city’s food scene on foot. There are plenty of walking tour options in Capetown, from plant-based tours that take you through the city’s growing number of vegan restaurants, to ‘Foodie Thursdays’ a full-day experience that starts the day off right with a coffee tasting, and ends with wine and cheese. Further north, in Johannesburg, super stylish markets abound. The Market on Main is a Sunday treat packed with artisanal coffees, craft beer and local sweets. On Saturdays you can check out the Neighbourgoods market, the city’s coolest hangout complete with hipster favourites like cold-brew coffee and mason-jar juices.